The UNM ski team and their supporters gathered in front of Hodgin Hall just after 7 a.m. Tuesday morning to protest the decision of Athletic Director Paul Krebs to cut all funding to the team.
In addition to the ski team, the women’s rugby team, locals and UNM alumni sported lobo colors while holding signs reading, ‘Give us a chance,’ ‘Highest GPA’ and ‘3.9 GPA’.
Alexandra Hammon, a woman’s rugby player who attended the rally, said she has heard of the ski team’s academic and athletic success.
“I know they’re one of the only UNM athletics programs who progressively excels at their sport,” Hammon said. “They keep getting championships, they keep getting individual championships and to me, this just seems like a really low blow.”
Suggesting that the ski team was chosen for the cut because UNM prioritizes the sports that look better on TV, Hammon said the choice was “ridiculous.”
“Football, basketball — those are good sports and they deserve to be recognized as well. But when you have a coach that is getting a salary that is more than the entire budget for the ski team, I just think that’s ridiculous,” Hammon said. “I have a hard time respecting UNM’s athletic department when they’re wanting to cut such a prestigious team.”
At the rally, members of the ski team discussed how much the team meant to them.
“This team means everything to me,” ski team member Katharine Irwin said. “It’s family, it gave me the opportunity to continue to a higher education, while still competitively ski racing. It means so much to the community, and us being able to represent something that’s bigger than ourselves means a lot.”
Team member Tyler Theis agrees with Hammon, saying the team means the world to him.
“I’ve skied since I was two years old and they gave me a shot to continue my ski career in college,” Theis said.
Irwin said that the cut feels like a stab in the back.
“We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to,” she said. “We’ve performed on a high athletic level, we’ve performed at a high academic level, we’ve worked within our budget every year.”
Irwin also discussed how cutting the team will affect members’ education and scholarships.
“I’m a sophomore and I have two more years of eligibility,” she said. “This decision has affected my ability to transfer. A lot of other teams are full, recruiting season is over. It’s really affected my right to play.”
Theis agreed that this cut has come too late in the year and if it goes through, his ski career will be over.
Scott Dietrich, an Albuquerque local and President of the Sandia Nordic Ski Club, was one of the many members of the community who came out to support the ski team.
“I just want to support the ski team,” Dietrich said. “They’ve been one of the most successful teams in the sports program here at the University for a very long time, and it’s really sad to see the athletic department taking this kind of measure. These kids are extremely good students and good athletes. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true if you look at some of the other programs in the athletic departments, so it’s frustrating to observe.”
Immediately after the rally, the crowd of more than 50 people followed board members into Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting. All seats in the room were taken, the walls were lined with people standing and some supporters trickled out into the hallway.
Rob Doughty, president of The Board of Regents, said that although 19 people had signed up to speak during the public comment period, only 10 would be allowed to speak. However, after listening to the 10 that were selected, Doughty let all 19 people give their opinions.
Among those was Dietrich, who spoke directly to the board.
“(The ski team) are some of the best student athletes here at the University,” he said, calling them great role models to the community and other students.
In four days, the team received over 8,000 signatures on a petition to keep the ski team and they are constantly receiving more, said Irwin to the board. She also passed around 170 pages of comments from supporters of the ski team to the board members.
When describing the shock Irwin and her teammates felt when they heard of their beloved team being removed from the budget, she broke down.
“This community has shaped me into an individual that I am proud of, and I am proud to be a Lobo for life — but that does not seem to be my future,” she said.
Irwin ended her time at the podium with a plea.
“We are willing to work with you, so will you please help work with us?” she said. “I am not asking you to fix our problems, I am simply asking for the opportunity to work together to find some solution.”
Kelly Urvanejo is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kelly_Urvanejo.