Students, athletes, coaches and community members gathered outside of Popejoy Hall to rally against the University of New Mexico Board of Regents decision to cut four UNM sports.
On July 19, men’s soccer, skiing, beach volleyball and the women’s diving team were on the wrong end of a 6-0 vote by the regents to end the programs following the 2018-19 season. The cuts have appeared to devastate many of the student-athletes involved in the programs and sent a shockwave throughout much of the local community.
To protest against the board’s decision and show support for Lobo sports, a rally was conducted on Thursday evening to band the community together and speak out about the cuts. The rally had many speakers, including Greg Williams, local attorney and father of incoming freshman Nick Williams, UNM ski coach Joe Downing, and student-athletes from the women’s diving and beach volleyball teams.
Williams began by expressing the sense of community that sports bring to UNM and how every sport matters. He focused on the students that comprise the teams and the idea that they would not be Lobos without these programs.
Downing seemed to back Williams’ sentiments and discussed the importance of student-athletes representing the university by earning high marks in the classroom, detailing some of the academic successes of the UNM ski team.
“The student-athletes have preformed academically and we are setting the bar," Downing said. "And we challenge the other teams to beat us, because raising the bar in academics is what a university should be all about.”
Abbey Willson and Carly Bettingfield, two members of the beach volleyball team, called for action from fans — asking them to buy tickets, show up to games and stay informed about when events are happening.
Sophomore diver Natasha Dark of the swim and dive team spoke out about UNM being far from compliant with Title IX gender equality mandates.
“We feel the university’s plan to cut women’s sports teams and roster manage the remaining sports to meet Title IX compliance is rather unfeasible in the long run,” Dark said.
She pointed out that removing the dive component of the program puts the team at a competitive disadvantage because the team total's are tallied by combining both the swim and dive elements at meets.
Many people wanted to be a part of the rally because they know someone directly effected by the sports cuts and said it was important to show them support.
UNM freshman student Nicolas Berkopec, a supporter at the rally, described the cuts as a "travesty" and said he felt the next generation will miss out on the community aspect that these sports encompassed.
Another Board of Regents meeting is scheduled to be held at 1 p.m. on Friday to vote again on the issue after it was determined the New Mexico Open Meetings Act may have been violated at the July 19 session. And many of the people who joined the rally today will regroup at the Student Union Building to fight for the sports on the chopping block.
The community appears to be holding out hope that the board will consider other options for the Title IX and financial issues UNM Athletics are facing and vote against discontinuing any programs.
Alanie Rael is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers beach volleyball and track and field, but but also contributes content for football. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AllyRael.