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Chancellor suspends swim, dive team effective June 30

May 1, 2014

Swim team members hug during a match.
The swim and dive team has gone through multiple challenges over the year including finding a coach and fighting against the suspension of the team. Sophomore swimmer Becka Skelly said that the team may be taken away but the family aspect is still there. (Kathy M. Helgeson/University Communications)

After a several month process, the decision has been made to suspend the UWRiver Falls men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams starting June 30, 2014.

After a public town hall meeting and two more Faculty Senate Athletic Committee meetings, the athletic committee voted 7-3 to recommend suspending the program.

Additional input was provided by the full Faculty Senate expressing opposition to the suspension and through the whole process members of the men’s and women’s team were always at every meeting advocating the continuation of the program.

“I could not be more proud. Throughout this whole thing they have stayed true to each other and have stayed professional,” said Head Coach Mike Bollinger. “They showed their support in the right way at all the meetings, were prepared and knew what they were going to say and it shows the amount of class that they have and the type of people that they are.”

Chancellor Dean Van Galen and Athletic Director Roger Ternes were in communication after Faculty Senate shared their opposition but Ternes stood by the recommendation to suspend the program. On April 29, 2014, Chancellor Van Galen announced that he accepted the recommendation.

“Knowing that some of these kids competed three years of their lives to this program and will not being able to compete their senior year is disappointing and it hurts,” Bollinger said.

“I understand that this decision will be difficult and disappointing, especially to our swimming and diving team,” Van Galen said. “No one has questioned the fundamental value of swimming, or the passion that our student athletes and others have for their sport. And, I know that I speak for many when I express a high level of respect for the way that members of our swimming and diving team have conducted themselves.

UWRF took all the proper procedures when looking at terminating or suspending a varsity sport, and while there were factors taken into account for all eight considerations, Van Galen said there is no doubt the financial pressures placed on the University played a role.

UWRF has had to take a $1.7 million budget reduction starting July 1, 2014, forcing athletics to trim $48,500 from their budget. The total budgeted expenses for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams for 2013-2014 was $56,366.54, according to uwrfsports.com.

Bollinger said there is already one member of the women’s swimming and diving team that has been accepted to Mississippi and four incoming freshmen are no longer coming to UWRF because there is no swim team. That tuition money lost is more than UWRF will save from suspending the program.

While there is freshmen that will no longer be attending UWRF, the decision came so late that some freshmen that were coming to join the team are still choosing to attend UWRF and many members on the team will not transfer as they have already been at UWRF for too long to want to leave.

Sophomore swimmer Becca Skelly said she was in contact with an incoming freshman and told her she will still be a part of the swim family and have friends to count on when she comes to UWRF even though there is no longer a team.

“I met the team within the first couple days of being at UWRF and I loved them all right away. Not being on the team would have thrown off everything. The swim team is like my family away from home,” Skelly said.

Men’s swimming and diving has been in the UWRF sport module since 1960- 1961, while women’s has been in the sport module since 1975-1976. This is the first time the sport module has been changed since 2002- 2003 when wrestling, baseball and women’s gymnastics were suspended while men’s indoor and outdoor track and field along with women’s golf was added.

“In order to preserve a minimal level of financial stability within the intercollegiate athletics program, regrettable decisions had to be made,” Ternes said in a statement. “This unfortunate action is a causality of UWRF overreaching in trying to operate an athletics program beyond its facility and financial resources.”

There were 17 men and 14 women members listed on the team this year. UWRF will go down to only having 16 varsity sports which is only more than UW-Superior in the WIAC and tied with UW-Platteville.

Bollinger said while there was never a guarantee he would be coaching for more than one year he was always hopeful.

“Even with all this going on this was a great opportunity for me and I loved working for River Falls and loved having the squad that I did. I really have grown attached to the members of this team,” Bollinger said.

While there will no longer be a swimming and diving program on the UWRF campus there is no doubt the bond formed between the team members will not be broken, at least according to Skelly.

“Next year will be different for all of us. We will not have the team or sport to identify ourselves with on campus but we are still a family,” Skelly said. “Just because they took our team away does not mean they can take our family away.”