Laura Whitty was at work on May 24, filling shipments for an online Etsy store on Prince Edward Island, when she got a text. It was a fellow team member of the throwing team at St. Thomas University, offering their condolences, saying they were sorry for what had just happened — but she had no idea what they were talking about.
“Then I read the email,” she said.
It was a message from Mike Eagles, STU’s athletics director. After a discussion with coach Mark Sheehan, the decision was made — STU would cancel its track and field team’s throwing program for the upcoming 2017-18 year.
Sheehan, a coach for the University of New Brunswick’s team, had taken STU athletes under his wing. But the combined training had become too much to manage.
“That ruined my day pretty much,” Whitty said.
Eagles told athletes the conversation proved the combined team was no longer an option.
“I totally respect his decision as everyone’s safety and his coaching to the UNB throwers have to be his priority,” he wrote.
Whitty said as devastating as the situation was, there were signs of the cancellation, like when the team switched coaches halfway through the season last year.
That’s when it became clear things had grown too much for Sheehan to handle, she said, and STU track and field head coach Greg Allen couldn’t commit to the demands either.
Whitty said the large number of athletes, many of whom were playing multiple sports and leaving track and field to the wayside, complicated things.
“At practice it was getting pretty bad,” Whitty said.
“As long as everyone did what they were supposed to it was kind of fine.”
But there continued to be less attention on the throwers as opposed to the runners and other track athletes succeeding in the Atlantic University Sport association, the organization STU competes under.
“It definitely felt like the throwing team was kind of expendable,” she said.
“[Allen] wants to be one of the best teams in the AUS kind of thing and it’s basically rebuilding the STU team is what he kind of put it as.”
In an email on Sept. 8, Eagles told The Aquinian it was “not a decision as much as it is a circumstance.”
“[Sheehan] could not continue to effectively coach his team with the additional athletes he was getting from us,” Eagles said.
Sheehan said he did not wish to comment on the situation.
‘I’ll definitely miss it’
Whitty, a second-year student, had never thrown before last year.
She had played hockey throughout her childhood, but wasn’t prepared to play at university level. So, when a friend encouraged her to give the track and field program a chance, she jumped at the chance.
“It was actually really fun,” she said.
Friendships were made and athleticism was built, she said, and the sport allowed her to literally sweat out all distractions and stay academically focused.
“It was a very comfortable environment. There was also a lot of support, the coaching was really great.”
At the time of the cuts, team members Anisha Romany and Becca Baker expressed being at a loss as well.
“I mean I understand why for the most part, but it’s still very disappointing,” Romany said.
“For many athletes I know, losing your sport is a lot like losing part of your identity.”
For Whitty, being a part of the team did not only increase her desire to play a sport. It proved to her how sports teams can integrate students further into the community, even at a liberal arts school.
It also proved to her how taking that away can diminish pride students athletes have in their school and themselves.
Another one bites the dust
In April 2016, the university announced it planned to cancel its varsity men’s hockey program.
In an email sent out to all students, President Dawn Russell said the cut was due to the operating costs of the program being “unsustainable.”
Students were disappointed and many of the team’s athletes were forced to leave the university, having been recruited with scholarships or looking for athletic opportunities elsewhere.
Despite being financial burdens, Whitty said cuts like these make her feel as though sports aren’t important to the STU community.
But she said they’re worth so much when it comes to pride in the school.
Now, she said she’ll have to find another way to spend her free time in Fredericton and new ways to keep the STU spirit alive.
“I will definitely miss having it.”
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