ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - A group of Winthrop University alumni are hoping to save the school’s tennis teams after the university’s board of trustees approved the removal of the two programs.
Hank Harrawood, the deputy athletics director for Winthrop University, said the athletics department was tasked with cutting $600 thousand from its budget because of the pandemic. He said the decision to cut a team was, ‘remarkably difficult’.
“At the end of the day, it was strictly a budget decision,” Harrawood told WBTV in a phone interview Tuesday. “You know, when we looked at the numbers across the board and tried to say again how do we get near our number and impact as few student-athletes as we possibly can, that is what matched up for us.”
Harrawood said that any returning students-athletes from the tennis teams will have their scholarships honored until they complete their fourth academic year. He noted that the incoming freshmen who had tennis scholarships will only have their scholarships honored the first year they are enrolled at Winthrop.
The decision to cut tennis was made in June. Some Winthrop alums have spent the last few weeks rallying support for the teams, hoping enough money can be raised to save the programs.
Julie Busha, a Winthrop alumna, is one of the people spearheading the efforts to keep tennis at Winthrop.
“I saw the news the day that it happened and I was shocked,” said Busha.
She said she was a student-athlete when she attended Winthrop and felt compelled to help garner support for the teams upon hearing that the tennis teams would be cut.
“They have a history of excellence on the field, on the courts. They bring a lot of attention to the school and to take that away from these kids and this program, I think was not right, but we’re gonna focus on what we can do to bring it back and bring it back quickly,” said Busha.
The Winthrop women’s tennis team has won the Big South Conference regular season and conference tournament several times over the last two decades. Clayton Almeida, a four-time conference player of the year at Winthrop, credits the school with helping him launch his career. He spoke to WBTV in a Zoom interview Tuesday evening.
“You know we had such a tremendous history - just successful on and off the court,” said Almeida.
He is also pushing for the tennis teams to be saved. He explained that while he is upset about the teams being cut, he understands the struggles universities are facing because of the pandemic.
“We’re not putting the blame of this on the athletic department or anything. It’s quite the opposite. We want to work with them now because we have ways of finding a solution,” said Almeida.
A GoFundMe page has already helped raise more than $13 thousand for the programs. Busha also said donors have pledged to contribute a combined $550 thousand if the university agrees to keep the tennis teams.
“I have a feeling we’re going to have to raise a few hundred thousand more to really appease everybody. I think – I know that we can do it,” said Busha.
Harrawood said the university is not discouraging the fundraising efforts that are underway right now. He said he did not have an estimate as to how much money would be required to keep the programs at Winthrop.
“There would be really, really significant resources required to save the program so to speak,” said the deputy athletics director.