Iowa Hawkeyes

Athletes of dropped Hawkeye teams complain of lack of follow-up from Iowa

'Kind of crickets' is how communication from Iowa administration is described

Iowa's Oliver Okonkwo (front) returns the ball as Will Davies looks on during a men's tennis doubles match against Drake
Iowa’s Oliver Okonkwo (front) returns the ball as Will Davies looks on during a men’s tennis doubles match against Drake in Iowa City on March 8, 2019. Both are from England and are current members of the Hawkeyes, but their team will be discontinued after the 2020-2021 season. (The Gazette)

The words from members of the four athletic teams dropped by the University of Iowa last month were pointed on Monday.

“It’s been kind of crickets in terms of what student-athletes have been able to hear and gain information on since August 21st,” said Jason Kerst, a fifth-year senior men’s tennis player and a distinguished scholar from Ann Arbor, Mich.

“That’s been the most disappointing part for me, because the win-graduate-do it right statement has not been upheld. When there’s a disparity between action and words, that’s incredibly frustrating.”

On Aug. 21, Iowa President Bruce Herreld and Athletics Director Gary Barta issued an open letter saying the Hawkeye men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis programs were being discontinued after the 2020-21 school year. They said the postponement of fall sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic “threatens our continued ability to adequately support 24 intercollegiate athletics programs at the desired championship level.”

The league restored fall football last week, bringing back some TV revenue. Barta then said the decision to drop the four teams won’t change “because the financial crisis is certainly still in play.”

“We’ve had 27 Olympians (in swimming and diving) come out of Iowa in the past 103 years,” said gymnastics team sophomore Peyton Hobson of Salem, Ore. “Considering the history of that sport, it shows that no team is safe.

“This is just the first step to NCAA Olympic sports not existing as a whole.”

Barta gave the news to the members of the four teams on the morning of Aug. 21 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Athletes who were there said he spoke for a few minutes, then left.

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“Gary Barta and his co-workers left all these athletes in the room together and watched us cry,” said sophomore men’s swimmer Ryan Purdy of Glenview, Ill.

“They didn’t give us options. They didn’t give us resources for our mental health. They talked in that room and showed no concern for it. They didn’t want to hear what we had to say or feel our own emotions. There was no reaching out from them to check in on their athletes after we were cut.”

“We have received no adequate follow-up since August 21st,” Kerst said. “The decision itself is very disappointing, but the lack of communication and transparency from our own administration is probably the most frustrating.”

Senior women’s swimmer Sage Ohlensehlen of Bettendorf said cutting these sports will have long-term ramifications in the state.

“I had the opportunity to grow as a person and become who I am today because of this program,” she said, “but now these kids that I coach (on the Iowa Flyers club team), they don’t have this opportunity. That to me is the worst part about all this, the opportunity that’s being stripped from these kids. ... the youth of Iowa needs these sports. They need all of them.”

Ohlensehlen said she had been planning to apply to Iowa’s law school. Now, she said, “I find that I’m just a little angry and hurt and I want to go far away.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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