Battle for survival
Economics put Maryland programs in danger of extinction
At the Maryland Invitational recently, track coach Andrew Valmon broke from his team’s pre-meet ritual. His changing things up was an unusual move, one brought on by the unusual circumstances surrounding his program.
Customarily, at the end of the team meeting, Valmon calls the team into a huddle, they countdown and yell, “1-2-3 Terps!” and get ready to compete. This time, though, a number of track team alumni were on hand, so Valmon decided to let them be part of the meeting. One of the speakers was John Davenport Sr., former two-time ACC long jump champion, member of three ACC championship track teams, and father of current Terps sprinter John Davenport Jr. He, and other alums, spoke about Maryland’s track legacy and need to be strong. They were only trying to inspire the team for that meet, but for Maryland's season.
Maryland's track program is imperiled. It needs to raise nearly $4.2 million by July 1, or it, along with five other Maryland sports, will vanish. Oddly, on that day, Valmon will be 2,816 miles away in Eugene, Ore., at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. Valmon, a two-time gold medalist in the 4x400 meter relay, has been named head coach of the U.S. team that will compete in this summer in London. He may very well face the possibility of returning to College Park with no team to coach.
Through it all, Valmon has become a master at compartmentalization as he manages wholly different responsibilities.
"I’ve tried to separate them into three categories," Valmon said. "There is London, that’s what going to happen in the summertime. The secondary thing is going to be the fundraising. And then the primary is the success of the kids who are on the team now.
"Ultimately we have to get them better in the face of adversity. We’ve got to be able to allow them some time to separate what’s going on and go out and race and run and throw. That’s the only way we can healthily attack it."
To help with raising funds, Maryland has started a website for donations. It also has a Facebook page to drum up more support. And there have been fruitful meetings with prospective donors.
"We had a couple of people step up and talk about some donations," Valmon said. "We’re at a stage now where people are preparing their finances to donate. It’s just a manner of putting it together. We need to get that information on the website to increase the visibility. So people can go on and say, ‘I can see the growth.’ You know, it’s going to take four or five big hitters. We are grateful for and see some small donations, but the big ones are what we’re going to need to turn it around."
So do a lot of non-revenue sports nationally. With state budgets tightening, everybody is taking a hard look at those sports that do not typically generate large sums of money, many of which are staples of the Olympic Games. It's a hard thing to share with athletes who give it their all to these sports, but Valmon will not sugarcoat the situation. This is a life lesson for everybody involved.
"I think what we try to do is teach them to be big boys and big girls," Valmon, Maryland's coach since 2003, said. "We talked about the economics and redoing what we do in terms of tracking being a non-revenue sport. We do generate some revenue-hosting meets. We’ll end up hosting more on site.
"I think we’ve talked to the kids openly about business and about dollars and cents and the cost of a track meet, and their commitment to the programs, and when they graduate what their commitment to the program should be financially. We’ve embraced it, and we’ve tried to find a ways to say if nothing else, everybody is going to learn from this experience.
"We’ve hosted a meeting and are going to host a couple more. Once we kind of get all this together, we’ll take a step back and look at it. The downside is you might have to gut the program before you make it better."
In the meantime, Valmon wants to do right by his kids. He has extended to them the offer to transfer out of the program if they wish, and some have taken up that offer. To those remaining, he is determined to do everything he can to make sure their best interests are considered.
"I know if I was a parent, I would want to know my kid is taken care of," Valmon said. "I want to give them options. That doesn’t fare well for me personally, but you commit to these kids and want to be with them through the beginning, the middle and end. We told their parents we would take care of them when we recruited them, so we should make good on our promises, as well.
"[Maryland] is going to honor the scholarships of the kids who are there. That will be there for them if those kids want to graduate from the University of Maryland. I have put a couple of proposals out there that are looking at proposals for them to graduate out and still compete like maybe the club version. We're exploring everything."
They continue to go about their business as best as they can. They still have until July 1 before anything is decided. So in the meantime, Maryland presses on.
"We haven’t taken the route of, ‘OK, it’s over,’" Valmon said. When we get to that point -- if we do -- I’m going to be fair to the troops and tell them I think we’ve hit our limit. Right now, we at least have some momentum [fundraising]. We've had some good conversations, and the kids are still able to compete. This is going to make us stronger."