U of O (kay)?

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February 18, 2010 by David Gillaspie

Cultural change happens slowly.  After enough time passes it’s hard to recall the way things once were.  Sometimes that’s good.  Not this time.

The University of Oregon’s decision to eliminate their wrestling program opened doors for others, me included.  I wrote about the end of Duck Wrestling as a way to pay my respects to the sport, and get overdue thanks out to my high school coach, Dave Abraham. 

I got to mention my hometown of North Bend and the beneficial American experience of growing up small town. 

Since Coach Abraham had already passed away, the end of Duck Wrestling inspired me to encourage others to give thanks to the important people in their lives. 

The end of Duck Wrestling also ended my curiosity of why kids don’t chase sports dreams further than they do. 

Many things end an athletic career, from injury to age.  When an entire program goes down, there’s no more questions and no more answers.

But there is a chance to encourage athletic kids to stay active, to apply the energy they reserved for sports to the rest of their lives. 

Duck Wrestling opened that door.

Both of my sons lived in the UO dorms their first year in school.  Both saw the rise of basketball arena, the arrival of the new baseball program, and the departure of an Athletic Director.  Neither heard much about Competitive Cheer, the program that pushed Duck Wrestling out of the athletic department door.  Has anyone else?

Here’s why:

Once Competitive Cheer gained varsity status and a coach, the name changed.  Instead of Competitive Cheer, it is called “team stunt and gymnastics program.”  The power in numbers to support the team stunt and gymnatics program comes from the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association (NCSTA) who work to get their sport recognized by the NCAA.  The other seven teams in the NCSTA also work hard for recognition.

University of Oregon competitive cheer coach Felecia Mulkey helps the recognition part with her quotes in the Oregon Daily Emerald:

“It is a sport,” Mulkey said. “These girls are athletes.” 

Oregon executive senior association athletics director Renee Baumgartner goes further by feeling positive that the Ducks will “face off against Maryland, which has the only other competitive cheer team.” 

While it may sound odd to call a competition between the only two teams in a sport a National Championship, it fits with the emerging culture at UO.

Duck Baseball recorded a 14-42 record last year.  Duck Basketball rolled to 8-23.  The baseball team has a new diamond; basketball gets a new state-of-the-art arena.  Competitive cheer will have meets in the basketball arena. 

These are not the cultural changes emerging, but maybe a cause.

Michigan State’s mens basketball coach Tom Izzo sat for an interview on sports talk radio.  One of the questions the host asked was about the change in the MSU logo.  Coach Izzo said the Nike brand builders volunteered to look at the Michigan State logo, but added he didn’t want too much help because he didn’t want the perception that MSU was going to become like the University of Oregon.

Did he mean he didn’t want a John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, called by some the Taj Mahal of academic services for athletes?  He doesn’t want to replace MSU’s Breslin Center with a Knight building?  He might want to look around the UO campus before he makes that call. 

But that’s still not the emerging culture.

What happens when a kicker on the football team gets kicked to the ground so badly that he ends up in the Intensive Care Unit?  Where are his teammates?  Where are his friends?

What happens when a fraternity brother accuses Oregon football players of robbery?  One is out of his locker, and likely banned from the Jaqua Center, while the other is a person of interest in an on-going investigation.

If the emerging culture is one of win at all costs and sweep the peripheral stuff under the rug, then why not take it all the way.  Southern Methodist football got the death penalty for NCAA violations; the penalty for USC is in the wings.  If UO wants to toe that line, at least get some national championships like Barry Switzer did at Oklahoma, or the football coaches at the University of Miami, The U. 

Why not bring Barry into the UO athletic department.  He’s rested and he knows the pitfalls to avoid.  He’s a Super Bowl winning coach who knows when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em. 

You can’t have enough executive senior association athletics directors in one room, can you?

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