Endangered sports survive for one more year

Senior Shannon Kawada exudes confidence in her floor exercise performance on March 12. Photo by Camille Tarazon/Daily Titan Staff Writer.

Thanks to generous donations from gymnastics and wrestling communities, the Cal State Fullerton gymnastics and wrestling programs have been retained for the 2010-11 academic year.

“All along I thought we could do it,” said wrestling Head Coach Dan Hicks. “I don’t think anyone else in the world thought we could do it, but we thought we could.”

The gymnastics and wrestling teams had to raise $280,000 and $200,000, respectively, by May 1, to ensure their survival.

“It has been a long year and it hasn’t really sunk in. There are a lot of challenges to come,” said gymnastics Head Coach Jill Hicks. “I am really grateful that we have another year.”

A $65,000 private donation right before the deadline gave the gymnastics program enough to get by.

“Raising money is not easy, especially in this economy, but many people were generous in their support,” said Brian Quinn, CSUF athletics director.

Because of Title IX – which provides women equal opportunity in college athletics – both teams needed to fund enough money to rule out elimination.

This put the Hickses in a unique position, being husband and wife, with the task of funding their own programs.

Jill – the 2007 Western Athletic Conference coach of the year – has emphasized academics (17 of her gymnasts have been named to WAC All-Academic Team).

Dan has averaged more than three NCAA championship qualifiers per year in his eight years at CSUF and brought prominence to a wrestling program that, prior to 2004, had not won a Pac-10 dual meet in five years.

They have done a lot with very little.

“Their (the Hickses’) passion for their sports and their student-athletes is obvious,” Quinn said.

The Hickses first found out about the crisis surrounding their programs early last year.

In June 2009, Jill was notified that she had to raise $90,000 by Aug. 1 if she wanted to keep the gymnastics program alive.

Wrestling Head Coach Dan Hicks achieved his goal in raising enough money for his team to compete in the 2010-11 academic year. Photo by Nick Marley/Daily Titan Photo Editor.

“It started off being, obviously, very overwhelming because we had to raise that much money,” Jill said.

Recruits were lost, but that did not deter Jill from her mission.

By the end of the summer, USA Gymnastics contributed $75,000 to their cause.

More help was on the way, in the form of 2008 Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin.

On Dec. 13, 2009, Liukin headlined the “Southern California College Preview” at Titan Gym to raise awareness about the dwindling CSUF gymnastics program.

The event generated $25,000, with the help of UCLA gymnastics Head Coach Valorie Kondos Field and her entire team.

“What it really did was that it created a buzz and excitement about our sport in the whole Southern California area,” Jill said. “That was a huge reason why we did it.”

Dan faced a similar uphill battle.

“I went to the guys and told them that I didn’t believe in a no-win scenario,” he said. “I figured there were things we could do and we had to fight it.”

On Nov. 22, 2009, Titan wrestling hosted the 44th Annual All-Star Classic, courtesy of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

The event brought in around $42,000, but more importantly, raised awareness for the troubles facing the wrestling program.

Even with just four scholarships in hand, Dan was still able to bring in the No. 24 ranked recruiting class in 2009.

Facing the possibility of extinction, athletes from both sports focused on what got them to this point – dedication.

“I told them they needed to do two things: Stay focused on the academics and their gymnastics and that I would do the rest,” Jill said.

This season, seven gymnasts were named to the WAC All-Academic Team.

Junior gymnast Alaina Baker finished 11th at the 2010 NCAA Regionals; her third consecutive trip to the postseason.

Junior wrestlers Adin Duenas, Andre Gonzalez and Kurt Klimek all made it to Nationals.

“We’ve been in the Nationals for 26 years straight,” Dan said. “I don’t think you can find another CSUF team that has been represented every year.”

All this was accomplished during a season of uncertainty.

The hard work put in by the Hickses has them fatigued but relieved at the same time.

“My hope is that the school will find a way to keep us and put us back in the budget,” Jill said.

Although both sports have met their goals for the upcoming year, the Hickses will not give up their programs without a fight.

“Most people would say ‘Why go through all the pain and the stress?’ ” Dan said. “It’s because we believe in a mission. We believe that these kids will make a big difference in the world.”

About Simon Liang