Jan. 20, 2009
BELLEVUE, Wash. -
By JOEL WILLITS, Bellevue Reporter Sports Writer
Last week's sudden announcement of the dropping of Western Washington University's football program has left players reeling, including a pair of former area standouts in Josh Lider and David Slingwine.
The Jan. 8 announcement came as a complete surprise to players, who had heard no inkling of such a possibility.
"I was actually in the weight room working out and some of the guys said they had gotten a text message saying there was a 1 p.m. team meeting," said Lider, a junior from Sammamish High School who has been Western's starting punter and kicker for the past two seasons. "We knew something was up."
Team members entered the meeting to find Bruce Shepard, WWU's President, and Lynda Goodrich, the Athletic Director, present. The announcement was made that Western would be dropping football, effective immediately.
"We all thought it was something besides the program being folded," Lider said. "Everyone was absolutely shocked. We kept thinking someone was gonna say 'hey, gotcha! Gotcha good!'"
Players were stunned Lider said, noting the initial reactions were of anger, bitterness and shock.
"I don't remember a lot of what was said after they dropped the news because my mind was elsewhere, thinking 'is this really true, is this happening?,'" he said. "There's a lot of emotions that come out after finding out something you put four years of dedication into is going away."
WWU officials cited financial woes as reason for dropping the program. A statement was released on www.wwuvikings.com, the schools athletic Web site, soon after the announcement was made.
"We cannot ethically commit to maintaining a program based on the hope that additional significant funding might be found in the future," the statement read. "The amount of money required to not only sustain the program today but also in the years to come, is not a realistic possibility given the tough economic times we're currently facing."
WWU did announce that players on scholarship would remain so for the duration of their eligibility, Lider confirmed, adding that some teammates have chosen to follow that route, mostly seniors in their last year.
Many players however, like Lider, are now scrambling to find another place to play football. And the exodus has already begun, as redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Bolt became the first Viking to transfer, as he has already enrolled at Humboldt State in California.
Slingwine, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman, was a four-year starter at Interlake before redshirting this season at Western. The Reporter could not reach Slingwine before deadline, but if he were to transfer, the freshman would have four years of eligibility remaining.
Lider, a second-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference pick last season, said he has talked to a few coaches but anticipates his decision will be a late one. He will have one year left of eligibility.
"The plan is to transfer, but not until after this quarter," he said. "I have obligations I made and I'm going to stick with them."
Lider said many players are disturbed for the same reasons he is - the friends he's made and the time he's spent in Bellingham that has made Western his home.
"I have a bunch of friends here and I love the school," he said. "I feel like this is the best school for me. And that's what makes this really tough."
Football had been played at Western for more than 100 years, having begun in 1903, with the only stoppages coming during World War I and II. In those 98 seasons, the Vikings had a record of 383-380-34 and finished 2008 with a 6-5 record.
Western also won its first bowl game this season with a victory over the Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl.
The statement released on the WWU Web site makes it clear there is little chance for the football program to make a return, stating "Now that the decision has been made, it cannot be reversed."
"It's an unfortunate way to end my four years here; I really wish I could have ended my career playing at Western as a Viking," Lider said. "I always hoped that later on, when I had a family and kids, I'd be able to take them to games and show them hey, this is where your dad played. It's sad that can't happen now."