College Sports

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: A stunning end to WWU football

The Western football team takes the field before playing UND in Western's opening home game at Civic Stadium on Saturday, September 22, 2007.
The Western football team takes the field before playing UND in Western's opening home game at Civic Stadium on Saturday, September 22, 2007. DANNY GAWLOWSKI | THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Wide receiver Dirk Dallas thought it was a practical joke when he first learned Western Washington University was dropping its football program.

WWU alum and former football player Wade Gebers thought someone had to be pulling his leg, too, when he heard the news that after more than 100 years the school was shelving its helmets and shoulder pads.

After officials announced on Thursday, Jan. 8, that WWU would no longer field a football team due to budget constraints, it didn't take long for the news to travel far and wide.

"I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it," Dallas said in a phone interview. "I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. We'd all heard about the need for budget cuts. And we know that football is an expensive sport, but you never think something like this could really happen."

Shock, disappointment and frustration were just a few of the emotions players, coaches, alumni and fans felt as they learned the fate of the football program on Thursday.

"It's one of the most disappointing days I can imagine," Gebers said. "When I found out, it literally ripped my heart out."

WWU coach Robin Ross learned of the decision around 8:30 a.m., and then told the 100 or so players on the Vikings' roster a few hours later.

"It's a tough situation," Ross said in a phone interview. "We had our team meetings two days ago to get ready for winter conditioning. We've been out recruiting. We didn't see this coming at all. Not at all."

WWU president Bruce Shepard approved the decision on Tuesday on the recommendation of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. The move is expected to stabilize an athletic budget that has been operating at a deficit for the last five years.

"I have made this decision with a heavy heart," Shepard said in the release. "I am well aware of the profound consequences it has on the student-athletes on the football team - their dedicated and hard working coaches - and our passionate supporters on campus, in the community and region and on our alumni."

It was a difficult day for everyone involved in the athletics department at WWU, athletic director Lynda Goodrich said in a phone interview.

"There's a lot of gloom," Goodrich said. "It isn't the cheeriest place to be right now. As bad as we feel right now, this news is just getting out there. We haven't heard from many alumni and parents yet."

Like many parents of WWU football players, Stan Sinex was outraged by the decision. His son David Sinex, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Everett, called after the team meeting on Thursday and couldn't hold back his disappointment.

"David called me and was so upset I couldn't recognize his voice on the phone," Stan Sinex said in a phone interview. "He was just sobbing."

According to the release, players' scholarship monies will be honored by the school as long as they are enrolled at WWU, but that was little consolation on Thursday. Players also have the option of transferring to another school without facing an eligibility penalty because the school dropped the program. Ross said he and the coaching staff will work to help players find new schools if they want to keep playing.

"Right now, I'm just thinking about what I'm going to do now," Dallas said. "I'm local (from Lynden) so I have my family here and that was a big reason I came to Western. I'm just thinking about how hard this is on my teammates and friends who transferred here to play and now it's gone."

Former WWU coach Rob Smith also took the news hard. Smith spent 17 years as head coach of the Vikings before taking over at Humboldt State University in California and was as stunned as anyone when he heard the news on Thursday.

"It's just so frustrating," Smith said in a phone interview. "This is the wrong decision. WWU is a lesser institution because of this."

Western finished 6-5 this season, putting together its first winning season since 2004. The Vikings also won the Dixie Rotary Bowl and finished second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

Like everyone else, senior quarterback Adam Perry couldn't believe what he was hearing on Thursday. Vikings offensive coordinator Kefense Hynson tried to lighten the somber mood a little with a text message to Perry that said at least his passing records would never be broken.

"I feel for all the players and all the coaches who have worked so hard to help turn this around," Perry said. "They were working so hard and it was just taken from them."

Reach Joe Sunnen at joe.sunnen@bellinghamherald.com or 756-2862.

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