The message of the supporters of the Western Washington University football program was clear on Saturday night: They want the team back.
Around 60 former WWU football players, alumni, and members of the community gathered in front of Carver Gymnasium on Western's campus on Saturday, Jan. 17, to protest the school's recent decision to drop its football program.
The group handed out fliers as fans entered the gym for a men's basketball game against Seattle Pacific University, and chanted, "Let them play," shortly before the contest's scheduled 7 p.m. tip-off.
"We wanted to make sure the public understands what's transpired here on campus," former WWU football player Kevin Beason said. "We're actively reaching out to the community, our state representatives, the county legislature; we're just trying to get our message across."
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WWU announced on Thursday, Jan. 8, that it was cutting its football program after more than 100 years for financial reasons. School administrators said the move should save the athletic department around $450,000 a year.
"I understand why they would feel so passionately about it," WWU athletic director Lynda Goodrich said. "I'm glad it was a peaceful rally, and they showed their support for Western football."
Since the announcement was made, supporters of the program have raised more than $400,000 in pledge money through the Web site www.savewwufootball.com. WWU president Bruce Shepard has said the program would need between $10 and $12 million to start an endowment fund and reinstate the program.
James Bible, a former WWU football player and current president of the Seattle-King County chapter of NAACP, said at the rally that the decision to drop football should be about more than dollars and cents.
"The ball was dropped on this," Bible said in his address to the crowd. "The ball was dropped because they didn't contemplate that education comes first, and that on some level extracurricular activities are fundamental to education."
WWU senior Travis McKee was one of five or 10 current football players at the rally. He said it's been a disappointing and discouraging few days since the announcement was made. The school has said it will honor the scholarship dollars given to the current players on the roster as long as they remain at WWU, but that hasn't made things any easier to deal with.
Many players have already started looking for different schools at which to play.
"I wouldn't have been able to come to a school like this if it wasn't for football," McKee said. "I felt like we were getting this program going in the right direction. We had a winning season, went to a bowl game, and it seemed like everything was going up. And then it just crashed down."
Reach Joe Sunnen at email@example.com or 756-2862