Maverick wrestlers hope for miracle

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March 14th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Wrestling and football student-athletes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are still a little shell shocked. The teams are coming to grips with a decision by UNO Athletics to cut the programs as part of a proposed move to Division I. It seems to be a done deal, but some students are hoping for a miracle.

Maverick wrestlers gathered for a somber practice at the Sapp Fieldhouse Monday (Photo Robyn Wisch)

“This morning, after not too much sleep these last few days, I got up and I said, you know what, I’m going to expect a miracle,” wrestling Coach Mike Denney addressed his team at practice Monday afternoon, telling his players to keep their heads up.

As wrestlers, he said, the team is used to adversity. “One of the things I heard you say, we can go another round. We can go another round, another tough round. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Denney said his phone has been lighting up all day with calls of support. And he said he’d spoken to some heavy hitters in the community, who say they’re backing the program and will help fight to keep it alive. Specifically, he said Omaha philanthropist and wrestling supporter David Sokol has said he opposes the decision to cut the program. And his statements are set to be published in an interview with the Omaha World Herald Tuesday. Wrestling has garnered most of the public attention, as one of UNO’s most successful athletic programs. Football has a long 100-year history at UNO, but the program has faltered in the shadow of Lincoln’s Division I Cornhuskers.

The wrestling coaches are urging students and supporters to contact the NU Board of Regents, which still has to approve the decision. But it’s unlikely a public outcry will sway the vote. Chuck Hassebrook represents northeastern Nebraska. He said his office has received numerous calls.

Wrestling Coach Mike Denney addressed a crowd of supporters at a rally Sunday night (Photo Robyn Wisch)

“I think people are angry about it,” he said. “That’s understandable I suppose. But at the end of the day, we’re cutting academic programs. And I think we can’t say that because we have lot of fans that athletics should be protected and all of the cuts should come from the academic side. We just can’t say that.”
Hassebrook said the plan moves UNO Athletics forward to a self-sustainable program that won’t drain funding from academics.

“If we don’t take steps like this to try to get our athletic programs on sound financial footing,” he said, “we’re going to lose them all.”

“We either have to get them to where they’re sound and they’re not draining excessive amounts from academics, or there will be no athletics.”

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