They gathered outside Colorado College's student center at lunchtime Tuesday, at least 300 emotional students plus quite a few angry fossils (aka alumni), trying to convince the school's administration not to go through with a serious, damaging mistake.
The mood was raucous yet totally sincere, as articulate student-athletes from today and yesteryear loudly protested CC's plans to drop three sports — football, softball and women's water polo — at the end of this academic year.
There was so much spirit. Passion. Desire. And unity. Yet, the college didn't seem to care about trying to harness all that emotion, all that potential, and build on it.
Many in the crowd were deeply wounded. They couldn't believe CC decided to kill the sports without warning (or asking help from) anyone. Not the students or their parents, not the graduates, not even the coaches. As one alum put it, "If they had told us three, six, nine months ago that they needed money, we could've done it."
Jimmy Pogue, one of the few blacks who played football at CC in the early 1970s and an assistant for the Tigers now, expressed the frustration as well as anyone.
"Our real enemy is the philosophy where this college is about to go," Pogue shouted into the microphone, ripping the college for taking away sports that give the school much-needed diversity. "Back in the day, we probably would've burned somebody in effigy."
Andy Cornell, a 2002 graduate, recalled learning at CC to "solve problems through dialogue ... instead, 127 years of history were taken away in a news release on a Tuesday morning. It's pathetic."
Rich McDermott, a 1976 grad whose son now plays football for the Tigers, said, "They said they did hundreds of hours of research, but they never looked into the hearts of these young men and women. They never asked anybody who really cares."
Blake Hammond, president of CC's graduating class and the football captain (also a local product of Wasson High School), couldn't hide his bitterness, saying, "It's a travesty. There was no collaboration with the students. They say they don't have the money, but we know they have money.
"Why do you have an endowment? For a rainy day. And this is the rainy day."
For those who might wonder about student-athletes' direction, Hammond will take his degree in political science and history to Mississippi as part of the "Teach for America" program, working with underprivileged kids. But he won't be telling others about CC, "because I'm not proud to be a graduate from here anymore — this college is going downhill."
Surely, CC's leaders didn't imagine what the reaction would be. Instead of reeling in self-pity, the affected athletes, coaches and alumni have put together a remarkable effort to save those three programs. An exchange of e-mails evolved into a huge, sprawling message group, with current players joined by alumni from across the past six decades. Their emotional outpourings have been inspiring, as the response has galvanized people who don't even know each other.
Yet, the school appears determined to ignore pledges of support that have surpassed $450,000 — incredible, given the lack of warning, the lack of a single public event until Tuesday and the lack of any common thread except that e-mail group.
That's already more than half of what it would take to continue those programs for another year, buying time for more fundraising. Yet, the administration didn't appear interested.
"Two weeks ago, they told us they needed $750,000. We said fine," Cornell said. "Then they said it would need $850,000, and we said we'd raise it. Then it went to $900,000, and $1 million, but we can raise that. Now they say it'll take an endowment to guarantee the sports can survive, and that means $10 million. Then it was 15, and now 20. ... It's getting hard to believe them."
Yes, the biggest chunk is for football. But nobody is saying the program would have to continue its same path. CC already has severed football ties with its conference. At this point, nothing would be wrong with trying to convince the four league opponents scheduled to play here in 2009 to make those trips. CC also could schedule the Air Force Academy Prep School, even twice, and perhaps other small schools in this part of the world.
Six, seven, perhaps eight games, and the program could live on. The other two sports could do the same, though their expenses are far less.
Marketing could help
Then, too, CC could put the pressure back on donors to help find better long-term solutions. The school also could consider exploring a long-wasted opportunity — marketing the football program locally. Cultivate fan support by promoting CC football as being the game in its simplest, purest form. (With real history, too: CC actually beat the Texas Longhorns, 15-0, in 1908.) Charge no more than $5 a ticket, create an atmosphere without spending big money, and suddenly Saturday afternoons at Washburn Field — the oldest college football stadium west of the Mississippi River (1888) — could become a community event.
It would be so easy, and such a great way of bringing more city folks onto the campus, which doesn't happen with Tiger hockey, playing its home games on the World Arena ice.
"We need to find a way to rally CC to do the right thing," says Bruce Kolbezen, the 1974 football captain and now a local attorney. "If I were a development officer for CC, I'd be telling them to see how this plays out, and try to take advantage of what the situation has created. What the college needs to do is tap into that passion."
Tap that passion — or perhaps lose it forever.