- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Lauren Artis was a two-sport athlete growing up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, excelling in golf and swimming into her teenage years at Elizabeth Seton High School. Two Historically Black College and University (HCBU) programs offered her golf scholarships.

But when she got a feeling for the campus at Hampton University and met the coach, Artis knew where she wanted to be.

Artis, who is Black, found a level of comfort and understanding in spending time with other Black students on the women’s and men’s golf teams — which practiced together and sometimes traveled together to the same tournaments, fostering a strong bond among the student-athletes.

“It was literally one big family,” Artis said in a recent phone interview. “There was no separation, no division, none of that.”

This summer, after Artis’ freshman year playing for the Pirates, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the private HBCU in southern Virginia to make $1.4 million in athletic budget cuts — which included discontinuing both golf teams.”It was a big slap in the face. That’s what it felt like,” Artis recalled.

Collegiate athletic departments of all sizes are facing shortfalls after the pandemic disrupted their spring sports seasons and hampered revenue. On Wednesday, Stanford University announced 11 non-revenue sports would be cut after 2020-21. The University of Connecticut cut men’s cross country, men’s swimming and driving, men’s tennis and women’s rowing last month.

As colleges and universities struggle to find their way financially because of coronavirus, so too do the student-athletes like Hampton’s golfers who played for the programs being cut, often on full or partial scholarships.

A June 10 press release said that to bring men’s and women’s golf back for the 2020-21 school year, Hampton would need to raise about $352,000. Former coach Dennis Nelson said he felt that was the university’s way of putting the onus on the alumni.

“My thing is, when they gave those numbers, even the alumni who’s reached out to me and the ones I did talk to, the notice was so short,” Nelson said. “You really didn’t have time to even come up with that money, unless someone just had some money laying around the house somewhere and just wanted to write a check.”

Hampton director of athletics Eugene Marshall told The Washington Times that the department would need to reach $352,000 by Aug. 1 for golf to be brought back in 2020-21, because the semester begins Aug. 10.

To bring the program back at “full strength” would cost $600,000 a year, and Marshall said they would aim to raise $1.8 million for the program to be sustainable for at least three years.

“This is not an anomaly,” Marshall said, given other HBCUs that have had to cut golf in the past. “It’s unfortunate. But we’re probably one of the few institutions that are still trying to roll up our sleeves and help this program.”

Marshall vowed the department will do everything in its power to assist the student-athletes who decide to return to Hampton in the fall. But in the short term, the golfers’ financial and academic futures are in limbo.

For one, Hampton announced last week that all fall classes will be conducted online, and it remains to be seen if the NCAA will allow schools to hold athletic activities if campuses are otherwise closed to students. (Golf is a two-season sport, fall and spring, but the most important tournaments, including championships, are played in the spring.)

For another, students and their families have limited time to decide whether to transfer or remain at Hampton. Nelson pointed out that at this time of year, most schools’ golf teams are full and not actively recruiting for new scholarship players.

Rising junior Mateo Manzanares felt the athletic department had been “vague” with the golfers so far and failed to work with each individual as much as he felt was warranted.

Manzanares said he plans to stay at Hampton, and is appealing to the school for a semester’s worth of scholarship assistance to replace the golf scholarship.

“It’s pretty daunting to have to deal with something of this magnitude in this short a timeframe,” Manzanares said. “I think it would be pretty hard for any 20-year-old or 18-year-old to try to make that decision of where to go next year, whether even to attend school or to transfer and play somewhere else, or to forego college golf altogether. It’s a life-changing decision for sure.”

Nelson — who coached both the men and women — found out June 4 that the golf teams would be discontinued, and he delivered the news to all his golfers and their families.

Artis found out from her dad while she worked her job at a golf course in College Park. Both teams had a combined group video call that day, where Manzanares said not many words were shared — more so stunned silence and frowning in disbelief.

Letters of scholarship non-renewal were mailed out in late June, which Marshall said is a necessary part of the process and doesn’t mean the university won’t provide students with financial assistance later on. First, Marshall said, the school needs to know which ones are returning to Hampton next year. But the students and families making that decision must do so without a clear picture of what assistance they’ll end up receiving.

“It’s a moving target that you just can’t pin down,” Marshall said of the pandemic’s effect on college sports. “So the timing is not good for everybody.”

As part of the cuts, Nelson lost his job; his last day at Hampton was June 30. Though unemployed now, Nelson is a Navy veteran and said he has “something to fall back on.” He was more concerned about his players, and he’s continued to work the phones, trying to see how he can help them find either a new institution or other assistance.

Like Manzanares, Artis plans to stay at Hampton to remain in the kinesiology program despite not having her golf scholarship. She said some of her teammates had tried to contact different alumni and even celebrities for help. Last year, Steph Curry endowed the men’s and women’s golf programs at Howard, the HBCU in the District, for six years.

Artis appreciated being able to play a predominantly White sport at an HBCU because she got to befriend other Black golfers who had the same experiences as her growing up.

“We wish that there were more of us because it brings a sense of comfort,” she said, “that you see someone that looks like you in a place that the world doesn’t necessarily think you should be.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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