Athletic Department announcement receives backlash from student athletes Questions raised as to why resources are allotted in certain places

This is a photo of the rendering of the Upper gymnasium floor and what it should look like once the refinish is complete.

“We have some great news this morning!! Here are the plans for our new gym floor! We have begun a complete sand and refinish that will include an entire rebranding with all of our new logos!”

This was the caption posted on the RWU Instagram and Twitter pages on Wednesday, March 25. A photo showed what the court of the upper wood floor gymnasium will look like after the refinish.

Within the first two and a half hours of being online, the post gained many comments and concerns from student athletes about the refinishing. Some members of the wrestling and track and field teams brought up their concerns on the post.

Some of the comments included, “I hope @rwu_track is next” and “When is the wrestling team getting a space?” Other athletes explained their discomfort through a bit of humor, saying, “Those are some nice wrestling mats!!” or “Why does the wrestling room look like a basketball court?” 

Shortly after the comment section erupted, the post was removed from all RWU Athletics social media pages. Associate Director of Athletics for Recreational Services and Facilities Mike Gallagher explained why.

“In these challenging times, the Instagram post was intended to share positive news,” Gallagher said.

“When those student athletes chose to post negative comments, we felt there was already enough of that going around and didn’t feel it was the proper medium for that discussion so [we] removed the post. In these trying times we need to work together more than ever. Those whose immediate reaction to this positive news was one of negativity is very disappointing.” 

Members of the wrestling team said while they are excited for their peers who play basketball, they believe their disappointment was justified.

“Initially, we were all pretty upset to see the post of the new court on Instagram. Our comments, however, were taken the wrong way,” members of the wrestling team told The Hawk’s Herald. 

“We are very welcoming to new additions on campus, especially to our student athlete peers, but this was seen as a blow to our wrestling program. It really made us feel unappreciated and not of any priority.” 

To them, it felt as though the basketball team already had a home. Even though the new court update was required by the new NCAA requirements, it was still difficult for them. According to the rule change, RWU Athletics is required to move the 3-point line to the international basketball distance of 22 feet and 1 ¾ inches for the 2020-2021 season. 

Athletic Director Kiki Jacobs clarified why Athletics decided to do this refinish now. She said the gym floor was originally scheduled to get done this spring or summer. The department was trying to find a time to do this that would have the least impact on students and university events.

“The gym floor gets heavy use during the summer and it provides the university a big source of revenue,” Jacobs said. “When the school decided to extend spring break, then eventually move to online classes, it provided us a good time to get the floor done without impacting events or revenue streams.” 

The wrestling team’s current practice facility is located in the back right of the field house. This is a place frequently used by other school organizations, so the team has limited access to the space.

“We have been promised far too many times that we would eventually get one [a wrestling room]. We are finally breaking our silence because of these unkept promises and complete disregard for our team,” the wrestling team said. 

“Without the proper wall padding that a wrestling room provides, it makes it easier for our athletes to land off the mat and injure themselves.”  

Aside from injuries, the rolling out of the wrestling mats makes it much easier for bacteria and fungus to grow inside of the rolled-up mats.

“Skin disease is the direct result of this practice and a great example of this was the herpes outbreak that affected our program earlier this year. These conditions need to change to ensure the well-being of our team,” the wrestling team said. 

The team said it has been fundraising for nearly 10 years for a wrestling facility and has saved nearly $100,000 for this room. Team members said they have spoken to the administration and the vice president of student life numerous times. 

“Two years ago we were told we were getting a room. This fell through and university administration turned the project down,” the wrestling team said. 

Members of the track team also expressed some of their initial reactions on the Instagram post. Overall, the team had mixed feelings, between excitement about the upgrade of the facilities and feelings of frustration and disappointment. 

“While the majority of all other varsity sports have their own facilities and practice areas on campus, the track team is noticeably missing the one thing it really needs: a track,” said junior Connor Hayden.

The whole team travels across the Mt. Hope Bridge to Portsmouth High School every day in order to practice and compete for home meets. Hayden says the facility is very nice, but it does come with a number of difficulties such as using school vans that all sports teams share, resulting in students driving themselves to practice. Since Portsmouth High School sporting events have priority, the RWU team has restricted practice times.

Sarah Mawdsley, a senior member of the team, said she hasn’t even been able to compete in her event, the Steeplechase, because the team does not have the barriers for the track that are needed to compete in the event.

“For the past three years, I have lobbied for the purchase of steeplechase barriers for the track so I could practice and compete in my event, but have always been told the athletic budget couldn’t make it happen,” Mawdsley said. 

The topic of getting a track and equipment has been discussed. The team feels that having a track would benefit not only their members but other teams and students who do not play sports as well.

After hearing this announcement, junior Grace DePalma described the team as feeling a bit deflated. 

“Despite the fact that we want a track on campus, we need one,” DePalma said. “I don’t think there is any team who is opposed to having a track on campus. Every single team could benefit from having one. Most sports have a lot of running and conditioning involved in their practices, and it will be much easier to time athletes on their mile on a track than on the baseball/turf field.”

Work on the court in the upper gym began on March 23 by American Sports Floors. It is expected to take about five weeks. 

Eli Harris, a sophomore on the basketball team, said he felt frustrated when he first read the comments on the Instagram post about the renovation.

“They shouldn’t blame the school. It’s on the NCAA. I’m sure the school is doing the best they can to accommodate every team with whatever resources they can provide. I think it’s good for us to bond around a new court or field rather than causing a divide between the teams,” Harris said.

“We were looking for positive news to share with the RWU community during these trying times. I am sorry and sad that some student athletes were upset by this project. Once we get past this COVID-19 crisis, I hope to meet in person with those who expressed their displeasure about the project,” Jacobs said.