If the University of Maryland men's track program continues into the 2012-13 school year, it will be leaner and vastly different than its present form.
But in a way, that will be one little victory in the face of looming uncertainty.
The men's track program and several other University of Maryland sports are engaged in fundraising efforts to stave off elimination by the university's cash-strapped athletic department. Last fall, the school announced plans to cut men's track, men's cross country, men's and women's swimming and diving, women's acrobatics and tumbling, men's tennis and women's water polo due to athletic department budget shortfalls.
On March 16, the athletic department announced a revised fundraising plan for the men's track program that calls for the team to drop its winter indoor season and continue competing during the spring outdoor season with a maximum roster of 14. This year's men's track and field roster lists 27 team members, including eight from The Gazette's coverage area (Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's counties).
The revised plan also changes the fundraising benchmarks the team must meet. To date, the men's track program has raised nearly $575,000, and it must have $940,000 by June 30 and $1.88 million by Dec. 31. The original plan, which included funding for both the indoor and outdoor seasons, called for the team to raise more than $4 million by June 30.
Athletic department officials and head track coach Andrew Valmon say they are planning for the team to continue competing next spring.
“Whether or not it's the greatest proposal, it allows the opportunity to have the men's program back and the opportunity to build,” Valmon said. “If somebody were to say, ‘Why would you want to bring it back at half-tilt?' I look at it as it isn't an option. You either bring it back at 14 strong — and I say strong — or the program is cut.”
The team has had nearly a month to digest the revised plan. Each athlete will have to make his own decision about what to do. Four members of the team are seniors and will be lost to graduation. Valmon said he expects some will transfer to other schools.
“It's definitely been a little stressful,” said junior high jumper Jon Hill, a Walkersville High School graduate. “The coaches have done a real good job of filling us in and letting us know the progress that's been going on with proposals to save the program. We're not really thinking about next year right now. Everyone is trying to focus on the performances they need to get, as opposed to maybe not having a team next year.”
One person who is focusing on next year — among many other things — is Valmon. In addition to running the Maryland men's and women's track teams, Valmon will guide the United States men's team at the 2012 London Olympics.
A member of the gold-medal-winning 1,600-meter relay teams at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, Valmon has ideas in mind for a new, streamlined Maryland men's squad.
“We're going to have to recruit a little differently,” Valmon said. “We're going to have to do more events with fewer bodies.”
Valmon pointed to the performance of Zach Ray, a senior from Huntingtown, Md., as an example of the versatility the Terps will need next spring with a 14-man roster. Last weekend at the Florida Relays in Jacksonville, Fla., Ray notched a career-best time of 52.73 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles, which is the eighth-best time in school history. He also took ninth in the long jump and ran with the Terps 800 and 1,600 relay teams.
“We're going to end up having a team that's similar to what Zach did,” Valmon said. “It's going to be a challenge recruiting-wise, but we'll have to get more bang for the buck with fewer bodies.”
Sixteen of the 27 men on this year's roster are from Maryland. The home-grown group includes five from Montgomery County (Chris Brown and Kyle Graves, Our Lady of Good Counsel; Sean O'Leary, Alex Willett and Nick Regan, Walter Johnson) and two from Prince George's County (Brian Faherty, Eleanor Roosevelt; Cory Puffett, DeMatha).
Hill, who tied his season best in the high jump with a leap of 7 feet, 1/4 inch at the Florida Relays, said he hopes uncertainty surrounding the track team won't impact recruiting.
“I wouldn't want to discourage high school athletes from wanting to come to Maryland for track,” Hill said. “If we do save it, it's going to be a program stronger than before. It'll be close to fully funded.”
The track team's fight for survival is not the first time Valmon has faced a challenge at Maryland.
When he arrived in College Park in 2003, he took over a program that had three scholarships for men's track. He helped boost that number to six.
The men's team has had two athletes earn multiple All-America honors during Valmon's tenure, including standout hurdler and Mitchellville native Dominic Berger (DeMatha Catholic High), who is in the process of trying to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
The Maryland men's track program has a history that dates back to the 1920s. Its most notable alum, Renaldo Nehemiah, was one of the world's top hurdlers in the late 1970s and early 1980s and would have been an Olympian in 1980 if not for the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games.
Although Valmon is not a Maryland alum — he went to Seton Hall University — the history is not lost on him.
“If not for coming on board with three scholarships and getting it to six and seeing Dominic Berger go to the Olympic Trials, maybe I'd be on the side of people who think it's not a worthy challenge [to try to save the team],” Valmon said. “But I see the legacy and the history, and I don't think these men put this much effort and time on the line for me to come in and make that call. We're going to fight to the end.”