Gail Ewing: Terrapin fans left in lurch -- Gazette.Net


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Oh, the mighty Terp Fan — steady and true, loud and impassioned, most of all loyal.

Oh, but are we enduring the ultimate challenge at the moment? University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh has signed our athletic and academic life away from the Atlantic Coast Conference and onto the Big Ten.

Will we stay on the side of loyalty and support this change? I asked some of my fellow Terp football fans what they think.

Vicki New, a preschool special-ed teacher from Bowie whose husband, Dave, and two young sons alternate joining her at football games, says, “I’m a swimmer, so when the swimming was cut that was a big deal. If this will bring it back, then maybe OK.”

She adds, “I’ll keep my tickets unless they jack up the prices.” But she’s tired of all the “showboating” with 39-plus uniform changes and says we look like a “(Redskin owner) Dan Snyder operation.”

Former South Bethany Mayor Jay Headman is a graduate of Maryland, as are his wife, two daughters, his brother and his sister-in-law. “We are die-hard Maryland fans” who have had season tickets for 40-plus years, he says. Since 2002 they have been driving up to three hours each way for football and basketball games.

“As a business decision, I can live with it,” he says of the switch to the Big Ten, but he laments the loss of the North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke basketball games. “My wish is that this turns out well.”

Rhea and George Snowden, of Gaithersburg, have been Maryland loyalists since 1972, when their daughter Melissa graduated from the university. “We don’t like the change,” says Rhea, “we should have stayed in the ACC.” Rhea, in her 80s, and George, at 92, have religiously attended Maryland football games. Several years ago, they obtained seats in the handicapped-accessible area so they now sit in the end zone, while their grandchildren sit in their seats on the 25-yard line. Asked whether they will continue to attend Terp games next year, Rhea says, “It depends on whether they play well,” suggesting that the one-year transition to the Big Ten could diminish the team’s performance.

The Terps fans I talked to want to stay with their school’s teams, but are clearly not happy and are trying to find a way to live with the change. Does anybody in the university leadership care whether most fans support the move? Perhaps we fans have sent the wrong message through the years.

Academically, we’ve seen our fellow alumni give and give, and when their children apply to join the freshman class they often are denied a spot. The freshman seats tend to go to out-of-town applicants with similar academic records who pay $25,554 in tuition rather than the in-state $7,175.

The university will say their choices are made not for money but for diversity’s sake. But to most of us alumni who attended the university back in the days when any Maryland student with a “C” average or better was admitted, stomaching the rejection of our high-achieving “A+” children and grandchildren is a slap in the face.

I know of several alumni who went through this ordeal. Most stayed with supporting Maryland. But one, who had donated more than $50,000 in a 10-year period, walked away. He just couldn’t get past that Maryland is a land-grant university supported with taxpayers’ dollars, and he saw no sound justification for denying admission to outstanding in-state students.

In sports, the record has been a trial of endurance. My husband, Bob, and I attended the university in the 1960s and have been big fans since. As everyone in Section 22 and throughout Byrd Stadium will attest, it hasn’t been easy sitting on backless, cement seats designed for the size of people in the 1950s.

More recently, leadership was about Maryland moving to “big-time” sports and fundraising through expansion with a monstrosity for box seats and other perks. Of course the debt is enormous. Maryland is desperate for cash. So, the Big Ten saves the day with status and lots of TV revenue.

Had the aim, instead, been to increase general ticket sales and provide good seating and a cover all the way around the stadium through the addition of permanent seats in the end zones, the debt would have been manageable. Plus, many more people would have become Maryland supporters.

The university’s leadership comes down on the side of “big time” and money rather than the fans. Of course, they left themselves with no choice. They had taken us over the fiscal cliff, and now the rest of us will pay for their mistakes.

Gail Ewing of Potomac is a retired at-large Montgomery County Council member. Her email address is gewing73@comcast.net.