Wright State softball coach Laura Matthews slept about 45 minutes Wednesday night. Once she learned of the university’s decision to drop her program and the men’s and women’s tennis teams to cut costs, she turned all her attention to finding new homes for 20 student-athletes, including six incoming freshmen.
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“Once we get all of them taken care of, I’ll sit down,” Matthews said Thursday morning. “I might throw myself a pity party for a little bit and then figure out what’s next for me. We get into coaching to take care of our kids. None of us get into this for the money — not in softball at least. We get into this because we want to make an impact on players’ lives. When you’re recruiting a kid, you make a promise to them. You look them in the eye, you talk to their parents and you tell them you’re going to take care of them and you’re going to love them.”
Matthews, a 2008 University of Dayton graduate who Wright State hired in the fall of 2017, felt bad looking in her players’ eyes on a video conference call Wednesday and seeing the realization hit that they would have to pick up their lives and find new home for their college careers.
All the players had just gone through a spring without softball. The current Raiders saw their season cancelled after 18 games because of the coronavirus pandemic. The future Raiders, including Bellefontaine High School’s Caityln Shumaker, the leading hitter in the Central Buckeye Conference in 2019 with a .662 average, lost their senior seasons to the COVID-19 crisis.
Shumaker didn’t know how to feel at first when she heard the news.
“I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’” she said. “I was kind of in shock. We were on a zoom call, so we could see everybody. As soon as I saw other people crying and coach Matthews crying, I just started bawling.”
Another player who would have been a freshman next season, Lebanon High School’s Logan Mueller, said everyone knew sports were getting cut across the nation at other schools but didn’t expect it to happen to them.
“Honestly, it really feels like the universe is against me right now,” Mueller said. “It’s been a really hard year, but at the same time, I’ve definitely gotten stronger from everything that’s happened so far. I know I’ll get stronger from this. It’s like a blessing and a curse. It’s definitely taught me some life lessons.”
Shumaker and Mueller were among the players to immediately write about their situation on Twitter.
“Due to unfortunate circumstances,” Shumaker wrote, “I am looking for a new school to call my home where I can continue my academics & athletics.”
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Shumaker then listed the email addresses or Twitter handles of her coaches. Mueller did the same. Matthews said she will make it her mission to find all the players new homes.
“Even though I had no part in this clearly,” Matthews said, “there’s guilt with that because you want to protect these kids. You want to give them the best home you possibly can, and you want to set them up for that next phase in their life so badly. We weren’t able to do that for them.”
Matthews said she received an email from Wright State President Susan Edwards on Monday saying the initial $1 million in planned cuts wasn’t enough and now the university was seeking to trim $2 million from the athletic budget.
“You start to kind of do the math in your head and you realize it’s probably going to be tough to do this without program cuts,” she said, “but nobody’s cutting softball programs. We’re the first Division I program in the country (to be cut). You sort of think, ‘It’s not going to be us.’ But at the same time, you’re also thinking I don’t want my coaching colleagues cut either and the other student-athletes.”
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That’s why Matthews was blindsided by the news.
“It just didn’t feel that’s where we were moving,” she said. “Obviously, Wright State’s been in a difficult financial situation for quite a while, but as an athletic department, we were performing very well. You kind of hope in those situations, people can see past the financial challenges and not make athletics a scapegoat, but unf0rtunately athletics has become a scapegoat.”
Matthews, who said she’s been told she will be paid through the length of her contract, which expires next May, did not blame athletics director Bob Grant, senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator Joylynn Brown and associate athletics director Chris Bethel — the three administrators she worked most closely with — for the decision.
“I know they were absolutely torn apart by this,” Matthews said, “and there’s absolutely no ill will there. I think they were put in an impossible situation. I have the utmost respect for them, and I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”
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