No one expected the University of North Dakota to cancel their women’s hockey program at the end of the 2017 season, not even the players of the North Dakota team.
On March 30, 2017, UND announced that after financial aid cuts from the state government they would be forced to cancel three of their athletic programs. Out of those three programs, two of them were women’s sports: hockey and swimming.
What makes this series of cuts even more unfortunate was the fact that North Dakota had not informed teams that budget cuts would be made to their athletic programs. Many thought that after budget cuts from the previous year, which would see the loss of the North Dakota baseball team, that finances at the university were finally stable.
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So you can imagine the shock on the face of Kristen Campbell and her teammates when they found out their head coach was going to meet with school officials to discuss the future of their program. Campbell and her team already knew that this was not a good sign, since this was the exact same dialogue that happened between the university and the baseball team one year prior.
“Our coach came into the locker room and said that they had a meeting at three,” Campbell said, “which was never a good sign. When baseball got cut the year before, they got a text saying that they had to go to a meeting.”
Campbell and her teammates knew something was wrong when they saw their senior class watching over them at practice. Since this was a spring practice for the team, seniors were not required to attend practice, but the senior class of North Dakota came to watch their teammates play one more time.
A few of the seniors had found out about the demise of their program from Twitter, where stories and rumors were already beginning to spread in the area. While all of these stories were not technically confirmed yet, the senior class had a pretty good idea of what was about to happen to their team.
Campbell recalled the strange events of that day, and remembers that the team knew something was off. Still, the team practiced on, not knowing that this would be their final practice together.
A heartbreaking photo came out a few hours later, with North Dakota’s Gracen Hirschy showing the team practicing for the 2017-2018 season that they were looking forward to.
For all the tweets about UND getting cut. No they do not know because they are still on the ice preparing for the upcoming season pic.twitter.com/TLEsYtnao1
— Gracen Hirschy (@ghirschy06) March 29, 2017
This caused an uproar in the women’s hockey world, and many people began to wonder what kind of school could just simply get rid of a program without bothering to tell them they were on the chopping block. Many asked for North Dakota to reconsider, or to give the team a year to make up the deficit, as they had allowed the men’s golf team to do the year prior.
North Dakota’s president Mark Kennedy denied many of these requests, stating that the matter was over and that this is what the university needed to do. Many people, including former women’s hockey players, began to show their disappointment in their alma mater, with the hashtag #NotUNDProud.
— Jocelyne Lamoureux-D (@JocelyneUSA17) April 12, 2017
The appeal to get the women’s hockey program back at UND soon began, with the hashtag #NeverEndtheFight uniting people across both the U.S. and Canada in their mission to bring back the program. Many thought that the outcry from the public would be enough to make the university reconsider, but in the end, North Dakota held firm in their decision with the team.
By the time that May rolled around, many of the players began to receive offers to attend other universities, many of which were in the WCHA. The team was fractured, and many of its players still feel pain when they think of the fate of their former team.
Some players were not as lucky as others, as many colleges and universities already had their roster spots filled for the 2017-2018 season. While North Dakota still provided scholarships for the athletes of the recently canceled program, many of them were forced to quit a sport that they loved and left without any means of continuing at UND.
Wisconsin was only able to acquire one person from the North Dakota program, and Campbell is now the starting goaltender here at the University of Wisconsin. Looking back at the unfortunate end of the women’s hockey program at UND, Campbell feels as though this loss was a major loss for the entirety of women’s hockey.
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“It hurts women’s hockey, it hurt’s the game,” said Campbell. “But a program like [North Dakota] can get cut. It became a fight for the future of women’s hockey. We tried the best we could to raise awareness because we didn’t want this to happen to any other program in the NCAA.”
This unfortunate event shows just how fragile the world of women’s sports can be. North Dakota is not the only school that has canceled a female sport due to budget concerns, nor will they be the last.
Wisconsin is currently home to 12 different women’s sports, and it is sad to think that there might come a day when we lose one of them. Wisconsin has a strong fan base that provides for many of the women’s sports that they have, but the same cannot be said for other institutions.
What happened at North Dakota is a tragedy, and calls to question how secure the world of women’s sports really is. These kinds of events cause many to lose interests in women’s sports and are extremely discouraging to any female athletes out there who want to continue playing their sport at the next level.
Supporting a women’s sports team at this time is crucial, and doing anything is better than doing nothing. North Dakota should serve as a turning point in the history of women’s athletics, not as a catalyst.