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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Tuesday, January 3, 2006

By Woody Peele

Soccer not alone in graveyard of lost sports


Over the last few weeks, there has been a minor squabble among Pirate fans and those who just love soccer because of East Carolina’s decision to drop the men’s program.

The reason cited by Athletics Director Terry Holland was that the program has never been successful, finishing this past season with a winless record. Never in the history of the program did the team post a winning mark.

With the athletic budget already strained and no permanent head coach on board, the decision was made to put the program to bed, perhaps at some later date to revive it.

Many of the old-time East Carolina fans will remember several other programs once sponsored on the collegiate level by the school. Most of the younger members of the Pirate community probably don’t know that these programs existed at all at ECU.

Tops among these was the wrestling program, most successfully coached by John Welborn. Over the years, East Carolina’s mat teams were among the best around, winning several state championships. The Pirate grapplers posted victories over such teams as N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill on a fairly regular basis.

There came a time when the awarding of a “state championship” was eventually dropped, but in the subsequent gathering of North Carolina’s wrestling teams, the Pirates won all 10 weight classes.

After Welborn’s retirement as coach, the program inched down, but still went out as one of the better programs, not only on campus, but throughout the area.

The culprit was said to be Title IX, the government program designed to help build women’s athletic programs. East Carolina operated under a much smaller budget in those days and the only thing that made sense was to drop some of the men’s programs to make room for several women’s programs.

As it turned out, wrestling was the prime victim.

Even then, most of the women’s program were under-budgeted. It took a number of years for these programs to advance to a level where the field was somewhat level.

Lesser known than the high-powered wrestling team were programs for gymnastics. East Carolina competed in this sport for several years before it, too, was dropped. Jon Rose, who still aids the ECU diving program, had been the head coach and Darlene Rose, his wife, had been his assistant.

While both were extremely disappointed with the loss of the sport on the collegiate level, Darlene Rose went on to found Rose’s Gymnastics in Greenville, a youth training program. Among those she has trained have been several collegiate champions and Olympic contenders.

East Carolina once also had teams in both field hockey and lacrosse, but they, too, bit the dust some time back.

Even fewer may remember that East Carolina once had a rowing team. That sport was founded after the late chancellor Dr. Leo Jenkins pushed for it. The school purchased several used skulls and set up a boat house on the Tar River to house them.

While most of the crew competition was held “on the road,” so to speak, there were a few races staged on the Tar. The finish line near the Town Commons in Greenville, where a number of spectators gathered to watch the first of those races.

But the sport was soon relegated to the club level and ended when the boat house burned, destroying all the skulls.

Programs come and go at universities all over the country, and East Carolina is no exception.

Perhaps, in more affluent days, some or all of these sports could make a comeback.

After all, if Texas Christian can add an equestrian team, who knows what lies in the future?

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02/23/2007 02:44:16 PM

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