The reports that Eastern Michigan University was shutting down four sports programs reverberated around the nation Tuesday, but Lorain County was shaken a bit more than most.
A pair of wrestlers from Elyria High — redshirt junior Armando Torres and incoming freshman Brendon Fenton — and a swimmer from Avon High, true freshman Ben Brooks, were blindsided by the news.
“Today has been the hardest day of my life,” Brooks said. “Just having to hear that we’re going to get cut … my teammates were more than that, they became like my family here. If we don’t raise enough money, I’ll end up transferring. I don’t even know where yet. I don’t have a plan, I just know I want to keep swimming.”
Eastern Michigan announced that it will cut wrestling, men’s swimming and diving, softball and women’s tennis. The move from 21 varsity sports to 17 is expected to save the college $2.4 million, according to The Associated Press.
The inclusion of wrestling was especially surprising as the program had been ramping up during Torres’ years, culminating in redshirt sophomore Sa’Derian Perry earning All-American status last weekend at the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland.
“That’s what’s rough, when you have people who don’t really know wrestling running athletic departments,” Torres said. “They don’t have a preference for wrestling and it comes off to those people as something that’s not that special.”
Brooks and Torres received messages from their coaches Monday night saying they had a team meeting early Tuesday.
“All the guys got an email from the head coach,” Brooks said. “We all got scared. We were making jokes, like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get cut.’ We didn’t think it was actually going to happen. Then we got there this morning and we were devastated.”
Brooks and the swimming team are trying to raise enough money through a social media campaign to add at least one more season before elimination. Torres’ future looks a little hazier.
“This kind of puts me in a really sticky situation,” Torres said. “I planned on graduating next year — I added some classes from my minor — so I have to make a huge decision. They’ll honor my scholarship here, so I have to decide if I want to hang up the wrestling shoes and stay and finish up my degree, or if I want to transfer somewhere else and give it one last crack for my last year of wrestling.”
Torres said he was contacted by a couple schools — an NAIA program and an NCAA Division II school — and he’d been talking to some of the wrestlers at Cleveland State.
“Someone like me it’s going to be hard to go to another big Division I school since I was in and out of the lineup the past two years,” he said. “I’m an older guy on the team, I’m going into my fifth year, so I’d only be around for one year. So a lot of teams aren’t going to want a one-and-done guy coming into their program.
“I’m just keeping my options open. I’ve got a pretty decent scholarship here and it’s kind of my home now, so I’m not sold on anything yet.”
Fenton was also contacted by multiple coaches Tuesday.
“They’re going to have options, but it’s whether they can find the fit that they had there,” Pioneers wrestling coach Erik Burnett said. “That’s where it gets tough. It’s bad for wrestling in general. Two guys that I’m very close to, they’re dear to us, that was their first choice, that’s where they wanted to go.”
It’s the second straight year an Elyria senior has been forced to scramble. Heavyweight Kevin Vough ended up heading to South Dakota State after Boise State, the school he signed with, shut down its wrestling program before high school graduation.
“What’s unfortunate is that the coaches are blindsided,” Burnett said. “When they are recruiting a kid they have no idea they aren’t going to be around in a year or two. Nobody had an inkling, and that’s frustrating.
“Think about the Eastern Michigan coaches … they have no jobs. I know it’s horrible for the kids, but now you’re talking about some good men and their families, and they have no jobs. It just stinks all the way around.”
That was a huge concern for Torres, too.
“Me and my teammates have been talking about it a lot,” he said. “I feel worse and my heart is broken even more for my coaches than for me. They went from the highest of the highs just three days ago (during the NCAA Tournament) and then they found this out and are going through the lowest of the lows.
“Things were starting to go our way. Our program was starting to get big-time recruits. Like Fenton and we had a nationally ranked heavyweight coming in and a couple other state champs from Michigan. We had a lot of promise … and it’s all getting taken away so quickly. It’s just heartbreaking.”