ATTLEBORO — Jamie Fastino of Rehoboth and Hana Hershey of North Attleboro were two of the 94 student-athletes immediately impacted by the decision of the UMass Dartmouth Board of Chancellors to eliminate funding for eight collegiate sports.
Both were tennis players who had their racquets taken out of their hands.
Fastino, a Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High grad, is a recent graduate at UMass Dartmouth, but was a two-year captain for the Corsairs. Hershey is a junior political science major and a doubles player, who is now in limbo.
Samantha Martino of North Attleboro High and Rena Danho of Attleboro High are two incoming freshmen who had committed to the UMass-Dartmouth tennis program.
“I did not see this coming, not at all,” Hershey responded to being blindsided by the UMass Dartmouth action, notifications from Chancellor Robert Johnson and Athletic Director Amanda VanVoorhis.
“We’ve had a successful program for a long time, we’ve done a lot of community work, we have one of the best records of any team in campus, we have academic achievement awards and they still cut us.
“I’m not sure why they made that decision.”
“The decision by UMass Dartmouth was the result of multiple reviews over the past decade of the athletic program,” Johnson said. “The rationale of eliminating eight programs and to still abide by Title IX guidelines was “to formulate a long-term strategic plan that would provide the best possible competitive experiences for our student athletes.”
The reviews analyzed major aspects of the current Corsair athletic department structure, including available resources, gender equity, enrollment, full-time/part-time coaches, sports sponsorship trends and facilities, as well as strengths and weaknesses of programs.
That being the case, the Corsairs’ women’s tennis program checked off every box.
“It definitely blind-sided us,” Fastino said of the program, with minimal budgetary expenses being eliminated and with some 10 freshmen about to enter the program. “What expense do we have? It’s really unfortunate, though I’m not affected by it because I just graduated. But it’s awful. I’m angry because my teammates are still there.
“There were some of my teammates and the recruits that they train, they’ve dedicated their lives to play a college sport and find out a little too late,” Fastino said. “I am lucky for the experiences that I had and some girls in the future won’t be able to get that.
“I feel bad for (coach) Doug Chapman and (assistant coach) Peter Holt that they found out that they lost their jobs. Everything that we’ve accomplished, not only record wise, but academically and with community service and fund-raising — we’ve done a lot to support our sport.
“That’s why we were so shocked. Was it a mix of Title IX and finances? This had nothing to do with COVID-19, this must have been something that they were thinking about months in advance. They (UMass Dartmouth administration) never hinted at it. It could have been done differently with a little more professionalism.”
Chapman has coached the Corsairs for eight of his 42 years of coaching at the high school (Somerset Berkley boys’ team) and collegiate (also Roger Williams University) career. He was named a national coach of the year twice this year by two organizations, is a two-time New England Coach of the Year and an MIAA Coach of the Year.
“I never expected that we would be one of the ones dropped,” Chapman said of his women’s tennis program. “We would be one of the least expensive teams that they have and if you look over the last 10 years, we would have one of the top three records of the 25 sports.
“And we’re the last women’s team to win a Little East Conference championship. There’s only been one year in which we did not at least reach the semifinals.
“So, consistently, we’re one of the best teams in the league. This past year, 11 of our 13 girls were LEC Academic All-Stars, which was the most of any team in the LEC, the most of any UMass Dartmouth team in the fall and we had the highest grade point average of any team on campus.”
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association will honor UMass Dartmouth as one of its Scholar-Athletes Team of the year for the 2019-20 academic year.
Oddly enough, Chapman learned that his program had been terminated only after his players contacted him.
“When I called (UMass Dartmouth Athletic Department officials) to ask some questions, they were told to only read the script and not answer any questions,” Chapman said. “They’re allegedly going to tell us when we can come in and clean out our offices.
“Last August, when we had our preseason coaches meeting,” he added, “the vice-chancellor told us that they were going to be looking at all of the sports and that 25 was too many for a school with 7,000 undergraduates.
“They said the average for a school of that size had 17 or 18 sports. They said at the time that it didn’t mean that they were going to drop any sports, but going to look at each sport individually.”
Fastino and Hershey were devastated with the news when emails arrived in their mail boxes early Wednesday morning informing them that the tennis program (also the men’s) would be discontinued at the college.
Fastino was a four-year member of the varsity team at Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High, while Hershey similarly represented the Rocketeers of North Attleboro High.
Also losing out with the UMass Dartmouth athletic program cuts were Ethan Johnson, an Attleboro High grad and freshman member of the golf team; Sean Morrison, a King Philip High product and freshman member of the swim team; Brianna Cambra of Rehoboth, a freshman member of the Corsair sailing tean; and a pair of men’s lacrosse players, junior Sam Kozimor (Mt. St. Charles) and freshman C.J. Mello (Xaverian), both from Wrentham.
“Not only are we good playing and successful in the classroom, we’ve done community service with the wheelchair tennis association, a fundraiser for breast cancer, we provide used tennis balls for a dog park in Raynham among others. If you look at it all, we check off all the boxes. We’re an inexpensive sport, what’s the problem? What formula did they use?”
Entering her senior season, Hershey really has no options to transfer to continue her athletic career,
“I feel bad for the girls who committed to the school and now they can’t commit anywhere else to play tennis,” Hershey said. “They don’t have a way out. They may have chosen somewhere else to play tennis and now they can’t it — it’s too late.
“They (UMass Dartmouth) waited way too long to tell everyone. They screwed everyone over.”