Members of the UAA gymnastics team were working on their core and shoulder muscles Thursday morning when they paused their conditioning session to give their vocal cords a workout.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents had just voted unanimously to extend a fundraising deadline for the gymnastics and hockey teams, an act that could save the programs from elimination.
“We all cheered,” coach Marie-Sophie Boggasch said. “The huge sigh of relief is going to come down the road, because (we’re) aware we still have some work to do, even though this was a huge step in the right direction.”
Neither program has won its battle to earn reinstatement after being cut last September, but now each has more time to raise the money needed to escape the chopping block.
Citing what some called “impressive” fundraising efforts so far, members of the Board of Regents approved a set of proposals offered by UAA that could provide a way for the gymnastics team to return to competition next school year and for the hockey team to return in the 2022-23 school year.
“I was looking for the community engagement,” board member Ralph Seekins of Fairbanks said before casting his vote. “In such a short period, there’s a huge amount that has already been raised. I’m very impressed.”
The regents approved both proposals 9-0. Their votes give the gymnastics team four more months to hit the halfway point of its $880,000 fundraising goal and 16 months to reach the full amount, and it gives the hockey team six more months to hit its full goal of $3 million.
Fundraising efforts to date have netted cash and pledges adding up to about $380,000 for the gymnastics team and about $1.8 million for the hockey team.
Hockey coach Matt Curley said he was gratified by the unanimous support from regents.
“I’m really happy to see that everybody on the board was in lockstep with what we’re doing here,” he said. “It’s a really positive sign in terms of the belief and the overall excitement and the recognition of what’s been done up to this point.”
Back in September, regents offered the programs a shot at reinstatement if they could raise two years’ worth of operating expenses by this week. UAA’s alpine ski team was targeted for elimination at the same time and gained reinstatement by meeting its fundraising goal of $628,000 by the end of the year.
The fate of the hockey and gymnastics programs are entwined. If the hockey team can’t reach its goal, gymnastics can’t go forward beyond the 2021-22 school year.
Also, UAA chancellor Bruce Schultz told the regents, there are gender equity issues in play. “At some point because of Title IX, neither team would be able to continue” without the other, he said.
Boggasch said Thursday’s unanimous vote was “even better than expected,” but stressed the future still isn’t certain.
“A couple weeks ago I sat down with the team and we laid out a few different hurdles we’re going to need to clear before we can truly celebrate,” she said. “This was hurdle No. 2, but also the biggest one. A ‘no’ vote would have eliminated us completely.”
Boggasch said the first hurdle was coming up with the proposals and getting them on Thursday’s agenda, an effort that involved Schultz, UAA athletic director Greg Myford and a variety of others.
The next hurdle is turning pledges into cash donations and coming up with another $60,000 so the team has $440,000 in hand by the upcoming June 30 deadline. The final hurdle is raising another $440,000 by June 30, 2022.
During Thursday’s meeting of the regents, it was clarified that reductions in operating costs can count toward the fundraising total. For example, if the gymnastics team can cut its operating budget to, say, $400,000 a year, its fundraising requirement would be lowered accordingly.
Boggasch said she’ll look for cost savings in travel and coaching, and repeated her willingness to have a coaching staff of two instead of a staff of three, which the program is currently funded for.
“I want to try to display good stewardship of our resources,” she said.
So far donations have come from hundreds of individuals — more than 1,000 for hockey, said Save Seawolf Hockey chairwoman Kathie Bethard, and more than 500 for gymnastics, said Boggasch.
“I’m excited not only by the dollar amount but by the number of people contributing,” board member Dale Anderson said. “Now they have skin in the game and will be involved going forward.”
Anderson told fellow board members that he’s among those who donated to the gymnastics team. Boggasch said Anderson called her the same day the regents voted to eliminate the program and was the second person to donate to the fundraising campaign.
“He had asked me to keep it confidential at the time,” she said. “He made me cry back then, and he made me cry a little today.”