MASON CITY, Iowa - Last Friday, the University of Iowa announced it would cut four varsity sports programs, including both the men's and women's swimming and diving teams, due to revenue shortfalls resulting from the postponement of fall sports due to COVID-19, after the conclusion of this school year.
For Forest City native and star swimmer Emma Sougstad, the news hits especially hard. She was part of the Hawkeye swim team from 2013-2017, and was a three-time NCAA qualifier and two-time All-American who set several school records, including being the first swimmer in school history to break 59 seconds in the 100 breast-stroke. She would later become an assistant coach at her alma mater after coaching for a time at Miami University in Ohio.
"It was absolutely devastating, for each athlete and coach."
With the announcement, Sougstad says school administrators will honor the athletes' scholarships if they continue to attend the University, and are working with those who pledged to come to the school for swimming to be able to continue to do what they love. However, the loss of the 103-year old program, which can help teach important life lessons, still cuts deep.
"You spend 20 hours a week staring at a black line in our sport, so your teammates are what help get you through it. There's a lot of life lessons learned in those 20 hours of tenacity, of mental toughness, of grit. But how you learn that is the communal sense of a team."
Already, a petition was started by Sougstad's training buddy Mike Nelson, to try and convince school administration to reverse course. As of Monday night, the petition has gathered just under 17,000 signatures.
"He knows the difference it made in his life, as well as mine and our head coach Marc [Long]. Many of the alumni of the program have been absolutely shaped and formed due to this program. having this be taken away and not having future family members enter is heartbreaking."
The cut results in no schools having a men's Division-I swimming program within Iowa.
In addition to the swimming and diving programs, men's tennis and men's gymnastics will also be discontinued.