The battle to save the Tribe: What it took to keep three collegiate women’s teams on campus

by San Eli News

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — In September, a Change.org petition started circulating in the online gymnastics community explaining what was happening at William & Mary. 

The Tribe’s women’s varsity gymnastics team was one of seven sports programs on the chopping block. Men’s gymnastics, men’s indoor and outdoor track, men’s and women’s swimming and women’s volleyball were also getting the ax. 

Then-Athletic Director Samantha Huge explained they made decision for financial reasons.  

Almost immediately, an organization called CGGI, College Gymnastics Growth Initiative, created a petition to save the women’s gymnastics team. CGGI falls under the Women’s College Gymnastics Association.

10 On Your Side spoke with WCGA President Kerrie Turner about the petition and the efforts to save the Tribe Women’s Gymnastics Program. 

“Every time we go into this situation we’re just hoping to get as many eyes on this situation as possible, get as many people activated as possible just to really just bring attention to the situation,” said Turner. 

The petition was shared by coaches, athletes and supporters from around the country. 

Turner says there are already too few college gymnastics programs in America, at a time when the sports itself is growing tremendously. This year alone, the University of Alaska Anchorage, Seattle-Pacific and the University of Bridgeport have all cut their women’s gymnastics teams.

Turner says CGGI will fight for each and every program.  

Alumni continue to fight against William & Mary’s decision to discontinue seven sports
At William & Mary the athletes fought back as well. 

The women’s teams banded together retaining attorney Arthur Bryant, an expert on Title IX. Bryant represented the Tribe’s women’s basketball team when the school tried to cut the sport in 1991. He won. Thirty years later, the team still exists. 

William & Mary reinstating 3 women’s sports after being threatened with Title IX lawsuit
On Sept. 23, Bryant sent a letter to William & Mary President Katherine Rowe saying the cuts violated Title IX laws and threatened to sue if the school didn’t reinstate the teams. 

READ: Attorney Arthur Bryant Sept. 23 letter to President Katherine Rowe at William & Mary

In the initial announcement, Huge, the athletic director, assured the cuts were Title IX compliant. 

READ: William & Mary response on Sept. 30 to letter from attorney Arthur Bryant

Bryant laid out the numbers, which showed not only were the cuts not compliant with Title IX, but even if the school reinstated the three women’s teams, they still wouldn’t be Title IX compliant. 

Facing a lawsuit, the school announced all three women’s programs would remain on campus. 

“That’s an enormous step forward. It’s a huge victory not only for the women on these teams that had been eliminated but for anybody who cares about fairness and equity,” said Bryant. 

A month after making the announcement to cut the team, Huge stepped down. Jeremy Martin stepped in as interim athletic director. 

Martin went a step further than simply keeping the three women’s teams. He also vowed to make the department totally compliant with Title IX by the 2022-2023 school year. 

“Equity is squarely within William & Mary’s values,” said Martin. “So we’re going to build upon that foundation in the athletics department. We’ll undertake a gender equity review during this year to make sure that every student-athlete who comes here has an experience that’s equitable and provides them the greatest opportunity for success.”

Bryant says the outcome is a message to schools and women across the country. 

“It’s a message to schools that they need to comply with the law and give gender equity in their athletic programs. It’s a lesson to the women that if you’re not being treated fairly it’s time to fight.”

Bryant wants female college athletes everywhere to know the law is on their side. 

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