Council established to save Iowa swimming and diving programs

A council of 12 – composed of 10 alumni and two non-alumni – has been created to help revive Iowa swim and dive.

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Ayrton Breckenridge

Mark Kaufman speaks at the save swim meeting outside the IMU on Aug. 29, 2020. He is an alumni and was a student athletic trainer at the University of Iowa.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor


On Aug. 21, University of Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta and President Bruce Harreld announced that four Iowa sports programs would be discontinued after the 2020-21 academic year– men’s and women’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis and gymnastics. Barta and Harreld cited financial shortcomings produced by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reasoning for the cuts.

What followed the announcement was a storm of outpouring and support for the discontinued programs. For men’s and women’s swimming and diving, the support was particularly impactful.

“We’ve just gotten an overwhelming amount of support,” senior swimmer Sage Ohlensehlen said. “I never in my wildest dream would’ve thought that 20,000 people would be this concerned about our program. That means so much to me and so much to our entire team, just to see the overwhelming support. It seems like the whole thing is really snowballing. A bunch of people had interviews last week and news media reaching out. It’s amazing to see how many people care. . . It’s making us all want to continue fighting.”

Now, the movement to save Iowa swim and dive has the backing of parents and alumni. A meeting of about 80 people took place Aug. 29. Participants joined the meeting both in-person and via Zoom.

One of the organizers of the meeting was Iowa swim and dive alumna Emma Sougstad. Sougstad is part of a group of 12 people that has met biweekly for the last two weeks to discuss ways to save Iowa swim and dive.

RELATED: Members of Iowa swimming and diving programs reflect on ‘heartbreaking’ sports cuts

“We have a council of about 12 alumni that meet biweekly right now,” Sougstad said. “[We’re deciding] what is our course of action and what are solutions we can come to and how can we get everybody on the same page to move in a forward, positive motion.”

According to Sougstad, the council of 12 has already met with the administration at Iowa.

“Mistakes have been made, and we’re not pointing any fingers at anybody,” Sougstad said. “We just essentially want mistakes to be fixed. We want to find a solution. I think that there is opportunity within these circumstances, and we can improve but it does require communication and collaboration. There are many groups that are committed to this movement. We’re committed to challenging these decisions quickly and decisively. We have been talking with administration currently of what this could look like to pause and reconsider.”

The council of 12 is also tapping into Iowa swim and dive’s extensive alumni database to help push the movement to save the program forward.

“At this moment, all we’re asking our total alumni base to do, and also broader community, is share your values,” Sougstad said. “So, share what value being a student-athlete brought to your life. Next up is share your information. How can you help us with this movement? Lastly, share your connections. How can we become closer to one another, move together at the same pace and broaden our base as well?”

While meetings with the administration and social media advocacy are both steps that have been deliberately taken by members of the Iowa swim and dive community, student-athletes like Sage Ohlensehlen realize that there is still more work that can be done to save the program.

“I think that’s the way that I can help the most,” Ohlensehlen said. “Just keep talking about this, don’t shut up. I’m going to keep contacting news agencies, keep talking, keep tweeting, keep facebooking. That’s my goal, and I’m going to encourage my teammates to do the same.”

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