New UNCW chancellor saves Track & Field program

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Five weeks into his job as the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s new chancellor, Jose “Zito” Sartarelli has announced the beleaguered track and field program has a long-term future in the Division I school.

Sartarelli, who started work at UNCW July 1, released a statement Monday afternoon that gives affected student-athletes and supporters enthusiastic news regarding the state of the program.

While the chancellor was unavailable for an immediate interview, the official statement comes on the heels of a successful $250,000 fundraising effort by a volunteer group set on preserving the university’s track and field programs after the previous interim chancellor had announced their elimination last December. Then, UNCW interim chancellor William Sederburg called the decision a “99 percent done deal.”

The announcement launched the group “Save UNCW Track,” whose members challenged the decision and accepted the administration’s charge to raise funds to seed facility repairs and improvement.

UNCW will continue its Track & Field program in the years to come per an announcement on Monday. Photo courtesy- UNCW sports.
UNCW will continue its Track & Field program in the years to come per an announcement on Monday. Photo courtesy- UNCW sports.

“For the past several months, UNCW has engaged in extensive dialogue both internally and with the community regarding potential options for solidifying the future of track and field. In examining what a continued program might look like, the goal remained steady: to provide the best possible student-athlete experience within our current portfolio and with the resources available,” the statement reads.

“Today I am pleased to announce that the track and field program will continue to be offered for the long term, beyond the already-guaranteed 2015-2016 season. By continuing to be strategic and playing on the strengths of the program, we believe the university’s existing resources will go further in supporting our student-athletes’ academic goals, athletic performance, and overall health and well-being. The need for renovation of our facilities is very real but we are confident that, alongside the community and with continued support from our private donors, current and new, we will find the funds to address that need.

“This university’s top priority will always be the education and stewardship of our students, which of course includes our student-athletes. We can’t do that alone. It is more critical than ever for the Seahawk community, locally and beyond, to step up and support our students, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with all of you toward a successful, sustainable Athletics program at UNCW.”

In June, Save UNCW Track surpassed its $250,000 fundraising goal by more than $5,000 to continue the university’s track and field programs through the 2015-16 season.

After an all-out effort to raise $255,781, UNCW and Save UNCW Track began to tackle a February 2016 deadline to raise $1 million to secure the funds necessary for facility upgrades on campus to meet an agreement reached between the two groups this spring.

Under the original deal, Save UNCW Track had until May 31 to raise within 10 percent of $250,000, per an agreement reached with the university in February.

UNCW Interim Chancellor William Sederburg released a statement in February saying while the university still intended to cut the programs beginning with the 2015-16 season, it would allow a private effort to raise funds for the programs’ operations and upgrades to UNCW’s track and field facilities. A successful fundraising effort would ensure the programs’ continuation and, according to the agreement, not require substantial fundraising in subsequent years.

UNCW officials and Save UNCW Track reached the agreement for a chance to come up with the necessary funds to help keep the program from being eliminated after the athletics department announced in December 2014 proposed changes to its portfolio of sports offered at the Division I level.