After a furious fundraising effort over four days, the University of Alabama in Huntsville varsity hockey program will, as we say, charge on.
Thanks to a GoFundMe fundraiser, T-shirt sales, and a massive publicity campaign, UAH alumni were able to raise the $500,000 by the 5 p.m. CT Friday deadline set by the university to keep UAH hockey alive for the 2020-21 season.
“The total amount of more than $750,000 in private dollars will allow the Chargers to continue to compete at the Division I level during the 2020-2021 season,” according to a UAH statement. “This total philanthropic contribution is the largest athletic campaign contribution in the history of UAH.”
Last Friday, UAH announced that it was cutting the hockey program due to financial concerns exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, two of the program’s top alumni and benefactors, Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis, spoke with UAH president Dr. Darren Dawson, athletics director Dr. Cade Smith, and faculty athletics representative Dr. Brent Wren.
The UAH officials told Wolitski and Sofikitis that $750,000 would need to be raised by the close of business Friday for the university to resume the program.
The cause was championed across several media outlets across the nation and across hockey. UAH alumnus and Calgary Flames goaltender Cam Talbot contributed to the effort, as well as Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome.
Wolitski and Sofikitis will each contribute $125,000 to complete the $750,000 goal.
Dawson has committed funds from the university to cover the balance of the hockey team’s operations during the upcoming season. “We are thankful and gratified from the loyal support that has been demonstrated this week by the fans and alumni of Charger hockey,” said Dawson in the statement.. “We are hopeful that this support will translate into a sustainable funding model that will allow the UAH hockey program to rise again to high levels of success.”
Now that the Chargers will play this season, the next step is stabilizing the program for the long term.
In a “state of the union” call Thursday with hockey alumni and boosters, Wolitski and Sofikitis outlined a goal to establish a $2 million yearly budget, with 25 percent coming from the university and 75 percent from outside sources.
An advisory council of alumni and local business owners would help the university manage the hockey program. They must collaborate on a 5- to 10-year plan philanthropic funding model, establish the structure of the program going forward and help secure a place in a conference, specifically the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), which starts in the 20201-22 season.
The council would also utilize the alumni network to recruit corporate sponsorship, recruit fans, and support the student-athletes with opportunities after their hockey careers are complete.
“The university is fully committed to the upcoming season,” said Smith in the statement. “The university will work with the supporters of the UAH hockey program and a newly formed Hockey Advisory Board to develop a plan that will allow the Chargers to thrive in 2021-2022 season and beyond.”
“UAH is committed to building a world-class D-I hockey program with a permanent conference home that will allow the Chargers to continue past the 2020-2021 season.”