Alabama-Huntsville alumni and community leaders will announce a “grassroots effort and call on community to get involved to save NCAA Division I hockey at UAH,” at a news conference scheduled for Thursday.
The news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. CDT at the Huntsville Municipal IcePlex.
Leaders will ask all UAH alumni and hockey fans to show support for the program and to help persuade the Huntsville administration to give the community a chance to save the program, one that has been shrouded in doubt since playing last season as an independent.
The Chargers made the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2010 after winning the College Hockey America postseason tournaments. The 2010 title was the final one in the short history of the CHA.
One longtime UAH supporter and alum, Geof Morris of saveuahhockey.com and uahhockey.com, is not part of the group organizing Thursday’s event, but will be in attendance to perhaps voice his views and opinions.
“[The UAH administration] has not been supportive,” Morris said. “When [former UAH president] David Williams was rushed out the door in March, UAH hockey had lost two advocates in the span of three months [with the late UAH athletic director Jim Harris being the other]. Mack Portera, who is chancellor of the UA system as well as the interim president, seems to have his sights set on dropping varsity hockey.”
Morris’ perspective of Chargers hockey seemed to be fine and dandy — until Portera was named interim president.
“Until about two months ago, I thought we were in the same shape we have been since August 2009 — working hard to recruit against and play an independent schedule, but really hoping something opened up conference-wise,” Morris said. “As soon as Penn State announced that they were going varsity, we knew that the landscape would change and that we could get a shot at a conference bid again.
“Then Mack Portera’s strong push to end the program — a push that’s based around some wrong thinking and some misinformation — changed everyone’s perspective down here. We’ve gone from an external threat to an internal one.
“In short, no one, especially not us, can afford to play as an independent the way Division I college hockey is set up. We thought the conference situation would resolve itself, but now the internal problems are raising up.”
Jared Ross, a standout and former captain at UAH from 2001 to 2005 who has since played 13 games in the NHL with Philadelphia, sent an email to alumni a few months back asking for support. More than $500,000 has been pledged over the next three seasons, program supporter and former Chargers player Keith Rowe said.
“We have been working behind the scenes with Jared,” Morris said. “We didn’t want to blow the lid off too early, especially not knowing what the funding level would need to be for the program to thrive. We’ve finally gotten that $500,000 yearly figure and we’re close to $200,000 a year for the next three years in support without going to the larger university and Huntsville community for help.”
Morris added that should hockey be gassed at UAH, the kids will be the ones who will suffer.
“The Southeast is the fastest growing sector of USA Hockey-monitored programs and Alabama is right up there with Georgia,” Morris said. “Huntsville is the linchpin to the state results in the same way that Atlanta is to Georgia. If you take UAH hockey out of Huntsville, I think you take a lot of wind out of youth hockey’s sails. I firmly believe that hockey has its place in the youth sports landscape, and to pull this program out hurts that.
“As for UAH, hockey is our Division I sport. We’ve had a tough five years, but the boys haven’t quit working to become better players and young men. I would hope that the college hockey community considers us key to any Southern expansion. There are great club programs across the South, but there’s only the one varsity program daring to do the tough thing and play a northern sport with all the bus trips that entails. It’s something we’ve done at the varsity level for almost 30 years.
“I think we’ve long passed the question, ‘Why?’ by presenting the response of ‘Why not?’”
An email message to an Alabama-Huntsville spokesperson seeking comment from the administration was not immediately returned.