As a former player and coach at Alabama-Huntsville, Nathan Bowen knows firsthand what the Chargers’ Division I hockey program has meant to not only the university, but to the Huntsville community.
With Monday’s announcement that UAH will be downgraded to club status starting next season, Bowen didn’t mince words when expressing his disappointment.
“It’s frustrating because we can’t get any information from the Huntsville administration,” said Bowen, a member of a local group of UAH alumni and friends that has been raising money to keep the UAH program alive. “The number $1.5 million keeps getting thrown out there, yet no one seems to know what that number entails.
“What’s frustrating us the most is that we haven’t even been given the opportunity to help and work through this. Give us three years and if it doesn’t work, we’re big boys, then shut this thing down and put it to club. If the right people ran this program the way it should be run, Huntsville could be a real gem and be a real revenue source, but it’s not being run properly and has never been given proper support from the school’s administration. Another fact, too, is that season tickets weren’t on sale until Sept. 15 and the season started Oct. 1. You do the math.”
When Bowen played for UAH from 1996 to 2000, the Chargers won the Division II national championship his freshman year and then the program made the jump to Division I.
“When I played here, the program was very healthy and a lot of really good things were happening,” Bowen said. “Even recently, with guys like Scotty Munroe, Jared Ross and Cam Talbot playing here and then playing in the NHL, there was never any indication the program going club was on the horizon. Coaching-wise, Doug Ross busted his [behind] and so did Danton Cole and now Chris Luongo.
“There is no business plan, no marketing plan and no corporate sponsorship plan here. There are so many business-savvy alumni who have pledged to help and what we pledged to do was to have the school provide the scholarships and we would fund the rest and take on the financial burden. We have to try, and even with the new president coming in Nov. 1, we’re hoping he will look at the situation and maybe this decision can be reversed.
“We owe it to the 23 kids on the roster to try and find a solution.”
Interim president Malcolm Portera announced the decision to remove varsity status on Monday. Portera, who is also the chancellor of the University of Alabama system, is scheduled to make way for incoming UAH president Robert Altenkirch on Oct. 31.
UAH athletic department officials did not respond to an interview request, but Luongo issued a statement to USCHO via email.
“It is a sad day for Alabama-Huntsville, the city of Huntsville and hockey in the south,” he wrote. “There is a tremendous hockey culture in the Huntsville area that was built on the presence and hard work of UAH hockey and it will suffer greatly from this decision. I want to thank UAH hockey supporters for the tremendous support they have shown UAH hockey over the years. Our student-athletes, alumni and our supporters are devastated by this move.”
Bowen expressed dismay that the decision to kill the varsity program was made by Portera.
“The other piece to this is that the people examining the situation spent more time outside of Huntsville than anywhere,” said Bowen. “They didn’t get a feel for the community. We have the support of the mayor and the city and county passed resolutions to support the hockey program. Those that said they would step up to help have all put their money where their mouth is.
“It seems like we have phenomenal support from everyone but administration.”