Letter to the Editor: The Cutting of Clemson Track and Field

These views are solely those of the writer. Have a letter to the editor to submit for consideration, email jolson@milesplit.com

By Douglas Ameigh

Photo provided

I was asked to put into a letter my feelings on the attempted canceling of Clemson Men's Track and Cross Country programs. I was heartbroken and immediately felt the need to speak up. Obviously, 2020 has been a difficult year in so many ways and losing the track program would never affect an individual like the loss of a loved one or a long term illness.

I was heartbroken and immediately felt the need to speak up.

However, I feel that my story is worth sharing to show what the decision to discontinue track and field at Clemson means to young men, to Clemson, to South Carolina and the world. I grew up in a very small rural town in Pennsylvania. I was lucky that I had good teachers and caring parents. I quickly found out that I could rely on my intellect to get through high school without too much effort. I didn't need to work to make the basketball team (I'm 6'5" and only one other boy was 6' in the whole school). I could earn A's just paying attention during class and I didn't have to pay for my first car or the gas that went in it. My town had very few minorities including zero black kids and only a couple hispanic kids.

Related video: Coach Henry (Texas A&M) Speaks on Discontinued XC, Track 

I'm not blaming my town, it's just how it was. I wasn't afraid of minorities, but I had such little exposure. They seemed different and not like myself or my friends. I grew up privileged in many ways and as a result, took things for granted, struggled with hard work, and was generally "soft." Whether it was homework, chores, or the two warm up laps required to start track practice, I made excuses or found ways to duck the challenges in life. Many things were given to me, and if they weren't, I felt someone else was to blame. I happened to discover my ability to jump around my sophomore year and quickly became one of the best in the state. Keep in mind that Pennsylvania separates Philly from the rest of the state, so even then, I was mostly competing against other kids that were just like me.

Not just by race, but nationality, religion, even sexual orientation or general frame of mind. Anyone different was ostracized either behind their back or to their face. I was certainly not innocent myself. I continued to progress in jumping through my senior year and earned myself a $200 books scholarship to join the Clemson Men's Track team. The team was the National runner-up the year before and there was an incredible recruiting class coming in.

I was sent workouts to complete during the summer and true to form, I promptly made excuses each and every day to continue to avoid the hard work necessary to be the best. I was still just a boy.

Arriving at Clemson, I met my new teammates. Some were white, some were black, some were whatever. It doesn't matter. We were all freshmen and all just as lost together. The first day of practice was unbelievable. The warm up run alone was longer than I had ever run in my life. The workout was 6x400 meters with "active rest" of pushups, burpees, and mountain climbers. I hadn't heard of active rest before.

The August heat of South Carolina was nearly unbearable. Once we got back to the locker room, I literally cried thinking that I had to be back at practice in 22 hours. I couldn't move for the longest time. Eventually, I trudged my way back to my apartment. I didn't know how I could go on. But when I arrived, I saw my teammates in roughly the same condition as I was, cramping, moaning and unable to stand. We talked about it, complained about it, then decided we had a chance to embrace it and see what we could do.

Never have to live the life of woulda coulda shoulda. We were all "soft" before that day in our own ways. That day, we hardened up quickly. I grew up 10 years that day. I buzzed my pretty boy hair to deal with the heat, and day by day, my teammates and I pushed on. I grew up those days on Cemetery Hill. I grew up pushing Coach White's loaded pickup truck. I grew up with Coach Pollock chasing me across Jervey Meadows in a Gator. Each day, I grew stronger and stronger until just three months in, my body was unrecognizable. You could no longer see my ribs through my pectoral muscles. Suddenly, with this same mentality, I could actually do my homework for class. I turned into a machine for those four years. I gained 40 pounds of muscle and five inches on my high jump.

I left Clemson as an All-American, Academic All-American, three-time ACC individual champion and seven-time team champion with my picture on the wall of Jervey weight room. I could handle challenges thrown at me. Now, I was a full grown man. Beyond that, I had come to see my teammates as my brothers. They were no longer athletic specimens that I didn't understand, they were my friends, with the same challenges, hopes and frustrations. We were in it together for four years.

I graduated as a math teacher, continuing on as a volunteer coach while earning my Master's Degree in Educational Leadership and waiting for my girlfriend, now wife, to graduate as well. She was also a Clemson high jumper. We met at track practice. Combined, we high jumped 13 feet for Clemson.

Our kids, now 9 and 7 years old are complete Clemson fans and already good jumpers. I know it's weird, but it honestly was our dream for our kids to compete for Clemson in the high jump someday. We were on track until Thursday, November 5. But this isn't about my kids or my dreams. They will be alright. This is about the kids who won't have that opportunity because they aren't privileged like I was. My teammates deserved their shot, earned their scholarships and grew into today's leaders.

We are business owners, professionals, doctors, teachers, and many other things important to our society. We learned discipline, hard work, loyalty and leadership. These are traits we sorely need today. I am now in my 16th year as a math teacher in another small rural town in Virginia. Again, we have very few minorities, and I hear ignorant statements daily. It is the background and backbone I developed while a member of Clemson Men's Track and Field that I am able to refute this ignorance with pointed examples of the good in all people.

Many times, I represent the only one to break the groupthink so common amongst homogeneous groups of people. I understand the idea of staying in one's lane, but this most definitely is my lane. I feel that this activism represents the Educational Leadership degree I earned at Clemson University and honors future students by preserving opportunities for hard work to pay off, preserving running as a sport, and lastly preserving our specific championship tradition.

Furthermore, taking away Clemson track and field signals to every other program that track and field should be on the chopping block. Track and Field has a very low barrier of entry and is the sport of choice for many low income student athletes.

Related: Clemson Announces Major Cuts to Men's XC, Track & Field 

Our country is in an obesity epidemic that is only getting worse. We are in a position of inequality in the country that is only getting worse. Clemson has money flowing out of its ears. The state and citizens of South Carolina are paying Clemson coaches $16.4M to coach and even paying Will Muschamp over $15M to no longer coach. In recent years, we have afforded a kickball field and putt-putt course for the football team, and millions of dollars on monuments to our football success. The priorities are completely out of whack if our flagship university is unable to afford such an accessible and popular sport as men's cross country and track and field.

This needs to stop now before opportunities are denied across the country to deserving young men and we Americans continue our slide into a complacent, sedentary lifestyle. I don't think this is over. Clemson just needs to admit their mistake and realize there is more "Return on Investment" than just dollars and cents. I just think it's time our University grows up, just like my teammates and I did two decades ago.

Thank you. Douglas Ameigh, Clemson University '02, '04

These views are solely those of the writer. Have a letter to the editor to submit for consideration, email jolson@milesplit.com