MONTEITH COLUMN: Alabama Huntsville moonshot pays off, against all odds
Alabama Huntsville is the zombie program of men’s college hockey. Nothing can kill the Chargers.
That’s the conclusion I’ve reached in the last week.
The Chargers hockey team found itself on the chopping block for the second time in nine years after the university’s May 22 announcement eliminating the program. But this program never goes down without a fight.
As was the case in 2011, UAH reversed course and reinstated the program. It took two months to do so in 2011. It only took one week this time.
That’s all thanks to the moonshot fundraising effort that began on Memorial Day evening, only three days after news of the program’s demise came down. A group of hockey alumni and devoted fans formed a grassroots campaign to save the Chargers with a goal of raising $500,000. UAH President Darren Dawson gave them a deadline of 5 p.m. on May 29.
Huntsville fans had just under four days to save their program. All they needed to do was find half a million dollars. Piece of cake.
Many, myself included, had their doubts. I didn’t think it’d be even remotely possible to convince that many people to part with that much money during a global pandemic that has caused the economy to go down the drain.
Former Charger standout Sheldon Wolitski called the fundraising goal set by Dawson “unrealistic” and “daunting,” according to AL.com. The bar was high, though that proved to be no obstacle.
In the end, the fundraiser surpassed the $500,000 mark by noon Friday with five hours to spare. Supporters recruited the help of countless figures in the hockey world to spread the word, and it worked.
On top of the nearly $540,000 raised by the GoFundMe and more than $32,000 generated from T-shirt sales, Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis -- both All-Americans and members of the 1996 Division II national championship team -- each donated $125,000 to bring the total to more than $750,000 by Friday afternoon. The total amount raised stood at $870,022, according to a press release Saturday from the alumni group behind the effort.
The university officially reinstated the program for the 2020-21 season with an announcement Friday afternoon.
The work isn’t done yet, however.
It remains to be seen how the program can become financially stable for the long haul. Alabama Huntsville shouldn’t expect fundraisers to save its bacon every year. That model would be unsustainable.
There’s also the matter of what conference the Chargers will belong to beyond the upcoming season. Their goal is to eventually gain admission into the new CCHA that’s been formed by seven departing WCHA schools.
The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul hopes to ascend to Division I status and has been widely speculated as a potential eighth member for the new league. How the conference will look when it begins play in 2021-22 is anyone’s guess.
UAH has said it will work with a new hockey advisory board to address those concerns as the school hopes to keep the program alive and well beyond 2020-21.
For next season at least, Alabama Huntsville hockey is back. Bemidji State fans will (pandemic permitting) again be able to serenade their longtime rivals with chants of “Who hates Huntsville? We hate Huntsville!”
As for the fans in Alabama, they might have a new chant of their own to chirp back.
“Who saved Huntsville? We saved Huntsville!”