Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baseball is Back at UW-La Crosse

Two months ago, the baseball and tennis programs at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse were axed. This week, they were saved. Through some insanely proficient fundraising campaigns, both programs are back. After the program was saved, I had to talk with Zach Thiel, organizer of the site

The Bucky Channel: First off Zach, congratulations on saving a program that looked like it had seen it's final days. I guess the big question is, how in the world did you guys do it?

Zach Thiel: Saving the baseball program at La Crosse was a monetary team effort through phone calls, letters, and web attention from the site I created The team consisted of many individuals including coaches, parents, alumni, players, and total strangers. All in all donating enough money to save the program and keep baseball at La Crosse for another season. I also cannot thank the news media enough for assisting me in spreading the word of our situation and helping me spread our message to the local and national community.

TBC: Now, when you guys started this project, did you think saving the program was inevitable? Or did you view it more as something you'd like to see happen, but didn't view really as very likely?

Zach: As soon as I received the news about the baseball program at La Crosse needing $50,000 within three months to remain alive, I must admit it seemed like a daunting task, especially in our global economic situation. However I only had a few minutes during a call with Gary Sharp in early July (lead in saving the baseball program at Northern Iowa, which unfortunately to date has been unsuccessful) where doubt set in. But he quickly turned my doubt into inspiration with his kind words and advise and really helped me continue to keep my head up and focused on the task of saving Eagle baseball. So other than those few minutes of doubt I remained confident we would be able to raise the necessary funds needed to save the program. Every update from Anne Babich of the UW-L foundation and head coach Chris Schwartz kept me digging my feet in and wanting to spread the word more and more to help in saving the program.

TBC: Where did a majority of the support come from? Was it a few big donors, a lot of small donors, or key fundraising drives? If I'm not mistaken, I believe that you even got a nice donation of the UW-L Chancellor, Joe Gow.

Zach: To my knowledge the donations were large and small, I personally know of a single $10,000 donation which I am extremely grateful for as it gave us the final push we needed to save the program. Other than that I believe most where well under that, but donations of all sizes were needed to accomplish our goal. $50, $100, $500 it all added up and every little bit helped in keeping the kids on the field for one more season. And yes, Chancellor Gow personally donated $1000 that was divided between the baseball and tennis fundraising programs.

TBC: So we've saved the program for this upcoming season, but what does the future hold?

Zach: The baseball program is safe for the upcoming 2009-2010 season, we still have work to do to keep baseball at La Crosse for the long haul. Head coach Schwartz and former coach Bill Terry are working on a long term plan so the program at La Crosse will be around for years and years to come.

I'd also like to say that I have two cousins (Garrett and Gavin Scray) who are pitchers on the team both residing in DePere, WI. As soon as I received a letter from my aunt in early June concerning the program at La Crosse the idea immediately popped in my head of creating the website to help inform the public and draw attention to our situation. Since then it’s been a busy two months for me consisting of, interviews, hundreds of emails, hundreds of personal letters, well over a hundred hours of time, and a net result of getting to see my senior cousin Gavin finish his baseball career at La Crosse and Garrett take the mound for his sophomore season. It’s been a unique experience, one I never thought I would be involved in, but just knew I had to. Meeting all sorts of people along the way, it truly has been well worth every minute.

I want to personally thank each and every person who donated their hard earned money to help save the 2009-2010 baseball season at Wisconsin La Crosse. I also want to thank the media, who's efforts assisting me with spreading our grim situation helped promote and draw interest not only locally but nationally. Without each and every one of you Eagle baseball this season would have been a dream, not a reality. Unfortunately our work is not done yet, as we still need to continue to raise funds for the long term existence of the baseball program, but after seeing the response in just two months I am confident baseball will be at La Crosse for future generations.

TBC: Thanks for your time, Zach, and congratulations on what you guys have accomplished. It also goes without saying that I wish you guys luck for the future as well.


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