Monday, March 22, 2010

Future of UW-La Crosse Baseball Still in Doubt

The man pictured here is Zach Thiel, a man who despite never playing for the UW-La Crosse Eagles baseball program may be one of the most influential people to the program. When news broke that budget cuts at the University would lead to the demise of La Crosse's baseball program, Thiel stepped up to the plate and helped save the program by organizing a donation campaign. Thiel's efforts helped get the Eagles back on the field for at least another season, but after this year the future is still cloudy.

We talked with Thiel back in August when the news was delivered that the Eagles would in fact take the field in 2010, and we recently checked in with him to see what's being done to make sure this program stays alive in the future.

The Bucky Channel: Zach, you were instrumental in helping save UWL baseball and allowing the guys to take the field once again this spring. What is it like to know how big of a difference you've had on helping these kids get to play ball for another year?

Zach Thiel: I truly believe that it is going to take a while for everything to sink in. The real difference makers are all the supporters and people committed to the future of UW-L baseball. I’m just trying to do anything and everything I can to help the baseball program and to keep baseball in the dreams of these kids and future kids wanting to attend UW-La Crosse. It’s been such a rollercoaster ride so far and once I know the baseball at UW-La Crosse has a solid long term stable program then I will be able to kick back, raise my feet up, and reflect.

TBC: The program has been saved for this season, but what does the future hold for the program? Are they going by a year to year basis or are you working on something long term?

Thiel: Yes, the season has been saved for 2010 and the team already has begun taking the field, but unfortunately this could very well be the last season for these kids. We have started a 5 year “PLEDGE NOW PAY LATER” campaign in an attempt to raise a total of $175,000 ($35,000 a season) by May 1st, 2010. Basically if you wish to donate a total of $500, you would be billed $100 on May 1st of each year for 5 years. This would ensure baseball at UW-La Crosse for the next 5 seasons, and once this goal is met everyone involved will need to sit down and decide what our next steps are. Funding a college baseball program off generous donations from the public is not going to work long term. So once this new goal is met we will need to do some serious brainstorming and develop a vision for the future and how we can ensure baseball at La Crosse for years and years to come.

TBC: Some people may not know that saving this program actually has a major impact on the WIAC, the conference the Eagles belong to. Can you explain how the conference would be affected if the Eagles program was shut down?

Thiel: Honestly, this technicality remains under the radar of the general public and I wish we could get everyone who is involved with WIAC baseball assisting us. The baseball situation at UW-La Crosse will directly affect the entire WIAC. As it stands right now in order for conference to receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III National Baseball Tournament there needs to be a minimum of (7) teams. If UW-La Crosse loses its baseball program the number of teams in the WIAC will be (6) and such immediately eliminating any chance for a school that is in the WIAC conference a chance at the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament.

TBC: If the program is going to survive on donations, at least in the short term, how can people help?

Donations…donations…donations……….that’s what we need right now to keep Eagle Baseball a reality. Interested individuals or businesses can go to www.saveuwlbaseball.com and click on the DONATE NOW link for multiple ways on how they can make a difference. If you are considering donating I want to say thank you and if you already have donated I want to thank you for your generosity and support. Right now every little bit helps and we can all help make a difference for the current and future baseball players at La Crosse.

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I'd like to again thank Zach for taking the time and answering a few questions. One of my fondest moments in college was when I was a sports photographer for a television station, and I was regularly assigned to cover the baseball team. Many of the people I still talk to from UW-La Crosse were members of that program, and I can't picture that university without a baseball team. If you want to help the cause, I've posted the link to his website near the top of our page. Maybe even if you don't help directly, there might be someone you know who wants to help keep this program alive, and make sure the other kids in the WIAC aren't affected in the process. Again, thanks again to Zach and I can't speak enough about how impressed I am at the difference one man has already been able to make.

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