In an effort to chip away at a multi-million dollar deficit in the athletics department, FAMU has cut two of its most promising intercollegiate programs. These cuts were made hoping to help offset a budget deficit of $2.4 million in athletics for the current fiscal year, and an overall deficit in excess of $9 million.
Men’s tennis is one of the two programs (men’s cross country is the other) scheduled to be null and void come June 30. The team is among the most recent recipients of a MEAC championship ring, along with the baseball and softball teams. The FAMU men’s tennis team defeated South Carolina State 4-2 to clinch the MEAC Championship during the 2016/2017 season.
The team has yet to take back the spot of conference champion but was working globally to recruit players they believed could be the next group to take the team all the way.
Junior Rodney Sturgis enrolled at FAMU and started on the men’s tennis team in the fall of 2017, the year after their championship run. Since joining the team, Sturgis has worked tirelessly over the past three years to help get the Rattlers back to where he knows they belong. However, his efforts are being cut short as his FAMU tennis career starts coming to a close.
“When the season is over, I plan to put an extreme amount of focus on getting involved at hospitals and schools,” Sturgis said. “I want to help tutor kids and gain interaction with some mentally disabled patients. I’m interested in doing this so I can build a greater understanding of my career path.”
Sturgis is a psychology major and the only U.S. native on the men’s team. While he has quickly adapted to the budget cuts, he feels for his teammates.
“When I heard the news that they [FAMU] cut us I felt betrayed in a way. Not as much for myself but especially for the new players they recently brought in,” Sturgis said.
The men’s team consists of six players, three of whom were recently recruited to participate in the 2019/2020 school year.
Freshman environmental science major Eliott Ekindi came to FAMU from Aigremont, France, and shared his disappointment with the decision. “I was honestly disappointed, mad, and humiliated. To have to fly all this way just to be kicked out isn’t fair,” Ekindi said. “This semester is going well for us; we’re excited to wake up and train. I’ve been meeting new people and building relationships and to know that it is all coming to an end once the semester is over is really hard. But I guess sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.”
Ekindi has made plans to leave the university following this semester but his direction is unclear.
Five of the men’s team’s six players are international students. Many of them came to FAMU on a whim looking for the opportunity to study and play the sport they love on scholarship.
Former men’s player Courage Okungbowa played No. 1 singles and was a part of the 2017 MEAC championship team. He said he couldn’t believe that his two-time alma mater was taking away one of the best parts of his college experience.
“To me personally it was a dagger to the heart because I was at FAMU for six years, receiving a bachelor’s degree in information technology and completing a master’s in computer science with a concentration in cyber security and I was just always around the tennis team,” he said. “Even as a master’s student I was a graduate assistant, so I worked closely with the team even after I played for them. Winning MEAC in spring of 2017 was one of the biggest accomplishments for us.”
Men’s tennis had not won a MEAC title since 1999 prior to that. “Our tennis team has always been one of the strongest in the conference. Spring 2016 we were No. 1 in the conference and spring 2017 we were conference champs, so to see all of that tradition and hard work just fade away is definitely disheartening and sad,” Okungbowa added. “The team brought in two freshmen and a junior and wanted to give them an experience they’ve never had, not just because they’re coming to America to study but because tennis is what brought them here. A major part of their college is experience is being ripped away from them. That’s difficult for me to process.”
The men’s tennis team will be in action from now until April. You can find their match schedule on the FAMU athletics website.