Although BYU–Hawaii decided to end athletics in 2017, Seasiders have shared the decision still affects them to this day. From a coach who struggled with employment, to student-athletes feeling a part of the school is missing. BYUH voices discussed the benefits and drawbacks of losing sports.
Seasider Sports and Activities, along with members of the President’s Counsel said the changes to athletics benefited the entire student body, especially students in Asia and the Pacific.
“The positive elements that athletics provides an institution like BYUH benefits the students, the student-athletes, and the university as a whole. It provides entertainment, character and leadership development, publicity for the university, and missionary work for the Church,” said former women’s-basketball head coach, Craig Stanger. Six months after Stanger was hired as a coach, he said BYUH President’s Council announced its decision to eliminate the athletic program after the 2017 season.
According to Stanger, the coaches wanted the opportunity to convince the church educational board that there were many benefits to retain athletics, but they did not get that opportunity.
“It is a business decision, and obviously I was frustrated with it because I was on the losing end of the decision. Business decisions are made constantly every day. Some of them you like, some of them you don’t.”
Stanger noted the decision had personal implications. He said it was a huge commitment to move from his home in Oregon to Hawaii. “Knowing in advance that [the sports program] was not going to be continuing, I would not have accepted [my coaching decision] based on financial reasons.”
He also said coaching is a very demanding profession, and he was not the most “marketable” coach because he took over a losing program. This made it harder to find a job, especially on an island with few colleges. “I should have been told about the future here [when I applied for the job,] so I could have made a more informed decision.”
Staying without sports
Like Stanger, Max Moncur, a BYUH alumnus and a Cross-Country Coach for Kahuku High School, shared he had questions surrounding the decision to cut sports. Moncur said he intended to leave BYUH once sports left, but that changed as he became more involved with the school.
Moncur committed to BYUH’s cross-country team in high school and found out sports were leaving while on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Due to this new information, he planned to leave BYUH after the 2017 season and run at a Division 1 school.
“Losing sports was pulling on my heart strings. I knew this was going to be tough, but ultimately, I decided to stay because I felt like this was the place to be.”
He felt BYUH was a different opportunity than going to Provo, Idaho, or any other university.
“I chose to stay because it was worth it, but having sports brought students together. It creates a stronger bond, especially with all the different cultures. . .Now there is nothing to unify everyone. It is easy to separate based on clubs and culture.”
Creation of Seasider Sports and Activities
In Oct. 2015, BYUH President John S. Tanner released a page-long statement about the decision to drop sports and the framework for the Seasider Sports and Activities.
“I hope that this program will generate as much or even more excitement on campus than does NCAA athletics, that it will engage even more students, and as participants rather than as mere spectators; that it will be distinctive among American intramural programs for its international flavor.”
Brandyn Akana, senior manager at Seasider Sports and Activities, shared how he believes his department is meeting Tanner’s vision. According to Akana, 80 percent of the student body has participated in some form of their activities.
“I was a student-athlete and I also coached basketball here. It was sad [to see sports go], but at the same time when you are looking at the board’s decision, they wanted to get more students involved on campus.”
He added his department wants students to feel a sense of belonging and a season of pride. Also, colleges that have NCAA sports do not have the variety of intramurals and activities as BYUH does.
“The activities we do here, students can’t find anywhere else. Students do not need to go to Kaneohe or Waikiki. We want to keep our students on campus, engaging in fun and wholesome activities. . .We feel we are reaching all types of students, no matter their wants.”
Losing a community connection
Akana said Seasider Sports and Activities does not engage the community because their main focus is student life.
“I’m sure the community misses sports too,” shared Eve Gonzales, a junior from Texas majoring in accounting.
Gonzales said she was on the women’s cross-country team during its last season, but she said running for only a year “fit into her plan” because she chose to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Gonzales said this is her first semester back since her mission, and it is a different social scene without sports. “There is a part of missing at BYUH. Why not have sports? It was not clear why they left in the first place. Whether it was money, I don’t know. Our school can only expand so much, and having sports gave [our school] the opportunity to have more diversity of students.”
She added intramurals do not do sports “justice.” “Other schools on the island depended on us for our competition. Our cross-country meets had six or seven teams, and now there’s one less. I feel bad for the other schools.
“When it comes down to it, the Prophet of the Church is on the school board, and he was apart of that decision . . . Maybe we should look at the decision as revelation, instead of giving other answers.”
John Bell, vice president for Academics, said dropping athletics has allowed the school to put more time and resources in reaching its goal to provide education for students in the Pacific and Asia.
Bell said funding for sports went to “comprehensive and inclusive activities, an intramural program for all students, and also to student financial aid.
“An athletic program depends on several sources of revenue, and not all of them were available to invest back in the school directly. For example, revenue from ticket sales would no longer be available.”
In terms of the mission to enroll more international students, Bell said, “We would be making those efforts even if we still had athletics, but the elimination of athletics has freed up funds that can be used to accomplish those efforts.
“In other words, increasing international enrollments is facilitated by eliminating athletics but not dependent on it.”
Another women’s cross-country runner, Alyssa Odom, a junior from Washington majoring in music, shared it was hard to say goodbye to the athletics, but she sees why cutting sports benefits students.
“As much as I miss the athletics programs here at BYUH, I know there is a higher purpose as to why sports were cut. The removal of the sports programs makes it possible for the school to expand and welcome in more students from the Pacific.
“I want as many people to be able to experience and love BYUH as much as I have, so I am grateful opportunities are expanding.”
Blessing of playing
Another former student-athlete, Cory Lange, who played basketball at BYUH, said he was initially surprised to hear BYUH was cutting sports. “I was honestly in disbelief because I felt a lot of people loved athletics. . . I was also a little angry and confused. I wondered, 'Why?' I did, however, respect the decision as I knew that President Wheelwright had his reasons, and also I knew that he couldn’t have made the decision alone.”
Lange noted he was initially going to play all of his eligibility at BYUH, but he had to get ankle surgery. So, he graduated with a degree in biomedicine, then played his final year of eligibility at California Baptist University.
“I think it was great to experience another school because I was able to see how great my life was at BYUH. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my experience at my other school as well, but BYUH was special as well.” He said the saddest thing for him is he can not see how his old team is doing. “I wish I could follow them and go to games from my alma mater. However, I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of it and meet the people that I met. I wouldn’t change my experience for anything.”
Bailey Kikuchi said he attended BYUH from 2015 to 2017, playing basketball. When athletics left, he transferred close to home to play for California State Los Angeles.
He said being a Seasider was one of the best experiences of his life. “The unity and support from local communities, students, and faculty was like no other. BYUH has a historic basketball program. I’m grateful to have been a part of it. I believe the ending of BYUH sports has positively affected my life. I saw the ending as a new chapter for both BYUH and myself.”
Odom added although she only ran one season at BYUH, “Being a student-athlete is an experience I will always cherish, and I am glad I can continue running in this beautiful place even though I don’t do it competitively anymore.”
Because of sports, Stanger noted people around the world came in contact with the University and the Church. “We lost the ability to promote BYUH and gospel,” he said.
According to Stanger, he traveled to China as a coach at BYUH, and it led to discussions about BYUH and the gospel.
“When you walk into China, you can’t carry a Book of Mormon and start preaching the gospel. But you can wear a BYUH shirt, and then people can start asking you questions about BYUH.”
Remus Cope, a BYUH tennis player during 2016-2017, shared he was a not a member of the Church. He said he came to the school because of sports.
“If I wasn’t playing sports or recruited to play sports at BYUH and be a normal student, I would have looked elsewhere for sure.” Cope added he loved “playing tennis in good weather, under palm trees. Then, go to the beach at the end of the day to cool off.”
After BYUH cut sports, Cope transferred to Southern Utah University. “I wanted to keep my tennis going. It was the whole point why I came to America to look for an athletic scholarship with tennis. Coach Porter helped me out with looking to transfer to different universities.”
Cope left Hawaii about two and a half years ago, and he said you just move on.“Now, do I miss the Hawaiian Islands? Absolutely. I got very lucky to play in such an area with an incredible coach. “In the end, the closure of sports didn’t affect much of my life, it was just a little sad. I just had to look elsewhere.”
Stanger now works for Hawaii Pacific University as an assistant men’s basketball coach. He said it was his family’s goal to stay on the island.
“I attempted to find other employment at BYUH during the final year that would have caused me to leave athletics but kept me at the college, but I was not selected for any of those positions, which was disheartening. Here I was a person that sacrificed for the university. They could have easily redirected me to a different position, but they chose not to.”
Stanger added BYUH is a “special place,” and he feels fortunate for his time working here.
“Most of us were very upset with the decision. [We] felt other decisions could have been made, but in the end, you have to move on and do your best.”