In May 2009, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse baseball team finished its season at North Campus Field with a 16-7 win over UW-Stout. While there was no doubt who the better team that day, there was plenty of concern if it would be the last game in program history.
The economic recession forced UW-L to make $400,000 in budget cuts heading into the summer of 2009. Chancellor Joe Gow announced on June 5 the school would move to discontinue the baseball and men's tennis programs in order to save $60,000.
"Cutting baseball was one of the most difficult decisions I was ever involved in, and it's certainly not something we wanted to do," Gow said. "But when we keep having these budget cuts every biennium, we simply can't sustain all the programs that we'd like to sustain."
Eagles head coach Chris Schwarz has been leading the program since 2004. He said the news was tough, surprising and scary.
But before Gow could formally announce the decision to the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, community members stepped in to privately raise the funds to play another season, and beyond. Gow even chipped in $1,000, and by August, it was announced the team would play again in 2010.
"We're just fortunate that we have the friends and the community that we do and the people that stepped up, or just stepping up to say 'how can we help?" Schwarz said. "The collaboration of the community is what really brought it back together and gave the strength and support both to the program and to me personally to make sure that we have the ability to move forward."
The program took another step forward in 2012, winning its first WIAC championship since 2000, and forming a 10-year partnerships with the La Crosse Loggers. The duo later raised more than $600,000 in funds to renovate Copeland Park. The team began playing games there in 2014, and the rest is history.
"We don't think about it, and I think we're probably better off now than we were back in 2009, '08, '07," Schwarz said. "It's just that we feel solid, we feel safe."
Gow is also appreciative of the partnerships formed with local donors and the Loggers.
"We just couldn't be more proud with everyone in the baseball program," he said.
The Eagles will open the 2015 NCAA Division III World Series on Friday at 7:45 p.m. against Salisbury University.