If Wednesday brought the end of men's soccer on the fields of Towson University, it was a noble end.
In what might have been the 91-year old program's final home game, the Tigers played conference-leading Northeastern University to a 2-2 tie.
For the last three weeks, the Tigers have played with the knowledge that athletic director Mike Waddell has recommended the elimination of their program along with the university's baseball team. Waddell has said the cuts, currently under review by an appointed task force, would stabilize the department's long-term budget and bring it into compliance with Title IX gender equity rules. A final decision is expected from President Maravene Loeschke in November.
"Of course it's on your mind," said junior co-captain Christian Hofer of Frankfurt, Germany. "But we try to stay positive and think there's going to be another year. We call ourselves a family, and that's what we're fighting for."
His fellow captain and German native, Daniel Grundei, scored what could be the last homefield goal by a Towson player.
"We definitely realized that could be the last game here, and that was an extra motivation," said Grundei, a sophomore from Nuremberg, Germany. "There have been a lot of things going on that are not related to soccer, and that's been very distracting. But I try to tell myself to finish the season strong, and we'll worry about the other stuff later."
You wouldn't have guessed the program was facing its demise based on the scene at the Tiger Soccer Complex. A modest but boisterous crowd cheered Towson's spirited upset attempt. Fans stomped their feet on the metal bleachers every time goalie Felix Petermann snared a shot and gasped when a Towson shot sailed just over the Northeastern goal in the final minutes.
But there were signs of the larger narrative if you looked carefully. Some people wore shirts that said "Save TU Baseball, TU M. Soccer" across the chest. A few former players made sure they were on hand in case it was the end.
"I made a special effort to be here, because it most likely is the last game," said Phil Morrison, who captained the 1978 team. "It saddens me to say that, because some of the best times of my life happened right here."
Emotions ran particularly deep for the parents of current players, who helped their sons pick Towson in large part because of the soccer program. They can't understand why Waddell wants to hurt their children and eliminate a program that has performed well on the field and academically over its long history.
"There's such a legacy here, and I can't believe they're dousing that," said Whit Kidwell of Potomac, whose son, Cameron, is a junior forward. "I find it appalling. The timing is really inhumane."
The team will play at UNC-Wilmington on Saturday with a shot at making the Colonial Athletic Association playoffs. After that, players will face the final verdict on their program and for many, the possibility of transferring to play elsewhere.
"It's crazy," Grundei said. "A lot of us, we don't know where we are in a couple of months."