By KAYLA LOMBARDO
College Contributor Network
College softball players are once again gracing the dirt playing fields at universities around the country. New cleats are being broken in, bats scuffed for the first time, and the groundwork for springtime championships is presently being laid.
For college softball players, the fall season is a time when the innocence and purity of the game is most fully captured. A time when exhibition games are played without the pressure of looming statistics. A time when early-morning practices begin on dew-soaked outfield grass under rays of barely risen sunshine. A time when even the loftiest dreams and possibilities for the upcoming season seem possible. A beautiful time, for certain.
For former Temple Softball players and coaches however, the falling of the leaves this autumn will symbolize the end of a season in their lives; a reminder of the cherished memories of what once was and the harsh reality of what currently is.
For the first time since 1976, softball will not be played at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. At Ambler Softball Field, the home of the Owls for 11 seasons, the dirt will remain settled, the field will stay bare of white chalk lines, and the stands will be devoid of people. All that will endure is an eerie silence pervading through the emptiness of a space once occupied by the cheers of fans and players alike, as well as the pinging and popping sounds of balls meeting bats and gloves.
The Temple University softball team was informed last December that 2014 would be its final season in existence. The decision of university officials to cut the program also involved the cancellation of the university's baseball and men's track programs at the start of the 2014-15 school year. Additionally, the men's crew, men's gymnastics, and women's rowing squads were relegated from scholarship-funded varsity teams to club sports.
Temple University's president Neil Theobald said the reasoning behind the decision was due to the university's commitment to provide funding for other areas within its athletic program.
"Rightsizing our program allows us to fully fund all women's scholarships; fully fund NCAA-permitted coaching positions; and increase the number of team doctors, academic advisers and trainers," Theobald said in February.
The estimated $2.5 million saved from Temple's eradicated programs was applied to the remaining sports teams, including the recent refurbishment of locker rooms used by the school's football team.
The money-centric decision to cut Temple's softball program left 18 players, who would have claimed spots on this year's roster, scrambling for other options.
While five non-graduating players decided to stay at Temple to complete their degrees devoid of their softball experiences, the remaining 13 team members, including three incoming recruits, have since found other schools and softball programs to call home. Head coach Joe DiPietro also recently began his first season as the head coach of Hampton University's softball program, having relocated to Virginia after five successful seasons at Temple.
During a tenure which saw his squad advance to three consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference tournaments, lead the nation in home runs with 94 in 2013, and become the only team at the university to increase its win total in each of its last five seasons, DiPietro believed he would end his career at the helm of Temple's softball program. Now, he and the other 18 former Temple softball players are left to wonder what might have been.
"I truly believe that we were progressing towards being one of the top teams in the Northeast," DiPietro said. "During my five years prior to the cuts, we were able to recruit some top-tier players, especially Sarah Prezioso and Steph Pasquale, culminating with Steph being named an NFCA All-American."
For the aforementioned Pasquale, an injury during her senior season at Temple in 2014 granted her a redshirt year of eligibility. Due to the cancellation of Temple's softball program, the All-American catcher was forced to transfer from the Philadelphia university in order to continue her softball career. Temple's only softball All-American has since found a home with the Nebraska Cornhuskers of the Big Ten Conference, but still mourns the loss of the program she helped become relevant.
"It hit me hard when I had to transfer," Pasquale stated. "It was like starting over again. My heart just aches for those who returned this year to find no more softball and my teammates who were forced to start over and find new schools."
The sadness that Pasquale feels about the loss of the Temple Softball program is coupled with feelings of pride however, for four years of lofty team and individual accomplishments.
"What I'll always remember is that we as a whole brought Temple Softball up from the ground and changed the program for the better," Pasquale said. "We will always know what we accomplished."
Although the leaves will change over a player-less Ambler Softball Field this fall, it is the legacy of Temple Softball that will endure the test of time.
"I think the legacy will be of a program that did things the right way," DiPietro stated. "We graduated all of our players and each team had a 3.0 GPA or better. Being around each other and the life-long friendships that our players were able to forge will be something that they'll have forever, and that makes me smile."
For DiPietro, Pasquale, and the rest of the Temple Softball family, no changing season or university decision could ever take these invaluable things away.
Kayla Lombardo is a senior at Fordham University. She plays third base for Fordham's softball team and is a passionate New York Yankees fan. Follow her on Twitter: @KaylaLombardo11
By KAYLA LOMBARDO