By MICHAEL BURWELL
University of Akron announced Thursday that it will discontinue three intercollegiate athletic programs — men’s golf, men’s cross country and women’s tennis — at the end of the 2019-20 academic year due to financial problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the area’s top prep athletes will be directly affected.
Upper Sandusky senior Brett Montgomery, who signed a letter of intent in November to continue his golf career at Akron, said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon that he was “shocked” by the news of Akron eliminating its men’s golf program.
“I didn’t even know it was a possibility until (Wednesday) when I heard that the university was going to be cutting three or four athletic programs,” Montgomery said. “I knew (cutting men’s golf) was a possibility but I really didn’t think it was going to happen.
“When I found out this morning, I was really shocked and I think I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”
Montgomery, a three-time top-20 finisher in the OHSAA state tournament, said he was informed of the decision in a Zoom meeting with the team, Akron men’s golf head coach David Trainor and Akron Director of Athletics Larry Williams.
“Obviously, (Williams) felt bad and we were all disappointed,” Montgomery said. “I feel for coach a lot because he’s worked so hard to build the program to where it is. He’s got to find a new home like the rest of us do.”
Montgomery said he will enter the transfer portal and won’t be attending Akron in the fall.
“I’m going to reach out to some other MAC (Mid-American Conference) coaches or some other Ohio schools and maybe some out of state schools, maybe try to get a walk-on spot at a Power Five school this fall,” Montgomery said. “But I want to play golf this fall, so I’m going to do whatever it takes to pursue that dream.”
Montgomery’s senior year has been full of ups and downs.
Montgomery finished tied for second in the Division II state tournament at NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury in October, capping off a stellar prep career that included three solid finishes in three trips to the state tournament (17th in 2018, ninth in 2017). A four-time Northern 10 Conference Player of the Year, Montgomery won three district titles, three sectional titles and two Northern 10 Conference titles.
In the winter, Montgomery helped lead the Rams’ basketball team to its third regional tournament appearance in school history and first since 2007. He buried the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left in Upper Sandusky’s Division II district final against Norwalk to give the Rams their first and only lead of the game, 60-59, and the district title.
On March 12, when the Rams (24-1 record) were scheduled to take on unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Lima Shawnee in a Division II regional semifinal, the OHSAA announced the remaining winter sports tournaments were postponed due to growing concerns with the coronavirus. Two weeks later, the OHSAA officially canceled those tournaments.
“It’s been tough in many different ways, with basketball season being cut early and then the senior year being ended extremely abruptly. When the basketball season ended, I was disappointed, but obviously there’s a bigger problem in the world than high school basketball,” Montgomery said. “And then with school, the same type of deal. But I always thought that Akron would be my thing to fall back on.
“I always thought ‘OK, in the fall, Akron is going to be there for me.’ So yeah it’s tough, it’s definitely tough, but I’m healthy, my family’s healthy, my friends are healthy so I’m fortunate to be in the situation that I am. Things could be a lot worse. But it’s just a bump in the road that I’ll be able to get over.”
Upper Sandusky boys golf coach Graham Treadway said he was “bummed” for Montgomery, but expects him to bounce back.
“He was really looking forward to playing (at Akron). He loved playing at Firestone (Country Club, Akron’s home course) and really liked the coach and felt like he was definitely ready and excited to be there and playing this summer and this fall,” Treadway said. “He’s a little heartbroken obviously because he had already bought into it that he was going to be a Zip and he was going to go up there and play, so he’ll pivot and he’ll be fine.
“He’s a resilient kid and he’s smart and golf’s not the only thing he has going for him anyway. He’ll find a place where he’ll fit in and maybe he’ll have to just go walk on somewhere and go from there, but he’s going to figure it out.”
After being informed of Akron’s decision, Montgomery spent the afternoon at Mohawk Golf & Country Club in Tiffin, playing a round of golf with family members.
He even represented Akron.
“I went out with my dad and my brother today just to try to keep my mind off of things. But it’s hard to not think about golf while you’re playing golf,” Montgomery said with a laugh. “I was wearing my Akron gear, once a Zip always a Zip. Nothing against the University of Akron, I’m still thankful for the opportunity that the university and coach Trainor was going to provide me with.
“I wish things could be different, but everything happens for a reason. You can look at this as a big disappointment or maybe it’s an opportunity. Only time will tell.”