Photo courtesy of Bob Eastaugh.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The University of Alaska Board of Regents has reinstated the university alpine ski team after the program raised enough money to save itself from elimination.

“It’s official! We’re back!” head coach Sparky Anderson messaged the team on Friday. 

The board unanimously voted to reinstate the program after the team reached its fundraising goal of $628,000 in December. The University of Alaska Foundation certified the donations before the vote.

Part of the overall campaign, Ski Racing Media, in conjunction with the Team America Foundation, launched its own matching campaign totaling more than $100,000 in cash, which will be delivered upon reinstatement of the program.

The board had previously voted in September to eliminate three sports, including alpine skiing, hockey and gymnastics because of budget cuts. The cuts would have saved $2.5 million a year from the athletic budget, or more than $9 million in the 2019 academic year, university officials said. 

The board also said it would consider reinstatement for any program that could raise two years of operating costs before the next meeting in February. It is unclear if the hockey or gymnastics programs reached their goals.

Upon raising the necessary funds, Anderson asked the athletic director and interim chancellor to expedite the reinstatement process. 

“I need to get back to recruiting, to having honest conversations with families about sending their kids to UAA, and knowing that we have a bright future,” he told Ski Racing Media. “We’ve demonstrated that our program is innovative, motivated, committed to serving the mission of the university. … Without alpine, there would be no more NCAA racing of any kind in Alaska.”

University of Alaska Anchorage Interim Chancellor Bruce Schultz later moved up the ski team’s reinstatement after they reached their goal so the team could focus on its ongoing season. 

“It’s amazing,” Anderson said. “I’m speechless right now. It’s been so much pressure and work and worry and everything, and just knowing that this is now in the rearview mirror, it’s nice to be able to think about moving forward.”

Anderson, 51, says he hopes to remain in the job for at least a few more years, but his ultimate goal is to pass on a healthy and stable program to the next generation of coaches and skiers.

The season started last week in Colorado. Anderson believes his team has a chance at an NCAA national championship. The program has previously produced three NCAA national championships, 43 NCAA All-Americans and four Olympians.

“We are very humbled and grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in Alaska and beyond,” Schultz said. “Community support is essential in moving forward with greater sustainability for all athletic programs.”

Threat to other programs? 

Per NCAA designation, Nordic and alpine skiing are considered a single sport. In order to preserve its NCAA status, the University of Alaska must continue to support 10 sport programs. The university had positioned itself to retain the Nordic program while eliminating alpine, thereby retaining the sport of “skiing” at roughly half the budget. 

In a shrinking NCAA West, which in recent years has already lost programs, such as the University of New Mexico, University of Nevada, and Western State College, this was an alarming revelation — that a university could slash one of those two programs, Nordic or alpine, and still “get credit” for the entire skiing program.

Anderson, for one, hopes his fundraising days are behind him. 

“I’m humbled by the generosity of our greater skiing community and blown away by all of the support,” Anderson finished. “I don’t know how to say thank you to everyone in a way that truly expresses my depth of gratitude — but, wow, thank you!”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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