“Would you rather have a travel suit or cleats?”
The softball team gathered around softball coach Killian Kramer, and hands were thrown up for cleats but the travel suit won.
Sports at Stephens face challenges surviving among the sea of schools in the conference whose budget appear to be much greater.
“We’re just at the very bare minimum of what we need,” Deb Duren, athletic director said.
Right now, Kramer said the softball team is hitting balls off of one tee and two street cones.
“We don’t complain one bit,” Kramer said. “We are making it work.”
The budget currently provides the team with a field, which is taken care of by the city, uniforms, helmets, a small indoor batting cage it is with golf, a couple of old bats, a bucket of balls and newly purchased practice clothes.
The budget changes from sport to sport, depending on conference requirements, and the number of students on the team.
While students questioned whether the addition of soccer had affected the budgets of other sports, Duren likens such responses to bringing home a new baby.
“We had this new baby, we named it soccer, and now the college has a sport,” Duren said.
Duren said coaches are given a lump sum of money, and it is their responsibility to decide how that money is spent, splitting it among travel, equipment and food. The unwritten rule, however, is that Stephens’s athletics only travel out of state commercially.
Once transportation is arranged, Duren said, it is now the mandate to not overspend and the coaches have risen to that challenge.
“A lot of people think you need all of this equipment to play the game of softball, but in reality, you don’t need all that much,” Kramer said.
Kramer, coming to Stephens after coaching at Division I schools, admits the perks, such as contracts with Nike for apparel, have spoiled her.
She said Coach Lana Richmond at SEMO taught her a lot about budget, and she always tried her best to stay frugal, which helps as she continues her first year with the softball program.
Still, Kramer said having extra money in the budget would help a whole lot. More equipment could be purchased for on the field activities.
“I certainly feel our performance could be improved with access to better equipment,” said Brooke Warren, senior softball player. “I don’t think they would have to be that much bigger to have an impact by positively improving many sports programs on campus.”
Warren said she could see the obvious distinctions between Stephens’ athletic budgets compared to others in the conference.
“We have to do a considerable amount of fundraising just to have basic items like travel suits for the cold weather in the spring” Warren said. “Athletes are purchasing all of their own equipment including cleats, gloves, batting gloves.”
She said that at a majority of schools she knows such necessary items are provided for the athletes.
With the current budget, Kramer would like to purchase more bats for the team and a pitching mat for the pitchers. Fundraising will provide the team with travel suits.
“There are times when you need to raise a few eyebrows to get what you really want, and there are times with you should just feel fortunate enough to have a team,” Kramer said.
Warren said that though the team and athletes are fortunate for what they have and the continued opportunity to participate in collegiate athletics and receive scholarships, an increased budget could help accommodate the time each athlete spends practicing for their sport and attending games.
“Athletes are putting in a lot of hours, a lot of hard work and go through a lot of stress in an attempt to manage school, athletics and in many cases a job as well,” Warren said. “They should at least be afforded a budget that allows them to have the proper equipment and tools necessary to showcase all the work put in and represent the school well.”
Despite lack of funds Duren is continually proud of what the student athletes and coaches do with the little funding and the lack of top-flight facilities.
“I know they are hard times,” Duren said. “But some of the greatest times of my life are when I have a conversation about what great students our athletes are.”
Duren said the coaches recruit good student athletes, and she is proud of their academic achievements that many opponents can’t talk about.
She said Stephens athletes go out every day and play their heart out.
“It’s hard work,” Duren said. “But it’s all good.”