Track & Solidarity

On September 3, Lauren Finikiotis sat in front of her computer—discussing environmental justice with an on-screen collage of her anthropology classmates—when the email hit her inbox. It was a message from the William & Mary University athletic department. She was on the cross-country and track and field teams, but she did not get emails from the department often. She told the breakout room of her classmates she needed a second to read something.

Scanning through, Finikiotis, a senior finance and mathematics major, was taken aback if not surprised. William & Mary was cutting seven varsity sports. According to the email, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s volleyball, and men’s indoor and outdoor track and field were getting the axe at the end of the 2020-21 academic year due to department costs and projected budget deficits. Finikiotis had seen Olympic sports cut at other universities throughout the summer and knew the William & Mary athletic department was not some money-making machine, so she was not surprised. Still, she could not believe the men’s track and field team was on the list. These were her teammates, her friends. 

Her mind returned to class and she looked at the rest of the Zoom room. “They just cut men’s track,” Finikiotis told her classmates. The faces on the screen turned soft. They all said how sorry they were and a few asked if there was anything they could do.

Prospects looked grim for the seven sports. The statement from the athletic department left little room for hope: “The decision to reduce our varsity sports offerings is final.”

Still in class, Finikiotis’ phone started buzzing with messages about the news. She texted her roommates, who were also distance runners on the women’s team. A GroupMe chat filled with notes and questions from the entire women’s team. She reached out to some of her friends on the men’s team, a few of whom said they learned about the fate of their team in the mass email to the athletic community. They all tried to make sense of the news. 

The mood in the messages circulating in Finikiotis’ community, however, did not seem too deterred by the athletic department’s claim that the decision was “final.” In 2020, Finikiotis and her teammates had watched their outdoor track and field and cross-country seasons get canceled, a pandemic rage around the globe, and a summer filled with civil and racial injustices. They were not going to let this piece of bad news pile atop an already awful year. 

Finikiotis was barely out of her anthropology class and she and her teammates were already scheming. The question, they asked, was what they were going to do about the men’s team, and how far would they have to go to make a difference?

“We accepted that this whole thing sucked,” she would later tell me, “but we did not wallow or get upset.” 

One thing was certain: They were willing to do whatever it took. 

“We decided,” Finikiotis said, “we were ready to fight to bring this team back.”

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