SC State Suspends Women's Tennis Program

SC State Suspends Women's Tennis Program
Even though as far back as January he had been told of the possibility the South Carolina State women's tennis program could possibly be eliminated, there was still a sense of shock and sadness that fell over Coach Hardeep Judge when he heard the official word late last week: His team would be suspended from play after the current season because of budgetary cutbacks. 

Judge, originally from Canada, played his college tennis at South Carolina State and his wife's family lives near the small community of Orangeburg, S.C., where the university is located. Judge became the men's coach in 2002 and the newly renovated tennis center where both programs play home matches is called the Hardeep Judge Tennis Center because of an anonymous donation given to the school back in 2014.  

Since 2002, both men's and women's teams have amassed 23 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles and made many appearances in the NCAA Tennis Team Championships. In addition, Judge has earned numerous Coach of the Year honors, including two from the United States Tennis Association. 

In an exclusive interview with FloTennis, Judge talked about the decision made by the school's Acting Athletic Director Doug Robertson last Friday. 

FloTennis: What was your first reaction when you heard the official word that the women's program would be eliminated? 

Coach Judge: "Obviously there was a disappointment. My first thought was the girls that were on the team."

FloTennis: What was the reaction of the team?

Coach Judge: "When I told the girls they cried a lot, but we will use this as extra motivation going into our conference tournament. I told them the news about a month ago, but it didn't really set in until the school made the announcement last week. One of the girls who joined us in January, Andjela Mihajlovic, her father died last year from cancer, and she found out her mother has the same identical tumor her dad had and is not doing well. She came to me and said, 'This is the only family I have.' You have a humanistic part of cancelling programs that sometimes an administration doesn't see. She wants to stay so we will try and see if we can do that. They have said they want to try and bring the program back as soon as they are financially able to support it."

FloTennis: How did the administration come to the decision to eliminated women's tennis, with plans to add women's golf to keep their NCAA Division I standing? 

Coach Judge: "It was back in January after our Acting Athletic Director (Robertson) reviewed the current financial situation and then a month later he met with President James Clark that they determined we would not be able to continue with our current budget situation. Our entire women's budget, including scholarships, travel and equipment was a little less than $100,000. That's with less than three scholarships. I've coached the women the past two seasons and have taken the money that would have been used for a women's coaching salary and put that back into the program, just so our girls could graduate. And then we raised the rest of the money. But when you're raising money for men's tennis and women's tennis, and you need to raise $150,000 to $200,000 a year, it gets pretty taxing. And I knew we wouldn't be able to continue doing that."

FloTennis: What have you been most proud of during your tenure as South Carolina State's tennis coach? 

Coach Judge: "The program has done really, really well. We have won the conference 11 of the last 12 years. We've had some good teams and had the highest GPA of all the teams we have. 
We have three scholarships right now and will try to raise the rest of the money. Once I raise the money I can commit to the player. But sometimes you raise and raise and raise and then it's too late in the recruiting process. It's been tough to fill our roster. When you are competing against schools that all they do is give out tennis scholarships, it's hard. Unless the girls get a full scholarship, they're not going to come."

FloTennis: What has been the response of the local community? 

Coach Judge: "It was a very angry response. Since this news has gotten out there has been a lot of negative comments and it has taken a lot people by surprise. People are wondering, 'How could this happen?' Even from our supporters of the program who have given money, they are very disappointed. The response was even a lot angrier than I thought. It's been a busy weekend for me."

FloTennis: Will you stay on as the men's coach? 

Coach Judge: "We'll see. I can't answer that right now. We'll see. The President wants to make sure the men's team stays but I haven't seen the budget in terms of travel and scholarships. I want to make sure the three girls that have one more semester left to graduate do so. We will take care of them. The others can transfer if they would like to, but it's tough, because they don't want to go. They want to stay here and finish their education."

See the school's official announcement here.
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