MT. PLEASANT – One year ago on May 19, Central Michigan University cut its men’s track and field program as part of the athletic department’s budget plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision directly impacted 36 student-athletes and called for the elimination of two full-time assistant coaching positions.
One of those athletes affected was Jackson Blanchard, a Houghton Lake alum.
“It was just so abrupt. No one knew what was coming,” he said.
Blanchard had plenty of success in his short time with the Chippewas, earning the 2019 Mid-American Conference Outdoor Champion in the 400m hurdles. He remembers his experience on May 19, 2020.
“We got an email the day prior, like ‘Hey we’re gonna have a meeting with our AD,” he recalled. “I missed the meeting because it was during work and my friend texted me said ‘hey, man, what are you going to do?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes the men’s track and field program has been cut.’ I didn’t even respond. I just called my coach and he goes, ‘I’m sorry.’ That was the first thing he said to me.”
Like everyone else on his team, Blanchard had a decision to make. He decided to transfer to one of the top programs in Division II, Grand Valley State.
“I had a couple of schools down south that were interested, but they just didn’t have my program,” Blanchard said. “So I came here at Grand Valley because they had my exact program, and that was probably the biggest decision for me.”
That decision was a great one, as this season, Blanchard has already put himself into the record books.
“Our team won GLIAC. We are men’s national runner up, and I placed third in 60-meter hurdles, third in 400 indoor,” he said. “Outdoor’s been going pretty good. I broke our school record in the 400m hurdles.”
Blanchard is currently preparing for the NCAA Division II Outdoor National Championships after qualifying in the 400 hurdles and 4×400 relay.
He’s not the only one competing well. Dante Lander transferred to Eastern Michigan University to continue competing in track and field. He had a tough decision to make following the decision to cut CMU men’s track and field.
“Last year was my second year at CMU and I was like, I might have to leave all of this behind, and meet new people, meet a new coach, meet new teammates,” Lander said.
He adjusted well to his new team and helped them win the MAC Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held at Central Michigan University. Lander finished fifth in the 60-meter hurdles and second in the 4×400 relay.
“I felt like I was at home, honestly. And I had like the coaches and the girls team for CMU cheering me on at my events,” Lander said. “I’m doing good. (My former teammates are) doing good. I mean we could have been doing it at CMU too, but I’m just like happy we all split up, and we’re still all doing good.”
As former athletes excel at other programs, the Committee to Reinstate CMU Men’s Track and Field has been working to provide reasons to the university to bring back the program. Their reasons can be found on their .
“It’s been a fight. We’ve been working really, really hard, and we’re trying to make some progress,” said Carey Hammel, a track coach at Shepherd High School and a committee member. “We know that CMU has to add a program back. They have to add a men’s team to stay Division I. So we’re just hoping that it can be men’s track.”
The NCAA waiver allows CMU to maintain its Division I status until the end of the 2022 academic year before they have to add a men’s sport. The university declined to do an interview until they know more from the NCAA on the addition of that new sport.
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