Sept. 4, 2020 | By Miles Montgomery | Photo by Anil Jergens
As COVID-19 continues to sweep through the United States, the fallout has left a drastic impact on almost every aspect of society. Collegiate athletics have been hit especially hard, particularly at the Division I and II levels, where scholarship money makes up a large portion of athletic budgeting.
Nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, in the sleepy town of Boone, Appalachian State is home to approximately 19,000 students, and 597 Division I Student athletes, competing in the Sun Belt Conference. Up until May of this year, Jacob Madden was one of them.
I met the Round Rock, Texas, native the previous summer, when we were teammates on a USL2 team, and shared the similar goal of improving our games and fitness as much as possible before the upcoming collegiate season. The summer’s hard work paid off for Madden. A rising redshirt junior goalkeeper, Madden had the most successful season of his college career in 2019, starting all 19 games for Appalachian State, while posting 8 shutouts and an 11-7-1 record, earning a Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week honor to boot. With ambitions of playing professionally, Madden hoped the 2019 season would provide the perfect springboard for successful junior and senior years that would up his professional stock.
However, Madden’s Appalachian State soccer career soon took a heartbreaking turn. On May 26 of 2020, Appalachian State Athletic Director Doug Gillin announced the department was reducing its athletics operating budget due to COVID-19 complications, and cutting the men’s soccer program, along with men’s tennis and men’s indoor track and field.
“We received an email one morning to join a Zoom call later in the day on May 26,” Madden said. The athletes were then informed of the program cancellation virtually, a cruel end to their Appalachian State athletic experience.
The decision was a complete shock to Madden and the entirety of the men’s soccer team. “We had no idea that this decision was being made,” he said. “We were doing everything right on and off the field. We had the best soccer season in the past 22 years, along with the highest men’s team GPA on campus from that previous year. We were also 11th in the country for community service hours.”
In the days after the decision was made, emotions were running high. “My first reaction was very emotional,” said Madden. “I was in disbelief in the way the athletics department presented the reasoning behind the need to cancel a soccer program that had been a big part of the athletics department and university for 60 years. I was also shocked that the department didn’t even give us a chance to fundraise like they did with the women’s sports. We had plenty of alumni ready to back us up.”
The impact of the program cuts was swift and unforgiving. “On the athletic side, we were quickly removed from any resources we had because of our sport,” said Madden. “We were still granted our scholarship and allowed to continue our education if we desired to.”
However, Madden had no intention of giving up on soccer, especially after the most successful season of his career. His only option was to transfer and try to find a new home on incredibly short notice.
“At the beginning of the transfer process, it was very difficult to find all of the top three things I needed in a school to transfer,” said Madden. “I wanted a good education and needed a scholarship to help me after my soccer career is over. Obviously, I also wanted a place where I felt I could make the biggest impact on the field.”
When the University of Evansville offered an athletic scholarship and a lifeline to Madden’s professional dreams, he jumped at the chance. However, this meant leaving the Appalachian State campus on short notice, without a true team goodbye.
“I was only able to say goodbye to a few teammates while I was getting my belongings, right before heading to the University of Evansville,” Madden said. “We did not receive the goodbyes as a team that we deserved.”
The small Division I school located in Evansville, Indiana was a stark change from Appalachian State. “The biggest change was probably the size of the school,” said Madden. “I went from a school with about 20,000 students to a school with 2,300. However, the team has helped tremendously with making the change as smooth as possible, and they are a great group of guys.”
During these turbulent times of transition, it can often become hard to stay grounded and hopeful. Madden has been relying on his deep faith in the Gospel to weather the storm. “My faith in Jesus Christ has been the most important reason for keeping a positive attitude throughout this whole process,” he said. “I also have an amazing family, coaches, friends, and teammates around me to help support me throughout the process.”
Though his path has certainly been rocky in the past few months, Madden continues to work hard towards the realization of his dreams, in spite of all obstacles, a testament to his faith and commitment.