Going the Distance: UMBC swimming and diving alumni pitch in for giving day

It’s been a good year for the UMBC Swimming and Diving team. After defending their America East championship title for the third year runningsending one athlete to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, having another qualify for the Olympic Trials and earn bronze at the NCAA Championships (again!), and seeing several of their own compete internationally, you might even say the season’s been going swimmingly.

So, too, are the team’s fundraising efforts: with the help of their famously close-knit alumni community, the team raised nearly $40,000 on their recent giving day.

In the United States, where football, baseball, and basketball are king, swimming and diving are sports that only come around to the public consciousness in Olympic years. This often means that Olympic sports at the collegiate level lack for funding compared to sports that bring in advertising dollars and endorsement deals, and can be more vulnerable to university budget cuts as a result.

That’s where the alumni network comes in, says UMBC director of aquatics Chad Cradock ’97, psychology, who coaches the swimming and diving team: “We don’t have what a Michigan or a Stanford or an Arizona would have, but we do pretty well for who we are because of [our alumni] involvement and their help.” He says alumni stay connected to campus in a variety of ways, from the annual Alumni Day to the team’s expansive Facebook group.

“We try to think of UMBC Swim and Dive as a family,” says senior Emily Escobedo ’17, psychology, one of the swimmers who helped to promote the giving day. “We’re a family right now, and [our alumni] are like long-lost cousins that you don’t see all the time, but that you get to meet and you get to know.”

The giving day was heavily advertised in advance via email and social media, and student athletes like senior team captain Katie Ross ’17, psychology, made calls to alumni throughout the 24-hour period. Ross says what surprised her the most was how receptive alumni were to the idea of a giving day.

“Nowadays, it’s hard to get anyone on the phone for anything,” says Ross, but she says she had several conversations with alumni who weren’t just excited to give to swimming and diving, but interested in her athletic career as well.

“I’d get on the phone and talk to someone, and we’d get sidetracked, and they’d start asking me about swimming or what I’m studying,” she says. “They cared. They actually cared about the athletic department, specifically swimming.”

Ross says fundraising is particularly important given the team’s size and relative diversity: with donations from alumni, the team is able to adopt a broad based recruiting philosophy, expanding the UMBC footprint both across the country and around the world. Student-athletes participate in a championship experience, traveling to away meets as a family. When the whole team is able to cheer each other on, it strengthens their bond.

“Recognizing that this sport really does bring people together, even if it doesn’t necessarily make money” is what’s important, she says.

Julia Celtnieks ’13

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The UMBC Women’s Swimming and Diving team celebrates after defending their America East Championship title on February 12. Photo courtesy of America East Championship.

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All in the Family: Milani Family Women’s Lacrosse Locker Room dedicated on campus

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Jim Milani, right, with his wife Liz, center, and his sister Patrice, left.

Jim Milani ’73, political science, says that when he was first approached by Gary Rupert about naming a locker room for the women’s lacrosse team, he thought the late former athletic director and development officer was out of his mind. “Usually, it’s millionaires who get the opportunity to name a building,” says Milani, who’s worked for UMBC since his graduation over four decades ago and currently serves as Director of Administrative Affairs for the College of Engineering and Information Technology (CoEIT), “and I’m not a millionaire.”

But when Rupert reminded him of his family’s consistent presence on campus, and their devotion to the lacrosse program, Milani eventually came around. “We’ve had a long affiliation,” he says, and it was only right to commemorate the family’s commitment to UMBC Athletics in a lasting way.

On April 1, right before the women’s lacrosse team faced off with the UMass Lowell River Hawks, their locker room in the UMBC fieldhouse was dedicated in honor of the Milani Family Endowment. The fund was established in 2009 by Jim Milani, his wife Liz, and his sister Patrice, to support the team, which is currently enjoying a winning season.

Amy Slade, the head coach of the women’s lacrosse team, says the Milanis’ support of the program has been “incredible,” and attributes the relationship to their shared values. “We preach growing as a family, giving to a greater cause, playing for the name on the front and not the back,” she says. “[The Milanis] have set the bar high for others to follow.”

Jim Milani is one of nine siblings, and one of two to graduate from UMBC, the other being his brother Mark Milani ’80, political science. His daughter, Beth Milani Brundage ’02, history, his sister-in-law Jacqueline Abendschoen Milani ’88, psychology, and his niece Meghan Milani ’16, psychology, are all women’s lacrosse alumnae, as well. But while Jim Milani’s parents, Jim and Pat, never played lacrosse themselves, they encouraged all of their children to stay active in sports, leading to an athletic legacy that continues today.

Jim Milani, for his part, wants that legacy to continue: in his remarks shortly before the plaque was unveiled, he told his family to let any future children and grandchildren know they’d be going to UMBC.

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The Milani Family smiles for the camera after the April 1 dedication ceremony.

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Men’s Soccer Heads Toward National Championship

NCAA Mens Soccer: Hartford vs UMBCAt UMBC, we’re busy celebrating the men’s soccer team and their America East Championship win over Hartford. This sets the Retrievers on the road to the NCAA tournament–their fourth tournament bid in five years.

The team is truly a “Fan Favorite” and Retriever Fever is catching across campus, from the dedicated supporters of Lot 17 to faculty and staff. In fact, The Baltimore Sun  reported that at the end of the America East Championship game, “UMBC fans and students stormed the field and celebrated with the players at midfield.”

The men’s soccer team is in Wake Forest today for the first round of the NCAA tournament–along with a bus full of dedicated supporters–in hopes of continuing their winning streak.

Do you have Retriever Fever? Support the team on the road to victory!