At Open Society, we usually stay out of the identity politics fray.
However, today being Thanksgiving, here’s an All-American story. Have some gratitude. Many Americans are good people willing to help others. This is an example.
Emily Schenk, track athlete for the Canisius Griffins. Here’s her story from the school newspaper. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
By Mike Pesarchick The Griffin Nov 18, 2018
It has been a tumultuous three months for Canisius’ Emily Scheck. Disowned by her parents for her sexual orientation and left with almost nothing to her name, Scheck’s friends created a GoFundMe, which has attracted national attention and collected $53,000 as of Sunday afternoon.
This act of kindness and desperation brought a new wave of problems for Scheck; collecting donations violates NCAA protocol for amateur athletes. As a member of the cross-country team, she was given the choice of remaining an athlete, with the stipulation she give back all the collected money, or keeping the money, but leaving her cross country teammates. Scheck decided on the latter.
After an outpouring of media attention, and after negotiations between Canisius and NCAA officials, Emily is back on the team and has enough money to help her thrive on her own. As she will tell, though, it certainly wasn’t easy.
It all started innocently enough, with a picture of Scheck and her girlfriend, Justyna Wilkinson, posted to social media last summer.
Scheck had not yet come out as gay to her parents, because she was unsure what their reaction would be. She believed that her parents would not have accepted it, and would have received backlash.
Scheck received more than backlash in the form of texts from her parents, who had pieced together their daughter’s relationship through the social media posts. She was told to come home to Rochester and to undergo therapy, and as long as she remained in Buffalo, she was “on her own.” Effectively, Scheck’s parents had disowned her.
“You think the world is going to support you, but you don’t know how the world actually is,” she recalled her mother telling her.
Scheck said in another interview with the Buffalo News that her parents simply dumped her possessions, including her birth certificate, trophies, stuffed animals and other personal belongings at her apartment at the Delevan Townhouses, taking the license plates from her car in the process.
“I would never have guessed in a million years that this would have happened to me,” she told theNews.
Scheck was trapped. Her parents left her no money and had canceled the insurance on her car, leaving her with multiple bills to pay and not a lot ways to pay them, despite holding jobs at Wegmans and in the equipment room at Canisius.
At first, it seemed to Scheck that Canisius would help out with money from the student fund. About two weeks after her parents cut ties, she spoke with Canisius cross-country coach Nate Huckle, who was very upset about the decision.
“He pulled me into a meeting and he wanted to help me, he didn’t know how to but he wanted to figure out a way that he could,” Scheck said.
Huckle also told her that Bill Maher, Canisius’ director of athletics, and Bill Morris, Canisius’ assistant athletic director were both aware of the situation and were working to get aid for her, whether it was cash from student-to-student for her tuition bill or money from Canisius’ “Blue and Gold” athletic fund.
But, as weeks went by, nothing happened. As she worked to declare herself independent from her parents in the eyes of the financial aid department, Scheck found that her scholarships would not increase, and received little contact from the school.
“[Athletics and the College] were working on the situation- we were aware of the situation.” said Canisius athletics spokesperson Matt Reitnour. “These things take some time, there are logistics to go through in situations like this.”
Scheck wasn’t sure about that.
“If they’re going to try and angle it like they’ve trying to help me these past three months, I can’t agree with that,” she said.
“I couldn’t just sit back there and do nothing,” said Grace Hausladen, Scheck’s teammate, roommate, and friend. By this point, it had been several weeks since Scheck’s parents had cut ties with her, and she was down to less than $100 in her checking account.
With money for next year’s living space due soon, Hausladen gave Scheck a small loan to help her out. “If she couldn’t make that, what else wasn’t she making?” she said. “I gave her my old textbooks, it seemed like she wasn’t making ends meet.”
The girls talked and, while Scheck wasn’t initially keen on the idea, they decided to go forward with the fundraiser, which went live on Nov. 7. “I didn’t even want to see it,” said Scheck. She conceded that her friends could do whatever they could to help.
Hausladen researched fundraisers and discovered that Tennessee State football player Christion Abercrombie had been in a similar situation when he suffered a brutal, life-threatening head injury in a game against Vanderbilt.
Friends and family of Abercrombie started a GoFundMe page, which has raised nearly $60,000 for the now-recovering linebacker.
An initial goal of $5,000 was set, which both Scheck and Hausladen thought was folly. As word began to spread, though, they realized that their goal was not only within reach, but completely shattered, reaching five digits within a day. “It shows the love that is out there,” said Hausladen.
The GoFundMe did more than get Scheck some much needed financial aid, but it also sparked a response from the College, albeit not in the way they had hoped. As the runners found out, the GoFundMe was a violation of NCAA protocol, and they were left with a difficult decision.
The NCAA Response
NCAA and Canisius officials were “black and white” about what Scheck and Hausladen could do. According to the Division I handbook, Rule 2.9, “their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived.” Special cases are allowed by filing a claim, but any other donations must be cleared through NCAA protocol to protect “amateur athlete status.”
In a meeting last Monday, Coach Nate Huckle told Scheck and Hausladen that taking the money raised would violate their eligibility per NCAA protocol. By stopping the GoFundMe and returning the money, the girls would retain their ability to run on the team for the season. Scheck and Hausladen would then have needed a waiver filed with the NCAA, like the Abercrombie case at Tennessee State.
This would leave them at the mercy of the NCAA, who could easily have rejected the claim.
“I thought, ‘that’s just a risk that I think that I don’t want to take right now,’” said Scheck. “It just seemed like if there was a chance that none of it could work out … and be off the team as well, why would we do that?”
The girls decided to shut the GoFundMe down, keep the money – almost $27,000 – and forfeit eligibility, as reported in The Griffin on Nov. 15. Canisius officials also released a statement to The Griffin, detailing the college’s plan to get Scheck and Hausladen eligible again:
On Friday, Nov. 9, the Canisius athletic department was made aware of an online crowdfunding effort organized to benefit a cross country/track student-athlete by a teammate.
After a review by the College’s compliance staff, and following consultation with the NCAA, it was determined that the online crowdfunding webpage was organized and promoted in a manner not permitted under NCAA legislation. Canisius informed the student-athletes that it would be necessary to end the online fundraising effort and work with the website host to return the donations received in order to preserve the student-athlete’s eligibility.
Canisius athletic staff also made it clear that the College and the NCAA would work with the student-athletes to structure a fundraising effort that would be permissible under NCAA legislation, and allow the student-athletes to maintain their eligibility to compete. After considering this option, the student-athletes elected to voluntarily withdraw from the team and continue with the original fundraising effort.
Both students remain enrolled at Canisius and the College will continue to support the students as they continue their undergraduate studies.
A Canisius spokesperson told The Griffin Thursday that the college had been in contact with the NCAA to reverse the decision, but with Director of Athletics Bill Maher down in Florida with the volleyball team, it would not come quickly.
The Media Attention and the Next Step
Shortly after the GoFundMe was taken down, journalist Cyd Zeigler, founder of OutSports.com, a member of SB Nation which focuses primarily on LGBT athletes, was contacted by a reader about Scheck’s situation. He messaged Scheck on Facebook, and later published her story on OutSports.
That piece sparked widespread attention on social media, to the surprise of Zeigler and Scheck alike.
“About an hour after I tweeted about it, I saw a couple people retweeted me at ESPN and a couple other places, I contacted Emily and told her this was bigger than I thought,” he said Sunday.
Media personalities such as ESPN staffers as well as local Buffalo personalities such as Jeremy White of WGR 550 radio shared the story on Twitter, snowballing it into a wide-spread story.
Not only did Zeigler spread the word about the situation, but he gave Scheck a compliance contact in the NCAA to talk to about her athletic eligibility.
“I knew people at the NCAA and I know the power of the press can start getting things moving a lot faster,” he said.
“He told me he wanted to help,” Scheck recalled. “He stopped me when I was talking about the NCAA and said ‘Hold on, I need to make a call.’” The compliance official was able to guide Scheck through the next steps, including writing a statement to NCAA officials.
Soon, more national media began to pick up the story. The Buffalo News put Scheck’s story on the front page of the Nov. 17 edition of the paper. Scheck said she has been contacted by the New York Times, Washington Post, Yahoo! Sports, ESPN and even a representative from Ellen.
“This is the best role of the press in our society, we find stories of people who really need help get through bureaucracy,” Zeigler said.
Sure enough, on Friday, Canisius released another statement: Canisius College received clarification from the NCAA that Emily Scheck can retain her eligibility and continue to receive GoFundMe donations that assist her with living and educational expenses.
The NCAA staff worked cooperatively with Canisius College to provide guidance that the fundraiser can continue, with school monitoring. NCAA rules allow a school to assist a student-athlete with a fundraiser after a significant life event occurs
Canisius and the NCAA will continue to work together in support of Emily. She is a member of the Canisius family and we will to do whatever we can to assist her.
Scheck was given her athletic eligibility back, and now had the full faith of the NCAA behind her and her fundraising.
It’s not over for Scheck, who said “a moment to catch up with everything” was what she wanted first. She is looking forward to working over winter break and saving money, as well as a new marketing major to deal with in school.
“I’ve just had to roll into one thing from the next, from my parents finding out and that whole emotional family aspect, I had to go right into school… I went right into work, and then from this came the GoFundMe and all the outrage and the NCAA and it all just happened so quick.”
The friends both agreed that without the GoFundMe or the OutSports story, they probably wouldn’t be back on the team, the regulations were that “cut and dry” as they put it.
As for her parents, Scheck said that they have begun therapy in the hopes of patching things.
“They’re working with a counselor who has worked with LGBT community for 30 years,” she said. “They’ve called me now, very different tone. Not angry, not yelling at me, not saying it’s my fault. They want to take baby steps to having a relationship again.”
While Scheck is keeping communication lines open, she admitted it’s “hard” to deal with family in this way.
“I’ve got to give them something if they’re going to therapy and working on themselves,” she said. “I hope to someday have a relationship again, whatever that means. I think right now, it’s them working on themselves.”
“It’s hard to forgive and forget,” added Hausladen.