The University of Hartford’s athletic program will soon be changing from Division I to Division III. It was a shocking move, particularly after the men’s basketball team recently earned a berth in the 2021 NCAA tournament, before losing to eventual-champion Baylor in the first round.
The university announced its intent to fully transition to Division III status by the fall of 2025, citing financial reasons and an emphasis on academics.
Over the years, many local athletes chose “UHart” to stay close to home and play at a Division I level. One of those is former Wethersfield High School standout Jimmy Slayton, who was an All-State soccer goalie and three-year starter at WHS before graduating in 2015.
Following graduation, he chose to live out his DI dreams and attend the University of Hartford, earning numerous accolades during his four years as the Hawks starting goalie. He earned Rookie of the Year as a freshman, led the conference in saves as a sophomore, was selected All-Academic as a junior, and again earned All-Academic and was the men’s soccer scholar-athlete as a senior. During his tenure, he tied a school record with 21 shutouts, including a single-season school-record 10 in 2019. He graduated with a degree in Business – Entrepreneurial Studies after making the American East Commissioner’s Honor Roll (3.5+ GPA) in each of his four years.
Slayton, who is currently playing professionally for the Real Monarchs in Utah, was one of the many former and current UHart athletes to speak out against the university’s announcement in early May.
In a statement, Slayton wrote, “With all the recent news regarding Hartford Athletics and the potential move from D1 to D3, I’ve been thinking of what Hartford Athletics mean to me. When I found out that such a move was actually happening, I was incredibly disappointed not only for the current staff, athletes, and students, but also the Alumni, and more importantly, the future student-athletes that would be able to represent the Hawks. College athletics are such an important part of American sports culture and every community that is fortunate enough to have a team represent them at the Division 1 level benefits from that. While it’s a devastating blow to the Neighborhood, and the entire CT college sports culture, it’s also an even more devastating blow to all those who were going to have doors opened to them.
In my youth career, I didn’t have the most exciting, eventful recruiting experience. I was not an athlete that was viewed as a National star or a top recruit. I was a high school athlete that was hungry for an opportunity, hungry to prove myself, and get the chance to earn a scholarship to better myself as both a student and an athlete. The majority of high schoolers looking to play at the D1 level are just that, people who want to keep playing the sport they love, open doors for themselves, and help the program reach their goals. Coach Tom Poitras and Coach Mike Kulas knew exactly what they wanted for a mid-major program: to get back to the national stage by bringing in kids that wanted to be part of something special. Every single day, I am extremely thankful that they saw that in me and wanted me to be part of their process. Once Hartford began speaking to me, I was hooked on their aspirations and goals as a team, but they also wanted to lay out their plan for me to help me reach my individual goals. I wanted to be a pro, I wanted to climb to the highest level of soccer I could and while I was overlooked by many programs, Coach Poitras and Coach Kulas saw something in me and told me it was possible. They inspired me by taking a chance on me and from that moment on, all I wanted to do was get them to where they felt this program could go. These coaches had a way with every single one of their players where they could get the most out of them. There was never any doubt that they wanted to develop us into the best players we could be, but the best young men we could be. Coach Poitras and Coach Kulas are both a massive part of the reason I believed in myself and the University, and they’re a huge reason why I have been able to achieve my dream of playing professionally.
Every coach I met in my time at Hartford gave everything they had to us student-athletes. They would do anything they could to help us achieve our dreams. It’s truly a family when you’re involved with Hartford Athletics. I was lucky enough to wear Hartford on my shirt for 4 years, and I am far better off because of it. Hartford Athletics supported me every step of the way and I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am today without the experience I had. This decision to go D3 is going to take these opportunities to chase their dreams for so many. This decision is going to hurt so many people and make them lose faith in process and themselves. The work that everyone, past, present, and future, has put in has been pushed aside and discredited. Everyone has tried to pave the way for others to come through Hartford and create greatness, for themselves and the school, and now our leadership has told us that it was all for nothing. President Woodward wasn’t an active part of that family. President Woodward didn’t even give us the courtesy of ensuring our department was running smoothly by hiring a proper athletic director to oversee athletics. President Woodward couldn’t be bothered. I am ashamed to even call him the president of the university at this point because he is not worthy of holding such a position. He not only couldn’t help athletics by offering us the resources we needed, but he couldn’t even listen to all the thoughts and ideas over this difficult time period. For the first time, President Woodward decided he wanted to partake in something related to Hartford Athletics and he decided his action would be to transition from D1 to D3. How could someone who only showed up to games when he had to partake in a pregame ceremony of some sort, make such a call? President Woodward has been, and will forever be a thorn in the side of the University of Hartford. He will be remembered only as the President who took away a huge part of the university, the president who hurt so many student-athletes rather than trying to give them the best college experience possible. Speaking as someone who spent 4 years trying to help our school grow, academically and athletically, I hope that your tenure as President of the University of Hartford ends so that you can’t hurt the school, students, and staff even more than you have already.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin