If federal funding for a U.S. Olympic Education Center (USOEC) scholarship is cut, the USOEC program at Northern Michigan University will be in jeopardy.
The B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship program is a federally-funded program designed to provide financial assistance to a select group of Olympic-aspiring student athletes. As a way to help balance the federal budget, the funding for this scholarship was suggested as one of the cuts that could be made. This scholarship makes up about $350,000 of NMU’s USOEC program, said Jeff Kleinschmidt, director of the USOEC.
“This Olympic scholarship program is the only scholarship of it’s kind in the whole country that offers scholarships to Olympic athletes,” Kleinschmidt said.
Congressman Bart Stupak created the program in 1998 with strong support from Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. In 2000 the program was named in honor of Congressman Stupak’s son who died while still in high school.
Since it was created, the scholarship has helped over 376 athletes continue their education while training for elite athletic competition. Approximately 70 students at Northern receive this scholarship and approximately 130 students throughout the country receive it. The government gives about $970,000 a year to fund this scholarship, Kleinschmidt said.
“I think it’s important to mention that the scholarship program is not an earmark,” Kleinschmidt said. “It is a congressionally authorized program. Both chambers of Congress, the House and Senate, have authorized this program to be funded by the federal government.”
There are only four Olympic training centers that this scholarship can be used at: Colorado Springs, Colo., Lake Placid, N.Y., Chula Vista, Calif., and Marquette. If these training centers get cut because of the loss of funding, students will have to make a decision about what they want to do, Kleinschmidt said.
“They will have to make a decision whether to continue going to school and pick up a larger portion of their educational cost, or they would have to drop out of school and train for the Olympics,” Kleinschmidt said.
Due to heavy training schedules and competition, it is hard for Olympic athletes to take on 12 credit hours a semester to be eligible for grants and scholarships, said Former Congressman Bart Stupak.
“These Olympic athletes are some of the worlds best (and) receive not even a little help from the government for their education while they’re training for and represent the United States of America,” Stupak said.
Stupak went to Congress in 1993 and found Olympic scholarships that were authorized by Congress, but were never funded. In 1995 approximately a million dollars were appropriated to the B.J. Stupak Scholarship program. Then Republicans took over and cut the Olympic scholarships, so they never received any money for it, Stupak said.
“We kept working with the Republicans until 1998,” Stupak said. “That year we were able to receive in the 1998 appropriation $1 million.”
If the scholarship gets cut and the USOEC program does too, not only will lives of the students and employees be affected, so will the Marquette community. It is estimated that the USOEC brings in $20 million to $28 million annually and 22 full time jobs would be lost, according to Lindsay Hemmila, director of marking and membership at Lake Superior Community Partnership.
“If this facility were to close, it would likely be closed forever without the chance of getting it back in Marquette County,” Hemmila said. “We would lose students and athletes. Marquette County is put on the map because of this facility and it is a huge asset to our area.”
If students would like to make an effort to stop the B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship program from getting cut, they can write letters to their congresspeople expressing their feelings about the scholarship, Stupak said.
“We’re all going to be cheering the (athlete) on at the next Olympics, but we won’t help them out?” Stupak said. “It doesn’t make sense; other countries do it.”