December 7, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

New UAH President Was Key to Program's Reversal of Fortunes

CHN Staff Report

When University of Alabama chancellor Malcolm Portera hand picked Robert Altenkirch to succeed him as president of Alabama-Huntsville, there was no reason to believe Portera's October decision to kill Huntsville's Division I hockey program could be reversed.

What many didn't know was Altenkirch's background in hockey-related activities, and in hockey-related communities.

Altenkirch, as president of New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J., chaired the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corporation. One of its missions was figuring out how to build an arena in downtown Newark. That mission was accomplished, and the New Jersey Devils moved into that arena a few years ago.

Most of all, Altenkirch was a multi-sport athlete growing up in the St. Louis area, and, as such, had a different perspective on athletics.

"In our System, the responsibility for intercollegiate athletics is a campus matter," Portera said today in a statement. "When Dr. Altenkirch was hired, he said he wanted to take a hard look at the decision with the Charger ice hockey program, given his extensive experience in that regard.

"When Dr. Altenkirch told me the Huntsville community is committed to meet certain funding goals and timelines regarding a Division I program—and that he recommended they be given an opportunity to do so—my support for his decision was an easy one to give."

Portera announced in October that the hockey program's budget, which he stated to be about $1.5 million annually, could not be sustained by UAH's athletic department. A storied program that had won Division II national titles, was to be disbanded at the end of this year.

Already a program with challenges thanks to its geography, UAH has been suffering amid the uncertaintly. Without a conference to play in, and with recruiting taking a hit, the Chargers are currently 1-14-1. The Portera decision was just the final blow.

But numerous parties, including fans, alumni and other local politicians, were outraged with Portera's decision, saying that it came without even hearing what kind of fund-raising efforts were being planned.

Altenkirch ultimately agreed to meet with a group of supporters, and came away convinced that the two sides could work together to find a way to fund the program going forward. The exact details remain to be worked out, but UAH is committed to meetings that will do that.

"Several scenarios were discussed to ensure recurring support is in place, and the two groups will continue to meet in the coming days to finalize a workable plan," the school said in a statement after Tuesday's meeting.

Several players have already begun to pursue opportunities at other schools for next season, including goaltender Clarke Saunders, who committed to North Dakota. It's unclear what will happen to those players. Had the team disbanded, all players were free to move to other teams without the usual one-year transfer waiting period.

UAH also faces a scheduling challenge for next season, and it still faces an uphil climb in terms of joining a conference.

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