November 1, 2014

Student athletes call for removal of chess billboard

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A billboard along Interstate 70 in central Missouri paid for by Webster University states “Our top recruits are chess players.”

Senior forward on the women’s soccer team, Katie Aubuchon was one of the first Webster athletes to share the story through Twitter on Oct. 31.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” Aubuchon said. “It just pissed off a lot of athletes and they (Webster) aren’t giving us the recognition we deserve.”

Webster’s chess team moved from Texas Tech University in 2012 and tied for first place at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship last year.

Freshman forward on the men’s soccer team, BJ Dryer said the billboard was “off-putting” as an athlete.

“I think it is a knock against athletes,” Dryer said. “I don’t want to take away from the chess team but other teams are doing great too.”

Webster athletics is a member of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and has won the All-Sports Award all but two years since the award began in 1989. The award is given to the school which earns the most points throughout the year in terms of what place they finish in conference competition.

Two of the University of Missouri-Columbia billboards on Interstate 70. They sit less than 10 miles before Webster University's billboard eastbound on I-70.

Two of the University of Missouri-Columbia billboards on Interstate 70. They sit less than 10 miles before Webster University’s billboard eastbound on I-70.

 

Webster University Director of Marketing Communications John Costello said the Webster University chess billboard was “a unique opportunity that we could not pass up.”

Costello said the billboard is not about the chess team. Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said the words on the billboard are not meant to be taken seriously.

“The point of the billboard was humor,” Giblin said. “I think most people driving down that freeway will know that simply because of all the Mizzou (University of Missouri-Columbia) billboards that come right before it.”

Mizzou’s billboards promote its nationally ranked Division I athletics like football and volleyball.

Maggie Zehner, member of the Webster women’s basketball team from 2009-13, texted all 70 of the Webster student contacts she had in her phone, and urged them to tweet at Webster (@websteru) about the billboard posted on Interstate 70.

Zehner’s text was sent at 9:28 a.m., Nov. 3.

Two University of Missouri-Columbia billboards on I-70 sit less than 10 miles before Webster’s billboard eastbound on I-70.

“After speaking to a few people, I would like to try and bring more attention to this chess billboard. Webster relies heavily on social media, so I think by using Twitter, we could really get the attention of the powers that be and make them respond to us. If every athlete would tweet @websteru multiple times for the next few days letting them know how we feel about the billboard, it would not only get directly to them, but it would be made public how the university has upset such a high percentage of the student population. Our tweets need to be respectful, yet thoughtful, and please include #WUBillboard in your message so that we can get this trend going! We shouldn’t insult the chess team or degrade the school, we should just voice the degradation and embarrassment the billboard has caused so many of the students.  PLEASE take a moment to pass this message along to all current/ former  athletes that you know and start tweeting! Let’s make them take it down! Remember to post #WUBillboard.”

Zehner said her goal is for Webster to take the billboard down.

“If they aren’t going to listen to the students who are upset about it then I just want them to be aware,” Zehner said. “They’ve damaged the name of Webster University and insulted the entire athletic department.”

Giblin said all Webster administration members were told about the billboard before it was published. Costello said Assistant Provost for Student Affairs and Athletic Student Affairs Office Paul Carney was not informed but probably should have been.

“It has just moved so fast,” Costello said. “We went into this with the specific goal that we might be able to get some PR out of this. So far it’s working marvelously.”

Costello said Webster has owned that billboard for three years. He said the message is a “one-off” and was not apart of Webster’s planned marketing campaign.

Susan Polgar, Webster chess head coach and director of Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) said the billboard was made to start a global conversation and attract students who are interested in chess.

“It was a brilliant move,” Polgar said. “I think the relatively low money spent on that billboard is money well spent.”

Polgar said the advertisement was well timed with the World Chess Championships in India beginning on Nov. 11.

Polgar said she did not know what the billboard would look like, but does not want to start an internal controversy with Webster Athletics.

“I really hope Webster looks at what is in the best interest of the university,” Polgar said. “This was just one idea that was tried and it got global attention so I think from a marketing standpoint I think it was successful.”

Zehner said she does not want to disrespect the Webster chess program, but the billboard “cheapens” the athletic department. She said she understood the context of the joke Webster wanted to make in relation to the University of Missouri – Columbia billboards, which are less than 10 miles away from Webster’s billboard.

“You’ve upset a lot of your own people,” Zehner said. “It probably wasn’t worth it and I think it needs to be taken down.”

Seven Webster athletes have tweeted at Webster using the hash tag “#WUBillboard.” One of those athletes was her brother Danny Zehner, junior on the men’s basketball team, who first showed her a photo of the billboard.

Webster athletes started to share an article on Twitter from the Wall Street Journal about the billboard. The article states Webster spends “under four figures per month” to keep the billboard along I-70.

Aubuchon said she remembered a sign in Marlettos about the chess team after its 2012 national championship.

“I understand why they don’t want to spend so much money on the chess team and not us,” Aubuchon said.

Senior Center fielder Corey Lasky said he sees the message as something he can’t control.

“We’ve accomplished some stuff too,” Lasky said. “Hopefully the athletes don’t buy too much into it.”

 

Zehner said she does not want to disrespect the Webster chess program, but the billboard “cheapens” the athletic department. She said she understood the context of the joke Webster wanted to make in relation to the University of Missouri- Columbia billboards, which are less than 10 miles away from Webster’s billboard.

“You’ve upset a lot of your own people,” Zehner said. “It probably wasn’t worth it and I think it needs to be taken down.”

Seven Webster athletes have Tweeted at Webster using the hash tag “#WUBillboard”. One of those athletes was her brother Danny Zehner, junior on the men’s basketball team, who first showed her a photo of the billboard.

Webster athletes started to share an article on Twitter from the Wall Street Journal about the billboard. The article states Webster spends “under four figures per month” to keep the billboard along I-70.

Aubuchon said she remembered a sign in Marlettos about the chess team after its 2012 national championship. But she said there was no sign when the baseball team finished as one of the 10 best teams in the country in the Division III College World Series.

“I don’t understand why they don’t want to spend so much money on the chess team and not us,” Aubuchon said.

Webster Center fielder senior Corey Lasky said he sees the message as something he can’t control.

“We’ve accomplished some stuff too,” Lasky said. “Hopefully the athletes don’t buy too much into it.”

6 thoughts on “Student athletes call for removal of chess billboard

  1. Jordan says:

    I really feel people are over reacting here. I don’t see the Chess team at Mizzou throwing a fit because they arn’t on a billboard. I think the point the billboard was trying to make was that it is a University that is more than just sports. There simply is no way to advertise every single group in a University. Sarcasm people. Look into it.

  2. The Voice of Reason says:

    I can’t believe that there are people whining about this, seriously?! Chess actually develops an area of your brain that might help you some day. The correlation between athletics and school is such a joke in this country, and some of you are providing a shining example of this. Newsflash – it’s already ridiculous that any of you get scholarship money to play a game in the first place. Complaining about this billboard while you’re getting scholarship money is a slap in the face.. To everyone else in college. Period.

  3. Fred says:

    Tell me who on any one of Webster teams outside of chess are ranked #1 or top 100 in their sports?I cant think of ANY so i must say that it is on point with the message

  4. Matt Miller says:

    Chess is a sport that is more intense than basketball and football combinined

  5. khantot says:

    Eat it! Chess is the best ‘sport’ in the world.

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