When the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity was disbanded this past fall for hazing violations, the cycling team was an inadvertent casualty.
The team that proudly touts Little 500 founder Howdy Wilcox Jr. as an alumnus of the fraternity was no more.
After participating in last year’s Little 500 for ATO, both junior Caleb Norris and sophomore Luke Kleppe were disappointed when they realized that because of the scandal, they most likely wouldn’t be able to ride.
“Little 500 was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had in my life,” Norris said. “From the very start of the day to going around the track, you feel like a professional athlete.”
Norris added he was glad he had the opportunity to experience it at least that one time.
On race day last year, Kleppe wasn’t able to ride because he had mono, but he still came and cheered on his ATO team.
“Being able to say you were a part of it and seeing the amount of people that care is really cool,” Kleppe said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Both were hoping to build on last year’s race.
The team said they were excited heading into last year because of the new crop of riders that they had brought in. They had a new coach and were in the midst of the beginning weeks of training when the scandal broke.
ATO had its charter revoked by its national office, and later all members would be forced to leave the house.
“We thought we were going to have a much better chance in the race,” Kleppe said. “When all the stuff happened, not be able to ride was in the back of our mind , and it was an extra hit that we weren’t able to ride.”
Technically, the ATO team could have ridden as an independent team this year. But, because of the large financial investment it takes to race in the Little 500, they decided against that.
“The easiest part of Little 500 is the rigorous training,” Kleppe said. “The hardest part is setting up your team, getting the money and the organizational parts of it.”
After they decided against that, the disappointment began to sink in.
“It’s disappointing after you experience Little 500 for the first time,” Norris said. “You experience that race and that’s what motivates you to work harder. We came in hungry this year and we wanted to be the team to make a statement.”
Norris said that statement was going to be rebuilding ATO, but instead, their training never even got past the initial stages.
“We thought we were going to be the beginning of the next great ATO run,” Kleppe said. “Then it was taken away from us.”
They did say there is a chance the team resumes next year as an independent team, but they said they would still have to way the challenges of it.
When spring hit and Little 500 neared, it began to sink in for the riders that they would not be participating this year.
Qualifications was the beginning of that frustration.
Last year, ATO nearly failed to qualify and had to wait until late at night to make their final attempt at getting in the race. Both riders said that was one of their favorite experiences of their life.
“Missing out on that this year really changes the way you look at things like Quals,” Norris said. “You take it for granted when you are there, but it’s not something to take for granted at all.”
With the actual race approaching Saturday, neither knew if they were going to attend.
Norris said attending the race would be an extra stab in the back, but he is still following along because he said he knows many of the riders in the race.
Kleppe said they still might experience the race, just not as riders.
While ATO cycling may not be racing in this year’s Little 500, the team’s cycling shirts can still be seen on campus as a remnant of what was.
“I’m still going to wear the shirts,” Norris said. “I’m never going to forget qualifying last year and being able to put these letters from some of best friends. I still were them with pride.”