Billboard touting Webster chess team angers athletes

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A tongue in cheek billboard has become an eye catching advertisement for Webster University this month.  The sign is posted along I-70 about ten miles east of a series of billboards promotingUniversity of Missouri football.  This one celebrates Webster`s national championship chess team.

It announces 'Our top recruits are chess players.'  Two chess team members pose wearing tough game day faces and one sports eye black painted beneath her eyes... a tool normally reserved for football players.

"I think it is really cool to go to a university where we are prized for our chess team not our football team;  that`s what I like about it, " said a drama student on campus Tuesday.

But some students want the billboard removed.  Webster University athletes who are protesting the message say it is a 'slap in the face' to the university`s NCAA Division Three program.

But the university`s chief communications officer Barbara O`Malley says it was never intended to criticize the students who participate in athletics.  "It is supposed to be tongue in cheek. We wanted people to realize the friendly, funniness of it all in the middle of football seasonand it was never our intent that anyone would take offense at that," O`Malley said.  She indicated it will only be displayed for a brief time.

It was placed near the Mizzou billboards to show the contrast between the two institutions.  "They have a fabulous football program.  We have a fabulous  chess program .  We have other fabulous programs for our studentsand it is just kind of fun to shine a light on the student activities for both," O`Malley added.

Student athlete  Maggie Zehner has organized a social media campaign asking that the billboard be removed.  She has yet to hear from O`Malley or anyone else with the administration.

But Tuesday O`Malley promised the school would be in touch with the students who object to the display.  'I think we have an opportunity to listen to them and hear their ideas and really have this end up being a positive , a positive thing for everyone.'  She predicted the creative services staff will come up with a fun way to recognize other student activities.

One basketball player on campus Tuesday said winning any type of award was a positive for Websterand he had no objection to the billboard.  He is looking to the coming basketball season. "Maybe this season we can turn things around and show people that we are capable of doing great things academically and also in sports wise."

None of the students receive athletic scholarships since Webster is a division three school under NCAA rules. But many students do receive academic scholarships and other kinds of financial aid.

Athletes upset at Webster U’s billboard, “Our top recruits are chess players.”
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