Students rally to save swim team

by Elliot Olshansky and Jennifer Thomas | 11/27/02 6:00am

Nearly 150 students gathered outside Parkhurst Hall at noon yesterday to protest Monday's announcement that the College plans to cut the men's and women's varsity swimming and diving programs in March 2003.

Both Dean of the College James Larimore and Athletic Director Joann Harper listened to student concerns while stressing the necessity and finality of the decision.

Their emphasis that the subject was closed has left some community members looking toward the future of swimming and diving at Dartmouth.

Some have raised the possibility of funding the teams through alumni donations.

"If there's anything that Dartmouth alumni have proven, it's that they're generous with their wallets," former swim team member Chris Whalen '97 said in an interview.

Whalen said that he was frustrated that the administration did not seek out alumni donations before deciding to discontinue the team, and that, if asked, he would "absolutely" contribute to the cause.

Richard Petty '97, another former team member, said that team loyalty inspired by swim coach Jim Wilson would provide added incentive for giving.

Harper, however, did not see the option as viable in the long term. Although sentiment is running high at the moment, she said, money could probably only be raised to keep the program alive for one or two more years.

The College, Larimore emphasized, has to move forward knowing that the swimming and diving programs will not continue to exist at the varsity level after this season. It is in that light that some have begun to consider maintaining swimming and diving as club sports at the College.

Whalen was receptive to the notion of a swimming and diving club.

"I would hope that they would continue on," he said. The veteran swimmer said he worried, however, that it would be difficult to continue without coaches. "It's really tough to do it on your own."

However, Harper said that although the budget cut necessitate the elimination of three full-time swim coaching positions, the teams will not necessarily go without coaches if they choose to continue at the club level. Both the rugby and figure-skating clubs receive enough funding through alumni donations to employ coaches.

The possibility of a club program did not appear to be on the minds of assembled protesters, however, where both athletes and non-athletes voiced strong support for the continuation of the varsity teams. Some resorted to profanity in addressing Larimore and Harper.

Students' remarks touched on a number of topics related to the budget cuts, including the possibility of across-the-board cuts rather than eliminating an entire program, other controversial College expenditures and the lack of student input on budget matters.

Student athletes from other programs argued that they would rather see cuts in their own programs than the complete elimination of swimming and diving.

"I'd rather have a swim team and slightly less resources for my team than not have a swim team," one athlete said.

However, administrators stressed that horizontal cuts in the athletic budget were thoroughly examined and deemed unfeasible before the decision was made.

Protesters questioned what they viewed as excesses in College expenditures -- including costs incurred by the Programming Board, Student Life Initiative and the Fuel dance club -- with the implication that the money would be better spent on reviving the cut teams.

Dean Larimore pointed out that those expenditures are part of a different budget.

"If it were up to me to take money from the Student Activities Fund to offset some other things, it might be tempting," he said.

Larimore's discussion of the budget prompted students to ask why there is no student representative on the College's budget committee. Larimore noted that approximately 80 percent of the College's budget concerns salaries and benefits, and that it would be inappropriate for students to know how much their professors and coaches are earning.

For the most part, the assembled students were unreceptive to Harper and Larimore, almost overwhelming them with questions and accusations.

Swimmer Scott Trubisz '04 said, "We feel like we're being treated like idiots."

One student asked Harper if she was "embarrassed" by the decision to eliminate the swimming and diving programs. Harper responded, "Embarrassed is not the word I would use."

"Saddened by the situation, yes, but not embarrassed," Harper said.

The crowd was somewhat more receptive to Deputy Director of Athletics Bob Ceplikas '78. Ceplikas, a former member of the men's hockey team and a former coach of the women's hockey team, commented, "To know that anything near and dear to these athletes' hearts was going to be ripped away from them ... it really does rip my heart out."

Both Harper and Ceplikas said they were impressed by the strong showing of student support for the cut teams.

"I would be disappointed in our student athletes if they weren't as supportive of the swim teams as they are," she said.

"Having met with the swimmers and coaches for three and a half hours, I have a clear understanding of the depth of the passion these people have, and their feelings of frustration and anger. Today was a vivid representation of that," Ceplikas added.

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