Varsity athletes with Olympic dreams fight to their right to develop athletic careers as promised

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COURTESY PHOTO // WM.EDU

“One Tribe, One Family.” That’s the selling line that the College of William and Mary uses to rope its students in. But how can we be a family when the College inevitably just stabs us in the back without warning?

Or, to be more precise, when they betray some of their best student athletes on campus?

As a member of the swim team and an incoming freshman, I had chosen the College not only because of the amazing academics, but for the chance to further my career as a swimmer. When leaving high school, most people that are dedicated to a sport like swim or gymnastics or football have to make the decision to either end their athletic career or search for schools where they can continue to train. We chose to find a school where the athletic department led us to believe we could do just that, and with a few words, Athletic Director Samantha Huge took that away.

She took away a part of us that we weren’t ready to give up just yet.

“The athletic department lied to us and completely blindsided all of us,” women’s swim team member Anna Kenna ’22 said. “The amount of hard work that each individual athlete has put into their sport was heartlessly taken away over the course of a tele-prompted script, in a meeting that lasted seven minutes.”

When I was in my dorm and my roommate came in all worried about this meeting, I had full faith everything would be okay. I thought the worst was going to be that they planned to send us all home due to COVID-19 issues. Never did I expect that three weeks into school, and two days into finally beginning to start practices, that they would announce so brutally that I would only be able to swim for this year.

What doesn’t make sense to me is the reasoning behind cutting these sports. When you go to watch the Olympics, what are you most likely tuning in to watch?

Swimming, gymnastics, and track and field. Everyone wanted to watch Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian, the American Gymnastics team win the most medals out of all the countries in 2016, and Usain Bolt become the fastest man alive. Why cut the teams that produce Olympians?

“[The swim team has] been on an upward trend of performance over the past decade,” Kyle Demers ‘23 said. “Winning the past six conference titles, turning our win-loss ratio positive for the first time in decades and developing professional caliber athletes such as Colin Wright, [who] was ranked 4th and 8th in the nation for college swimming.”

And we’re not just athletes.

We’re training to become Olympic Trialists and some of us, one day, Olympians.

Does it make sense to cut a team with five Olympic trial qualifiers?

And I know I’ve mainly focused on swimming because, like I said, I’m a swimmer, but we’re not the only ones that were cut unjustifiably.

“This is a terrible shock to all of us, and a fatal blow to men’s NCAA and US Olympics Gymnastics.” Men’s gymnastics team member Christian Marsh ’22 said. “Our team has a long-standing history of success as both scholars and athletes, walking in the tradition of William and Mary students who work hard and commit themselves to excellence in the gym, the classroom, and the community.”

Samantha Huge broke all our hearts yesterday. We were all hit and quite unfairly.

She had absolutely no remorse as she read lines from a script for seven minutes without even having the decency to open the floor for questions or even have the courtesy to say goodbye. No, she just ended the conversation believing that it was all over.

But it’s not over.

We’re not done.

We’re going to fight.

Because as athletes, that’s what we do. We’re trained to not give up. So, don’t be surprised when you see everyone — swimmers, gymnasts, football players, basketball players and non-athletes alike — all come together for this. Because, like the College says, we’re one tribe, one family, and families stick together.

 

Email Katherine Vanbourgondien at

klvanbourgondi@email.wm.edu.