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Cats track makes a loud exit
Jeff Guilmette thumbed his nose at the University of Vermont's administration Saturday afternoon with a record.
Guilmette became the first track and field athlete to win eight America East Conference championships in one event -- four indoors; four outdoors -- by capturing the men's shot put title at Durham, N.H. Guilmette's throw of 56 feet, 5 inches set a conference standard.
The record-setting effort was the highlight of the weekend for the Catamount men, who finished seventh out of nine teams.
So ends 100 years of men's track and field at UVM.
The program was one of five to get the boot last fall in the school's budget crunch. Women's volleyball played its final match in November. The men's indoor track team finished eighth at the league final in February. The men's and women's gymnastics seasons ended last month.
Saturday was men's outdoor track and field's turn.
Seven months have passed since the administration announced its cost-cutting plan, but the decision remains dubious. The university said the athletic program was in need of a serious overhaul only to save a meager $49,000 a year by trimming five low-budget teams. A soon-to-be-launched $200 million capital campaign, with $25 million said to be earmarked for athletics, evidently couldn't spare track, volleyball and gymnastics.
"I've tried to block it out and focus on coaching the kids," Ed Kusiak, the Catamounts coach, said one day last week as his team braved an angry wind to work out at Post Field.
"The one thing that keeps coming to my mind is that the track team can be taken away from the University of Vermont, but the one thing they can't take away from me are the memories of the guys who competed for me for 35 years. Those are mine forever."
Guilmette will have memories, too, not to mention a trunk full of America East championships. A senior from East Montpelier, he's spent four years rewriting the conference record book by throwing heavy things a long way.
The cuts won't affect Guilmette directly. He's graduating. That doesn't ease his anguish for his young teammates, however.
"I feel so sad for the juniors and the sophomores and freshmen, because I've just had the time of my life competing at the University of Vermont," Guilmette said. "I'm sad they won't have the same opportunity."
Jeff Manley is one who won't, but he is not through competing. The freshman from Milton will transfer to the University of New Hampshire in the fall to continue his career as a distance runner.
"There's definitely something wrong with the administration's thinking," Manley said. "That's why I'm leaving."
Jamie Carmichael beat Manley to it. Carmichael, a Windsor native, transferred to Providence College midway through his junior year, taking the 5,000-meter school record with him. Kusiak said at least three or four others will join Carmichael and Manley in leaving. The coach contends his women's team and the men's and women's cross-country teams have already taken "collateral damage" from the men's team's demise.
To a man, the competitors on Post Field last week said they've put the program's doomed fate out of their minds. They were focused only on this weekend's meet, determined to represent the school and themselves well.
"We've been trying to keep our heads high and work as hard as we can," said George Deane, a graduate student and middle-distance man who won the 1,500 meters Saturday and teamed with Kent Taylor, Peter Raak and Manley to set a school record in the 4x800 relay.
When the meet was over, the team took a "victory" lap as their eight rivals said farewell with a standing ovation.
"I don't think there's been a feeling of doom, because we've never had the feeling we were all that supported in the first place," Deane said. "We've tried not to focus on this as the last one, but instead that it's a great chance for all of us to get together one more time and go out in a positive light."
Still, Deane admits to some bitterness.
Last week, during the awards banquet for the school's senior athletes, Deane said athletic director Rick Farnham told those assembled that no matter where their lives took them, they would be Catamounts forever.
"That cut deep for a lot of the guys," Deane said.
"We don't feel much like Catamounts."
Who could blame them?
Patrick Garrity is the Free Press Assistant Sports Editor. If you have a comment, please call 660-1868 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns see www.burlingtonfreepress.com.