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Cut goes deeper than it seems

May 18, 2002

(from the Local Sports section) (sxLocal Sports) (archived)

By TOM HALEY Staff Writer

The Vermont Principals’ Association’s pilot program that will enable athletes to compete on teams at a high school other than the one they are attending could decimate teams at small schools. The program gives a student the opportunity to compete in a sport at another public school, providing his or her school does not offer the sport.

Here’s what could happen: Three Proctor High athletes opt to play girls lacrosse at Rutland High. They would have played softball at their own school. Proctor softball coach Randy Perry greets a total of eight players – as opposed to the 11 it would have been – at the day’s first practice and the season is scrapped. Eight players who wanted to play softball have their team and season yanked right out from under them.

You don’t have to tell longtime University of Vermont track and field coach Ed Kusiak what that feels like.

Following 34 years of dedication to the sport at UVM, Kusiak saw the men’s track program terminated by what school officials termed cost-cutting measures.

It has been an emotional spring for the Catamounts, going through this season as a lame-duck program.

The saddest part of all this is that the program has been an exciting component of the college experience for a large number of in-state students. Vermont high school track athletes have looked forward to wearing the uniform of their own state while competing at the Division I level.

You have to wonder if that factor was weighed very heavily, if at all, when the decision was made to sever this program from UVM’s athletic offerings. A Division I program that includes Vermont high school graduates as about 60 percent of its membership is pretty special. That makes it a darn good public relations vehicle, too.

“It’s so disheartening knowing that other guys aren’t going to have this same opportunity I had,” U-32 graduate Jeff Guilmette said.

Guilmette is one of those Vermont natives who made the most of his UVM track experience. A senior, he won his third New England shot put title this year with a throw of 54-11½. He also set a standard that might never be matched by winning four America East indoor shot put titles and four America East outdoor shot put championships.

“We all feel a little anger toward the administration,” Guilmette said this week while working out in the weight room.

Don’t think it’s only the men on this track team who felt the cut. The women’s track team is still around, but its members, too, are scarred by this decision.

“We’re one team,” New England women’s hammer throw champion Kristal Kostiew said. “It was a very emotional year. “It’s really tough knowing that next year the guys won’t be on the bus with us, won’t be throwing with us and won’t be running with us.”

Some of the men will find new buses to ride. Windsor’s Jamie Carmichael has already transferred to Providence, where he will compete with the Friars.

Here’s another thing that wasn’t too well thought out: While the men’s track program has been scrapped, the men’s cross country program remains intact.

A good many cross country runners find that being a distance runner in the winter and spring on the track teams is the perfect complement to their fall sport. How many cross country recruits will forego Vermont in favor of a school that can give them indoor and outdoor track? An awful lot of them, I would think.

While cost-cutting was given as the reason for eliminating men’s track (among other programs), Kusiak isn’t so sure that’s the reason for getting rid of the non-scholarship men’s program.

“We still don’t know what the motives were,” he said.

The program was not only a magnet for a great number of in-state athletes, but many of them had outstanding careers. Rutland’s High’s Eric Gauthier, for example, was sensational in the pole vault.

Most recently, Springfield High’s George Deane won the 1500 meters at the New England Championships a week ago.

“We lost as a track team, all the alums lost but the kids in the state of Vermont are the biggest losers,” Kusiak said.

“Look at our teams. We were the ones who really went for the Vermont kids.”

Kusiak said a friend of his recently attended the Burlington High School Invitational track meet. “After the meet, he said to me, ‘It really sunk in as I was watching the meet. None of these kids are going to be looking at the University of Vermont.’”

I counted 57 letters on the track team’s web site that had been sent to the UVM administration since Jan. 9 on behalf of reinstating the men’s track and field program. A few were very short, but most were lengthy and passionate. Most came from people with some sort of ties to UVM, including past Catamount athletes.

But one came from University of Florida head track coach Doug Brown. He wrote, in part, “As I understand it, your school has the only D-I track and field program in the state. Eliminating that in-state option is a dangerous venture in my opinion.”

The demise of track and field is bringing more attention to UVM than school officials would like. A front-page story appeared in the New York Times on May 9 in which the situation was mentioned prominently in a lengthy article.

A segment on the CBS national news (today, 6:30 p.m.) about budget cuts and Title IX legislation is expected to refer to the UVM cuts.

“CBS was at the New England Meet and took some footage,” UVM Sports Information Gordon Woodworth said.

Killing the UVM men’s program could also severely damage the women’s track and field program. You have to believe competing recruiters are using it against UVM. You don’t think they’re suggesting to high school senior women that the UVM women’s program will be next to go?

But worst of all, the Jamie Carmichaels, George Deanes and Jeff Guilmettes coming up, will not have the opportunity to compete with pride for their home state on the Division I level.

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