The writing below is my immediate response to the decision of UVM to drop its Menís Track and Field team. Written on one of the most difficult days of my life, September 13th 2001.
Today I had the equivalent of my heart being torn from my body. Needless to say it came at a time when I was already incredibly vulnerable simply from the national tragedy that we are currently facing. Last spring when I heard that there were sports teams that were going to be cut from our athletics department I was afraid. Afraid because I knew that my sports, particularly Cross Country were not high profile sports and that we were not likely to survive the cuts, regardless of the fact that we are probably one of the most low maintenance teams out there. Give us our singlets, we provide our own shoes, and we would run ourselves into the ground 6 or 7 times a week at practice and at meets in order to perform. However, cross country does not get people into the stands. Regardless of how hard we work and what we accomplish it will never be high profile, though running is one of the most popular life long sports in the world. So I braced myself for the removal of my team that I had captained for 3 years and helped build for 4. I had already run out my seasons as a cross country athlete for UVM, but I would be forced to see my brothers have their opportunities for growth and friendships taken away from them, not given the same opportunities that I had.
Imagine the shock and dismay when I found that it was not Cross Country that was to be taken away, but Track and Field. Many people don't realize this but endurance athletes and most track athletes are working year round to excel at their sports. I myself would reserve 2 weeks off at the end of May beginning of June where I wouldn't run a step. Normally this would last about a week and a half and then I wouldn't be able to take it so I would head out for another year of running. However, my running this year has taken a serious turn for the worse. I'd like to explain a little bit about myself, my running, and my journey at UVM.
I started here as an Undergraduate in the fall of 1997. Just 17 years old I was still a veteran distance runner and had amassed many accolades in high school, including winning a Vermont State championship in the 800 meters in what was to be my final high school race. Aside from a few letters from Division 3 schools, I was not a sought after athlete, I came to UVM because it was a beautiful place in a state I loved and it also afforded me the chance to further my running career. UVM does not have a fabulous tradition of distance running, but it does have an impressive resume of past athletes and so I was excited at the prospect of becoming a better runner. I worked incredibly hard for 4 years sweating out 3 seasons a year along with taking full class schedules so I could graduate on schedule. By the time I was a junior I had established myself as a solid competitor not just in the conference meets where I finished 1st and 4th in races, but I had also shown promise at larger meets, making the finals at the New England Championships (regrettably I finished 9th in the finals of the 1500, however the New England Champion was also the IC4A champion a meet of over 180 eastern schools that was held the next week, which I also ran at. My senior year was filled with trials, I had the best indoor season of my life, placing a disappointing 4th in the Conference Mile (though I was less than 1 second away from first place), and I led my Distance Medley Relay team to a second place finish at the New England Indoor Championships, beating out teams such as Providence College which can offer scholarships to their male runners, and setting a new school record in the process. The next week I again represented my team at the IC4A Championships and running the individual mile I set a new school record again by almost 3 seconds, with the 5th fastest time of the competition. My outdoor season was stripped away from my by injury and I debated long and hard about entering graduate school right after receiving my BS in order to finish out my eligibility. So here I am now finishing off my running career and as soon as I am gone my team will leave with me.
I see a few problems with this.
1) Men's Track and Field was the only Tier 2 sport to be cut
2) Despite showing marked improvement our sports were still cut. Last year 6 school records were broken some which had stood for roughly 20 years. This was all done without the aid of scholarships.
3) The Men's team had 8 members make the Athletic council honor roll with 6 of them receiving high honors and another member of the team receiving Verizon Academic All- America as well as All-District First Teams. Also we had nominees for Senior Awards such as the Class of '67 Award.
4) There were no scholarships available to the Men's team. This was one of the rationales for cutting us because as our Athletic Director told us this afternoon "You can't be competitive without scholarships" Well as much as I disagree with that I would also argue that non-scholarship athletes are the most real athletes you get. We are not out there because of financial gain, we are out there for the love of sport, and we will try our hardest to represent our University to the best of our ability.
5) In cutting Track and Field the University is also undermining it's Cross Country team. No serious distance runner worth his salt will attend this University if they are not offered the 3 seasons it really takes to make a marked improvement. Many of my teammates are now struggling to make the decision to transfer. On the Cross Country roster for this13 students from Vermont that would not be here if we didnít have track and field as well.
There is no doubt in my mind that the University has made a grievous error in deciding to cut these teams, we are losing some of the most dedicated, intelligent, and hard working individuals that have ever competed for the Catamounts.†† So let's look at what we've gained and what we've lost. What have we saved? Maybe some money on coaches, though our coaches have been the same for the Men's and the Women's teams for as long as the Women's team has been in existence. Have we saved money in the budget? Possibly, our team just got new uniforms for the first time in at least 5 years last spring, we travel on the same bus as the women's team and stay overnight at hotels maybe 3-4 times a season. Also we will save on the 240 dollars of meal money that the 20 of us split on trips. All in all are those savings worth the 80,000 we lose in tuition money from the 8 students who won't come here to run Cross Country, I haven't had time to really look at the numbers for Track, though rest assured they are higher.
What have we lost? By cutting the Track and Field teams we have removed a chunk of our student athletes that have preformed consistently higher than other teams. We have removed a team that has shown marked improvement over the years in competition, possibly not as a team as a whole which must excel in 20+ events, but a team nonetheless who has consistently improved, broke school records, and continues to perform well at the highest levels of competition where only huge schools like Georgetown will field teams large enough to capture titles. What does this say about the values of our lone state University? Are we only going to support teams that will put people in the seats, that will win, that we build by offering athletes money? What does that say about how we view the role of athletics? Do we no longer value the athlete who is out there strictly for the competition, win or lose we gave it our best shot? Do individual Conference and New England Championships count for nothing? People see individuals at meets rest assured and we are recognized for what we do by our contemporaries even if the press passes us over. After 5 years as a UVM student athlete, 3 years as a Cross Country Captain and 3 more as Captain of the Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field teams, I will leave with 12 varsity letters and only 3 home events. How are we supposed to build a fan base when people have to drive an hour and a half to reach our closest competitions?
Albert Gutterson, the namesake of our field house was not a Hockey Player, much to the chagrin of those who attend UVM Hockey Games. Who was he than? Well he was a Track Athlete, a jumper, winner of the 1912 Olympic Gold Medal in the Long Jump, from my hometown of Springfield Vermont. It is sad to think that I am going to be the last line of Springfield athletes leaving Gutterson as a Track Man. I will run this final season, for my coaches, my family and myself, but as of right now I am somewhat ashamed of the feeling I get by donning the Catamounts Green and Gold, if UVM wants to improve its image to increase donations don't look to me because I've given all I have.