Commentary: The Loss of William & Mary Swimming is a Loss of Family

William-Mary-Swimming
Photo Courtesy: William & Mary Athletics

The College of William & Mary last week announced the decision to cut the swimming and diving teams, among other varsity programs, at the end of the 2020-21 season. A petition has been started to save the Tribe’s program, among other efforts. Many have come forward to share their experiences as swimmers, including current sophomore Grace Olsen.

Commentary – By Grace Olsen

The Tribe swimming family extends beyond just swimming.

When I toured colleges back in my high school junior spring, I did not want to go to the College of William & Mary. I’m from Williamsburg and grew up swimming for Tribe swim alumni. I thought I had experienced enough of it.

I took my official visit to the College my senior fall. We went to Yankee Candle and Sno-to-go and walked in downtown Colonial Williamsburg through tourist shops to fulfill the Williamsburg experience.

After 12 years here in the ’Burg, I had never felt as at home as I did with the Tribe swimming team that day.

Williamsburg is quiet. Nothing “big” ever really happens here. My town was comfortable and safe, until my life began to change in spring 2019.

In March 2019, my younger sister attempted suicide.

Among the first of people to reach out to my family was former Tribe swimmer and head coach Matt Crispino. He called me one afternoon to invite me over to his family’s home for dinner and to talk. He genuinely wanted to know if I was okay.

Because of his alumni status and life experiences, I think the authenticity of my coach’s reaction was wholly expected as this is simply the person he is.

What I found in my coach is what I found in the Tribe swimming family — I found a sense of understanding. It was a team built on connections and care. Everyone that knows Tribe swimming knows this.

My argument is that the cuts made by Athletic Director Samantha Huge are unjust. The story I shared is one among hundreds of other life-changing events that the team has supported one another through.

She cut seven teams in seven minutes. After she read her speech in the driest manner possible, she proceeded to deflect any questions.

Where are the financial predictions? Why did she lie to the swim team on multiple occasions that they would not be cut? How could she hurt so many people in so little time?

The one reason she gave for the cuts of the seven sports was that the athletic department was realigning. None of us know what “realigning” means. The athletic department has provided athletes with no information as to why the athletes with some of the highest GPAs and longest winning streaks were cut.

The men’s team receives no scholarships and the women’s team receives two. The swim team has one of the lowest operating budgets among the athletic departments and is incredibly well-endowed.

Until the financial predictions are seen, there is no way to see what the swim team was supposedly inhibiting Huge’s favorite teams from doing — favorite teams meaning the ones that do well for the department’s bank account.

Huge did not leave the window open for fundraising efforts. Pledges are currently being made, but until the department is willing to accept their efforts, nothing is certain.

Until the athletes and families receive more answers, the cuts will continue to be unjust.

Please take the time to read through the posts and websites of the teams impacted. Huge and the department have made many questionable decisions that have impacted each of these athletes personally.

I haven’t been a member of Tribe swimming for several months now (due to personal reasons). That being said, my time away from the team has not strained the friendships I began during my time there.

Everyone walks away from Tribe swimming having learned some sort of lesson. I learned many, but the best one I learned was that there is a group of people that will support you no matter what — this is your tribe.

Last fall, my parents separated.

This was another great turning point in my life and, to say the least, many other life-changing decisions followed. When I eventually parted ways with the team, I seriously began to consider transferring to a school in Washington state, to be closer to my mom. I visited and gave the schools serious thought before realizing that the College will always be my home.

It’s a cliché of orientation to talk about the Tribe family, but it really is true. Once you find your tribe, you find your family. The swim team is a well-established tribe that Huge took away, and that is an enormous loss to this school.

The College will not continue forward in the direction Huge dreams of without the swim team. The Williamsburg community loves Tribe swimming, I can say that for a fact.

The team has long been an inspiration to young swimmers in my community and the people that go through the program go on to do good. Huge’s decision is not just a loss to the school, but also a loss to the entire community.

A family is not something Huge can take away, and Tribe swimming will continue with or without a program.

Here, I found my people and will walk away from the College at least having that. The incoming classes deserve this opportunity as well and the struggle to reinstate the program will continue until changes are made.

Until then, I hope Huge reads our stories.

Grace Olsen is a sophomore at the College of William & Mary. She’s a lifelong swimmer and a native of Williamsburg, Va. A version of this essay originally appeared in the William & Mary student newspaper, The Flat Hat.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, nor its staff.

8 comments

  1. Denise Bailey

    So disappointing so many swim programs are being dropped.

  2. Mike Mcgowan

    Yea they’re falling like dominos. Have a soft spot since I was a collegiate swimmer and Water Polo player in the early 70’s.

  3. avatar
    Erin Thomas

    The students, alumni, swim team supporters, and families, deserve answers and accountability from the school. This is a public school that should not be hiding information and how they came to the conclusion to cut the program. This is an absolute disgrace, and the athletic director should be held fully accountable. She is clearly playing favorites and not being transparent with the entire William and Mary community. The cutting of these seven teams will surely be to the detriment of this prestigious college. I truly feel a deep sense of loss for those students who have worked so hard and put years of their life into training and being good students just to gain a place on this wonderful team.

  4. Keith Pokrzywa

    No room for Jocks on college campuses. Part of the cancel culture

  5. avatar
    Anonymous

    Thank you Grace. Well said ✊

  6. Joanne Hooker-Melton

    sad…..Thanks Grace for sharing your thoughts and I echo Erin Thomas’ comment on the Swimming World page.

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