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Bleeding Orange – For The Last Time

Team Kuba assembled behind lane three. When Kuba Kotynia walked from the ready room the chants began, “Kuba! Kuba! Kuba!” This was the last swim for the ninety-two year Syracuse men’s and women’s swimming and diving team. There were “Team Kuba” swimmers from Syracuse, but also from Providence, Georgetown, Seton Hall, UConn, Pittsburgh and other team’s in the Big East Conference. Perhaps fittingly Team Kuba included the Rutgers women’s swimming team. Of course no men anymore, since they suffered the same fate. Termination. Although a rich past, death to their future. The cheering swimmers looked like a rainbow in their variety of Team Kuba uniforms chanting “Kuba!” and in unison, sharply giving the tomahawk sign normally saved for Florida State football games. One minute and fifty-eight seconds later, Syracuse’s last swim was done. But bleeding orange went on.

The awards for the 200 breastroke were fittingly given by Syracuse Coach Lou Walker, in his thirty-third year as coach for the Big East school. But before Walker could give one out he was an award recipient. The coach stood on the elevated balcony extension of the Tress Pool at the University of Pittsburgh, facing a jury of 750 parents, alums and fans packed in to watch the swimming competition. In the crowd was a Supreme Court judge, and other wonderful people from the sport who had supported their kids through age-group swimming clubs and high school programs to help facilitate their participation in Division I swimming. Many families reaped the rewards of their kid’s hard work with millions of dollars of scholarship money funding part or all of their child’s education while they learned lessons for life in the pool, supported by coaches, trainers, academic counselors and administrative staff. For some it meant the only way they could afford to send their kids to an outstanding university. For others it meant early retirement, glorious vacations and perhaps homes by the water. But would they walk away from the sport or sustain its future? The Big East coaches presented Walker with flowers, a bottle of bourbon, hugs, handshakes, gratitude and good wishes. As the coaches exited the cathedral like stage, the soon to be unemployed Coach Walker stood alone, and waved as the crowd gave him a long, thunderous ovation.

But the Orange bleeding goes on. It’s blended so much with the red from St. Johns, the scarlet from Rutgers, the navy from Washington, the black from Duquesne, the green from Miami, the blue from UCLA that it looks like mud. Statistics show that fencing and sailing have had more success growing their sport in the NCAA over the last twenty years than men’s swimming. So who is next?

We have calculated that if in 1975, perhaps the heyday of men’s NCAA swimming, each swimmer had joined their classmates to give back as a class just $1000 per year there would currently be 2.88 billion more dollars of endowed coaches positions, scholarships, or operating budgets. If you are a swimming or diving alum reading this document the question needs to be asked, “How did your collegiate swimming experience enhance the quality of your life and ability to earn a good living?” We like to say the best, most successful people come out of the sport of swimming. People of excellence such as doctors, attorneys, business owners, teachers and the like. That’s certainly true at Syracuse swimming and diving, with iconic swim Coach Frank Comfort a swimming grad, as well as one of the most influential people in the swimming world, ASCA executive director John Leonard. But after the announcement to cut was made even they couldn’t head up a group to change the decision. What if you acted now, before it’s too late to help underwrite the cost of your experience for someone else?

Jessica Barnes, Penn State team captain 2007, recently became ‘class leader’ of her alumni class for her alma mater. Her task is to communicate with her fellow alums and keep track of giving levels for her class. Although never a swimmer with a large scholarship, she’s committed to endow a scholarship one day. What about you? Even if you are struggling to pay bills month to month, you can make a statement to your school by giving something every year and being counted among all of your fellow alums that are showing they care about their program and value the experience they had. Still better, become involved in your school’s alumnI organization and you may very well become head of your class group, which at many schools has as its next step being named to the school’s Board of Trustees. If you are sitting in a room when sports are discussed to be cut you may be the voice that saves your swimming and diving program and it won’t cost you a dime – just your time. Perhaps that’s where the bleeding stops, the mud clears and your kids or grandkids will have a sport to learn in, grow with and pass on to future generations for their benefit. Today isn’t too early to start. Put it off a bit and you may have the chance to join the next “Team Kuba” and bleed orange for the day.