Opinion pieces on specific topics.

Divers Deserve More Than “Belly-flop” Deal

As St. Bonaventure struggles to achieve a balanced budget, all departments are again being asked to tighten their belts. Salary reductions are being considered,and even petty things such as photocopying are being limited.

Athletics has had to chip in as well. However, as The Bona Venture sports section  prepared to move into the winter season, I realized some unsettling things.

For starters, the University hired two new assistant athletic directors last year, in the name of “efficiency.” Then both the men’s and the women’s basketball teams showed up at Midnight Magic II with brand new practice gear and have received new game warm-ups. The men’s team is boating a schedule that is sure to raise the cost of transportation, since they fly to almost all of their away games.

In the midst of all this spending, one fact has just about slipped by: the swimming program is still bereft of a diving coach.

My gripe here is not with the players. I do not begrudge them new gear or decent means of traveling. I know that clothing wears out and you cannot conveniently journey to New Mexico by bus. These athletes are entitled to their fair share.

What I do mind is the seemingly cavalier attitude of the athletic department over this whole matter. It does not appear to bother them that a Division I conference champion team does not have a diving coach.

Time is not an issue. Chris Blair, the former diving coach, resigned right after the season ended last year. The department has had more than enough time to find a successor.

Interest is also not a problem. There are still divers on campus, the University lost two members of the men’s squad and who knows how may recruits went elsewhere.

The real issue here is money. the diving position was only a part-time one. Blair was being paid the value of a graduate assistantship in currency, which is about $9,656. This amount was cut to $1,000.

Even someone with no experience in sports has to know that this is a ridiculous figure. Most students working summer jobs make more than that. Surely Division I coaches rate more than summer help in the salary market. Apparently not at Bona’s.

The diving program gave Bona’s one of its most decorated athletes in alumnae Barb Vassallo. Vassallo holds the St. Bonaventure varsity and pool records, and the Eastern Intercollegiate conference records in both the one-meter and three-meter diving events, was named an All-American last season, placed 15th at the U.S. Diving Championships, and was named the NCAA Woman of the Year for 1993.

And if the powers that be don’t think the lack of a coach is hurting their teams, they should consider the following. The women’s swim team faced off against Pittsburgh last Friday. Because they lacked a diving team, they started with an automatic 32-point deficit. The Bonnies eventually lost by a 31-point margin. Had they been able to compete in the diving events, the result might have been different.

Swimming is not, and never will be, a money sport. It just doesn’t have the revenue appeal of basketball. But that does not mean it doesn’t deserve the best this university can offer.

The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have boasted perennial winning records with athletes nationally ranked at the very top of their events. They take pride in themselves and deserve the utmost admiration.

If that isn’t enough for some people, go look at the trophy case in the Reilly Center. Go look at the Atlantic 10 Championship trophy there.

Then remember the program that gave this school its first ever A-10 title. They deserve more than they got.

Politics Prevalent in Awarding A-10 Honor

The more experience I get, the more I believe that politics is everything. Jobs, internships, even awards are all political. As always, it’s not what you know or do, it’s who you know. Last Tuesday, I departed with the women’s basketball team for the Atlantic 10 Championships in Philadelphia. Of course I was looking forward to the game, but I was also anticipating the annual awards banquet Wednesday night. I fully expected Bonaventure to walk away with its share of honors, including one for which I was especially hopeful.

I was in a pretty good mood through the banquet. I had seen great play in a game with Temple beating West Virginia in a tough performance. Three Bonnies players had received honors: Suzie Dailer and Casey Comoroski were named to the second and third All-Conference teams respectively, and Melissa Jurecki had earned a spot on the All-Academicm team. Then the moment I had been waiting for. The A-10 Coach of the Year is … Theresa Grentz of Rutgers.

My bubble burst. Although I was not completely shocked, I had felt fairly sure that the accomplishments of first-year Bona head coach Marti Whitmore couldn’t be overlooked. I was wrong. Yet, all bias aside, I was and am convinced that Whitmore deserved the honor.

Don’t get me wrong. Grentz is an excellent coach with a fine team. No one coaches a team to two consecutive conference championships or wins an Olympic bronze (1992 in Barcelona) without being good at her job. But Grentz and the Lady Knights were expected to do well. it surprised nobody that they won the conference title.

In contrast there was St. Bonaventure. Preseason polls picked them to finish dead last in the A-10 for the second year in a row. The Bonnies weren’t even supposed to win a quarter of their conference games after a miserable 2-14 record a year ago. Yet Whitmore and the players constantly insisted that they were better than last place and set out to prove it.

They did. The Bonnies twice beat Temple and highly touted St. Joseph’s (No. 3), completing their first-ever sweep of the Philly teams. The women also notched their first win over nationally-ranked Rutgers, which earned them a Top 25 vote, the first in their history. They finished the season with their highest post-season seed ever, No. 4.

A few years ago, Jacques Demers, then head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, won the NHL Coach of the Year award. The Red Wings didn’t win their division and never made the Stanley Cup finals. But they had performed above and beyond expectations. Demers had made his team produce.

This is what Coach of the Year is about. The award should be given to the coach that does the most with her talent and for her team. Jurecki, in her speech at the awards banquet, credited Whitmore as always giving “110 percent” to her players and telling them to have fun.

Bonaventure is lucky that Whitmore is young and has her best years of coaching ahead of her. Hopefully, players for many years will be able to experience her personality, concern, and dedication.

If you go by these standards, Marti Whitmore was the clear choice for A-10 Coach of the Year. I am not alone in this judgment. It’s just too bad my vote doesn’t count.

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