Monday, September 27, 2021

5 former MSU Olympians campaign for Swimming and Diving's reinstatement at Board of Trustees meeting

June 18, 2021
Then-sophomore Jakob Heberling performs multiple flips off of the three-meter board. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on Jan. 18, 2020.
Then-sophomore Jakob Heberling performs multiple flips off of the three-meter board. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on Jan. 18, 2020. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Five former Olympians and alumni of the Michigan State Swimming and Diving team implored the Michigan State Board of Trustees to reconsider the University’s decision to cut the Swimming and Diving Team during the Board’s meeting Friday morning in the ongoing fight to save the program.

The speakers were Sydney Applebloom, Michael Green, Chris Carol-Bremer, Jorge Gonzalez and Marilyn Corson Whitney. They spoke about their experiences with the program at MSU and how that prepared them for the Olympics and life outside of the pool as a part of an ongoing effort to save the 100-year program. They also challenged Athletic Director Bill Beekman's reasoning to cut the program, given in a meeting with Battle for MSU Swim & Dive last month.

Bremer, who represented Germany in the 1996 Olympics, said that the lessons he learned from Swimming and Diving can create the leaders and role models that the world needs right now. 

“This is the gift I'm forever grateful for, experiencing true teamwork and commitment, dedication and drive, perseverance also when the odds are against you, always aiming for the best time of the given circumstances,” Bremer said. “And isn't this exactly what we're trying to teach our students? It is these personality traits and values that we're looking for as employers, parents and citizens. But it's so hard to teach from the classroom because they're all found through experience and having the right role models to look up to.”

Whitney followed Bremer in the public comment portion of the meeting and explained how the Swim and Dive program helped her learn to become an effective leader in her profession: interior design. Whitney said the success she experienced as an Olympian does not compare to the lessons of perseverance and being a leader she learned in the pool at MSU. 

“Swimming at MSU taught me acceptance of myself with all of my shortcomings (and) to persevere to a second Olympic Games at the old age of 22 in a time when most athletes only competed in one Olympics was typical,” Whitney said. “While being number one is transitory, excelling at what you do is a gift beyond measure. I'm sure you've heard many stories here about swimmers and divers flourishing in their lives. This is not an accident. The perseverance, structure and independence that swimming for MSU gave us set our paths into fulfilled lives.”

Gonzalez, who swam at MSU from 1967 to 1971 and represented Puerto Rico in the 1968 Olympics, said that MSU Swimming and Diving gave him the opportunity to escape poverty in Puerto Rico and become a successful international banker. Gonzalez said that he would not have been able to go to college without swimming and the education he received from the business school at MSU allowed him to have a successful career after competing. 

Applebloom and Green, who competed together at Michigan State and at the 1988 Olympic games, spoke about the success of their 1989 MSU team in their adult lives, saying that the team produced people that have excelled in their field whether it be medicine, law, teaching or entrepreneurship.

“They're very strong in the classroom," Applebloom said. "The last generations have shown how good they are, their GPA is amazing. And that, as the other speaker said already, makes leaders in the community. If I look back at the team where I was captain of, we have professors, doctors, captains of industries and very successful business owners. And now I come to the point that it's kind of wary that the decision has been made to cancel the program without any reach out to the alumni.”

The Olympians also spoke about the impact of the decision to cut the program with the Olympics taking place this summer. Green pointed out that the Olympics, especially Swimming, is revered by Americans and can inspire people to reach that level of competition. 

“What happens during the Olympic Games when families are watching?” Green said. “Kids start to dream. Someone wants to become an Olympian. In 1988, three Spartans realized their dream. Syd (Applebloom), who is on the call, myself and Kevin Miller.”

Green said cutting the program eliminates people being able to follow their Olympic dreams like he and his teammates did while at MSU. 

Each of the alumni ended their address to the Board asking for reconsideration of the elimination and to work with alumni to try to create solutions that can keep the program in place.

These pleas did not fall on deaf ears as multiple members of the Board addressed the group of distinguished alumni and their efforts to save the program. The testimonies, however, did not cause any of the Board members to say they would actively push for the program’s reinstatement. 

“I will begin by first thanking those who showed up again in the public comments to share about their extraordinary experiences as members of MSU's swim and dive team,” Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson said. “I have appreciated learning the personal and professional stories of each of you who have been writing to us. I was part of one of the public forums to hear from more of you and again, those of you who spoke this morning to all of us. I have learned so much about the importance of that program in your lives and I thank you for taking the time to share your stories with us and I thank you for your passion.”

In the press conference following the Board meeting, President Samuel L. Stanley was much more firm in his response, saying that the program is closed and will remain closed going forward.

“The swim and diving program has been closed,” Stanley said. “And I wouldn't say there's necessarily an internal debate on the administration side of what's happening with that. There's legal, obviously a court case right now that's under consideration. So I'm never comfortable talking about the details in that setting. But I would point out that the program is closed, they're not recruiting new students, they're not swimming next year.”

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