Aquamen: Still Afloat
On the commentary page of last week's Harvard Independent. Marc Goodheart, in his article, "Harvard Sport--Sinking While it Swims," states that "Harvard swimming has grown too big for its bathing suit." The facts as he presents them lead one to conclude that the Harvard men's swim team revised its goals, placing national status ahead of league prominence.
Additionally, in his references to the admissions office and Coach Joe Bernal's ability to "define the nature of a Harvard education." Goodheart indirectly and perhaps unintentionally casts a shadow of doubt over the academic qualifications of team members.
After a season of covering this team. I am firmly convinced that Goodheart is wrong. I believe that the team has set its sights on two realistic goals: league dominance and national respectability. More importantly, I believe people should be aware that these goals have been accomplished without any disregard for the University's academic standards.
There is no doubt that last year Harvard's preoccupation with Indiana allowed Princeton to catch the Crimson off guard. However, rather than applying the label "lack of regard for league competition," as Goodheart does. I would instead be inclined to believe that it was a momentary lapee from which the squad has long since recovered.
This year, while confining its dual meets to the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming League (EISL--the Ivies plus Army and Navy), the Crimson manhandled every challenger but Penn. In an effort to save money, a reduced squad flew down to Philadelphia where the Quakers became the only team this year to accumulate 50 points against the Crimson.
While I applaud the team's success at the Eastern's as well. I am not under the illusion that Harvard is a national power in swimming. This team finished 21st at the NCAAs, the worst showing since Bernal arrived in September 1977.
For the second time in four years. Bobby Hackett was the only person to score points. Last year Larry Countryman joined Hackett on the All-America roster with a 12th place finish in the 1650-yd. freestyle. Three years ago Malcolm Cooper grabbed a 12th in the 50 free.
In the four years that Bernal has been here, these are the only individual All-Americans Harvard can lay claim to. Add the sprint relay team from '77-'78, which also netted 12th, the last position-earning points, and All-America honors, and you still have good, but not great swimming.
From a scene described by Wendy Graetz in her article "Life in the Fast Lanes," which appeared in the March-April edition of Harvard Magazine, which has Bernal acquainting this year's freshmen with Harvard's tradition of excellence, one can see that the primary focus of the team lies safely within the bounds of the league.
Bernal holds up a horned trophy awarded for dual-meet victories in the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League. "We've won this seven out of the last eight years," he says, "We expect it to stay here."
Now you want to know how much arm-twisting Bernal had to do to get all those eager freshmen who looked on in awe as he held up that trophy last year. Well, if you are looking for a recruiting scandal the men's swim team is not the place to find it.
Sadly enough there are schools which admit students who are grossly underqualified, for the sole purpose of exploiting their athletic abilities. Harvard is not one of them.
Each year after a very careful screening process, during which the staff decides which swimmers will enhance the program as well as meet the admissions standards. Bernal, like all coaches submits a preferential list to the admissions committee. Proof that this list is considered but not rigidly adhered to is a top recruit from two year ago who has since achieved All-American status at another Ivy League institution after being turned down here.
To date Bernal has enjoyed an enormous amount of success in recruiting. He has attracted a large number of exceptional athletes who are also blessed with strong academic credentials. While there have been one or two warnings issued by the Administrative Board, not once in the past four years has a swimmer had his right to compete revoked for a sub par academic performance.
Many of the team's more outstanding members turned down full athletic scholarships in favor of Harvard. For several this meant their families chose to pay the full price at Harvard rather than allow their sons to attend a school where swimming would come before academics. Not a likely course of action unless academics were a priority.
In conclusion it appears that the swim team is being judged too harshly. Once last year they lost sight of a battle near to Harvard hearts--beating Princeton. Noting the quick recovery, why should they be flogged for their ability to transcend the league and perform with some degree of success at the national level?
Whether a person decides to pursue athletic excellence instead of or in addition to writing for a student publication or performing in a theatrical production is irrelevant. Once a Harvard student selects an activity, the environment here is so competitive that nothing short of maximum effort is acceptable.