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California Don Comes to Harvard

(This is the third article in a four-part series dealing with the state of the Harvard swimming program.)

By Raymond A. Urban

GAMBRIL HAS KEPT his word this year. No swimmers have been cut. No one has been hassled about his hair. No direct pressure has been applied to make every practice, much less two a day. No lectures about the evils of drug use occurred.

Yet before co-captain Dan Kobick had to leave Harvard because of academic and disciplinary probation he was doing his worst times in five years: Eastern standout Tim Chetin went to 2:10 in the 200 IM after doing a 2:01.49 at Easterns last year; junior Bob Lawton couldn't reach his freshman year times, senior breaststroker Dave Law quit; Craig Sewell and Howie Burns quit again, and Henry Watson never made it to the first meet. The reasons for the poor or non-performance of the upperclassmen are many; academic pressures, bad love lives, poor health, being constantly stoned, but some of it must be traced to the feeling expressed over and over again that they didn't feel they really belonged on Don Gambril's team.

This feeling was summed up beautifully in junior David Strauss's comment on Gambril's statement. "As far as I'm concerned, the most important day of the season is admissions day at Harvard." Dave said, "Well that's great, I'll work out hard and taper and shave down for April 15."

The week before the Yale meet I walked into Coach Gambril's office to arrange an interview. His first sentence to me: "I'm just trying to finish up this season, but I'm mostly working on next year." Which is fine for Gambril and the freshmen, but hardly contributed to the juniors and seniors wanting to work hard and see their team do well. Gambril tended to ignore the upperclassmen during workouts and concentrate on his stars. Fred Mitchell, Baughman, Neville and Brumwell. One junior stated. "We've got five coaches and it was like there weren't any at workouts." For some of the swimmers the thought of being beaten soundly be one or two uppity freshmen helped in their decisions to quit. And to some extent the problem was a lack of communication. The swimmers thought that Gambril didn't want to bother with them and could care less whether or not they swam. Gambril lamented that the swimmers never came in to talk to him and that he'd like to get to know them as people who do more than swim.

In addition to bringing along his assistant from Long Beach, Skip Kenney, Gambril brought to the IAB this year some additional personnel. Like Hans Fassnacht of West German world record holder in the 200-meter butterfly. Ross Wales of the United States Armed Forces swim team, duty stationed at the Harvard pool, a woman Greek backstroker, and Kim Gambril, Coach Gambril's 14-year-old distance freestyling daughter. Fassnacht and Wales trained with Gambril at Long Beach and he felt he had an obligation to them to provide them with opportunity to work out at Harvard, something Athletic Director Watson agreed on.

But pool space at the IAB is in high demand and most of the swimmers resented having their space usurped by people having no relation to Harvard. It only takes one incident of being forced to swim butterfly in a crowded, choppy lane to get a swimmer teed off. An exception is Baughman who found working out with Fasanacht good training.

Once the decision to hire Gambril had been made, it probably could not have been any other way this year. Co-captain Paul Horwitz, who had more contact with Gambril than the other upperclassmen, felt Coach Gambril had been on a tightrope this year and had handled all the parties fairly. Baron Pittenger and the Harvard athletic administration can claim that the arrival of Don Gambril"...was not a distinct change in Harvard's swimming program." Gambril himself would consider that an insult. He didn't come here planning on finishing ninth at Easterns.

ON THE WALL of Coach Gambril's office is a list of over 70 of the applicants to the class of '76, all of them swimmers, many of them national and world class. A good number of them will be admitted to Harvard and a large percentage of that group will be in the IAB with Coach Gambril next fall.

At this year's Easterns freshman Dave Brumwell set three records in the 200-yard individual medley, the 400-yard individual medley and the 200-yard breaststroke. Rich Baughman set university records in the 500 and 1000-yard freestyles. Tim Neville tied Mike Cahalan's 50-yard freestyle record and set new records in the 100-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly. All of them placed well in the finest swimming the Eastern U.S. has ever seen and all of them will be going to the nationals at West Point.

Athletic Director Robert Watson states in an article appearing in the January 31 Sports Illustrated that "We don't have any intention of going big-time and Gambril accepts this." In addition to sending a reprint of the article to all prospective 1972-73 swimmers, Gambril sends a sheet of corrections, or as he would put it, clarifications, including the statement. "I will always be trying to win National Championships. I accept the fact that Harvard will never and should never make a change in policy to admit an athlete whose only contribution might be to raise the level of a team.

"However, one of my strong promises in applying for this job was to offer a full program in swimming, making a level of excellence available for any swimmer that might so aspire."

The question in everyone's mind is, "Is Harvard aspiring to be a national swimming power, a la Stanford, Indiana, Tennessee, or the Yale of some years ago?" The answer is an unqualified YES, to expect less of Don Gambril would be unfair. The question is whether or not he and Harvard can pull it off and the effect that would have on Harvard.

The immediate consequences of Gambril's program are already evident this season. The increased national and local publicity, the raising of the minimum-caliber swimming needed to make the varsity, and the deluge of letters and applications from prospective swimmers. Top coaches draw top swimmers and top swimmers draw more top swimmers. Harvard will definitely be getting the caliber of talent needed to have a national championship contending team in five years. But can Gambril keep such swimmers out for four years, working hard to at least maintain the level of swimming they entered with?

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