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Wanna Play Some Hoop? Take a Number

Students Say Additional Gym Space Is Necessary

By Jonathan Samuels

Anybody up for a friendly game of basketball this afternoon at the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC)?

Sorry, but the campus's main recreational gym is reserved for a charity tournament from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Unfortunately ,the MAC will also be cramped for space next week after classes. The varsity volleyball teams have dibs on two of the three courts in the late afternoon for most of the week, so the one remaining court will be teeming with an overflow of fanatics. And the intramural programs run most nights from 7 to 11 p.m.

"Often when I want to play, I can't just shoot around casually or play with my friends because there are five teams waiting in the wings to play on one court," says Hoon Lee '94. "It's like going to a swimming pool that's all one fast swimming lane."

The lack of free basketball courts at the MAC is indicative of the several shortage of recreational athletic facilities at Harvard. The University boasts more money and better resources than any school in the country, and just last year the athletic department found the money to increase funding to women's intercollegiate sports. But Harvard's generosity has yet to extend to those in search of a Stairmaster, a nautilus workout or just a pick-up game.

John E. Wentzell, director of intramurals and recreation, acknowledges that recreational facilities are overburdened.

"if we were sitting up in northern Maine with a campus of 2,000 people, we would probably have enough space," Wentzell says . "But we are open to 20,000 undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and start with 500 passing through the MAC each day."

Many users say there is a dearth of exercise equipment such as weights, bikes and Stairmasters, and the current rooms reserved for workouts are cramped and often dangerous. Even Wentzell says the MAC's weight room "becomes crowded as soon as there are 10 people in there."

"There are constant lines to use the Stairmasters and the other equipment unless you get here early in the morning or late at night," says Graduate School of Education student Parisa Muller as she waits to use a Stairmaster. "And the aerobics classes are always overcrowded."

Muller says Harvard's facilities are worse than those of Vassar College, from which she graduated in 1991. "They certainly had more Stairmasters, and the buildings was cleaner and more modern," she says.

But Wentzell says there have been recent improvements. The number of Stairmasters has increased (to a total of five). And with the opening of the Carey Cage facility for use by varsity athletes, the ITT weight room across the river--once off-limits to amateurs--is available for recreational use.

But there is little help in sight for those who want to shoot a little hoop. Wentzell, who coordinates the MAC's gym schedule, says: "We could use three to six more basketball courts."

Wentzell says he blocks out many court hours for club events--including today's charity event and last Sunday's Minority Students Alliance Hoop-a-thon. But "I have to say no to two or three groups for each one I can say yes to," he says.

To make matters worse, the varsity volleyball teams take over the MAC floor for at least six Saturday competitions each year, and their frequent practices often displace basketball players for two to three hours in the afternoon. And the junior varsity basketball teams occasionally use the MAC instead of Bridge Cage for their practices.

Optimists say some additions to recreational facilities could be on the way. Associate Professor of Applied Mechanics Howard A. Stone, a frequent MAC user and member of the University's faculty athletic committee says, the committee discussed the shortage of recreational facilities as recently as last spring. And the group is scheduled to address the issue again at its next monthly meeting.

Wentzell, who says University officials "from the highest on down know that the recreational need is there," hopes the University's upcoming $2 billion capital campaign will yield a remedy to the logjam.

"I'm confident that somewhere along the line it will be addressed," Wentzell says. "It probably won't be next September, but possibly sometime in the near future."

That certainly would make it easier to get a pick-up game in a day like today.

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