By: Timothy Lee
Entering the coffee shop, I had expectations of interviewing a dejected and angry swimmer who, until recently, was part of an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) College swim team. After shaking hands with the swimmer, Kevin Miller, a freshman psychology and social behavior major, led to a table where his friend was already fielding questions from a reporter from the campus newspaper. After a few background questions, Miller opened up to his side of the story as well as his own personal journey about swimming.
Q: How long have you been swimming and how did you get into the sport?
A: I’ve been swimming as long as I remember. I was four when I really began to swim. My brother was on the community swim team and introduced me to swimming. I played through all the sports but swimming was just what I was most passionate about. There was one coach who really got in my head, though, that made swimming the sport for me. He made me a bet that I wouldn’t go for a month of workouts. I wanted to prove him wrong the entire time, so I worked out the entire month. The next meet was the best I had ever done before then, and I just wanted to give it my all to swimming after that. At that point, I became a competitor in swimming and in CIF (California Interscholastic Federation). To be called up to swim as a college swimmer, it just validates all the work. You’re living the dream.
Q: Were there any other offers for schools before you decided on Irvine? How did you make the choice to select Irvine and what are your plans now that the team has been cut?
A: There were. I had a lot of schools that offered me academic scholarships but I chose UCI even though there was no scholarship offered at all. The swimming team was one of the biggest things that inspired me to go to UCI; the swim team was like a family. They’re tearing apart a family. I still love this school, don’t get me wrong, it’s a magnificent school but this is real painful to have this kind of joy just taken away that quickly. I mean you give up on all your other sports and commitments and you finally get to the point that you decide on one particular sport. To have that taken away, it’s inhumane, that’s the only way to describe it.
Q: How did you hear about the team being cut and how did you handle it? How much warning was given to the team about the potential cut?
A: I went through the freshman orientation and 2 weeks later, I heard a rumor going around about the team potentially being cut. At first, I thought it was just budget cuts and that was typical, but then I heard it was the entire team. By the time I actually got the call that the team was being cut, my assistant coach was already in tears after calling several other swimmers before me. It’s surreal. The swimming team got the notice, July 29, 2009 to alert us that we had until August 1, 2009 to raise $2.3 million in order to save the team. The administration just keeps throwing this number, $2.3 million, and not really answering our questions. We just figured it was budget cuts and we were on the cutting board.
Q: With the swim program cut, what is the team doing to keep swimming in Irvine? Is there still dedication to continue to swim even without a program to do it? In essence, what is the state of the team, currently? Are there any particular people that you know who are affected more so than others?
A: It’s a disciplined group, but it’s looking like a very hopeless situation. We have practices at 7 a.m. but the numbers have been dropping from the original team of 45 or so. There are club teams and local programs but we want to swim in NCAA. This is the end of the careers of many talented people.
It’s very depressing to walk past the empty half pool since it’s no longer being used by anyone. The water polo team only needs half and they use it at the same times we practice as well. It would make sense if they cut the water polo team also because it would save money by not keeping a pool, but there’s now just a half empty pool. Without a swim team, there are some talented seniors that were on the verge of their best seasons, like Chris Rosales, who will not be able to finish the rest of their careers.
Q: Despite the local coverage around the school, what else is being done to raise awareness to the cause? Did the team receive any support from the other sports on campus or any other schools in the conference?
A: Well, we already negotiated and chiseled our own budget and funds to $40,000 to run the swim team. If the school could pay that instead of having 40 kids in the summer raise $2.3 million, we could have saved the swim team. We already took away all travel fees by having the other schools agree to come to Irvine to swim. We’ve also tried to branch out to local areas and television stations, but it’s tough. We’ll have booths set up and you’ll be hard-pressed to not hear about this locally. We’re also trying to have this nationally broadcasted by sending videos and letters to corporations.
From the other sports, we just received vocal support. I think seeing the only swim team in the Orange County made the other swims team cover their necks. Without us, it is just a 4-5 team conference and if another drops from cuts, there would be no hope in having or keeping a conference. We had the biggest recruiting class out of all the UC’s. It just feels like we’ve been stabbed in the back.
Going back for a follow-up, Kevin revealed more intimate details about both the state of the swimmers and the swim team in general.
Q: Which swimmers do you feel were more affected than others? And do you feel like switching to a school with a swim team?
A: Well, you have the senior, Chris Rosales, who is the defending Big West conference champion in the 100 meter breast stroke and he won't be able to defend his title. You have a junior who transferred here from the University of Arizona. Her name is Stephanie Gabert, she was local when she grew up and is a very talented swimmer but she will no longer get a chance to compete after her transfer. A lot of the freshman were affected more so than others because we do not even get a chance to swim. Sadly, I won't switch to another school. Of course, Irvine is a great school and I'm here for school and not for swim. But, I think I'm going to stick around here and keep fighting for the team to be reinstated in my four years. I don't want to just give up on it that easily. It is tempting to switch, but I already invested a part of me in this program and I won't get it back, nor do I want it back. That part of me is going to stay and I'm going to do everything I can to fight for this team.
Q: Is the team doing anything new to spread the word 2 1/2 months after it has been cut? What is the current state of the team?
A: We're still going around trying to collect any donations, but with the economy as it is, it is definitely not easy. We're just trying to spread any word because there are still people who do not even know about the swim team being cut. We're getting the word out in hopes that maybe come February with student elections; we can get voted back in as part of the referendum.
It's getting to the point where a lot of people are feeling hopeless. They're starting to look into transferring and where they can train again. More and more, you can see the focus drifting away from the team. There are still 15 to 20 swimmers total from the original 45 swimmers on the team, men and women.
Q: How many recruited swimmers were coming this year? Why do you feel like UCI was such an attractive school for swimmers?
A: Our recruit class was enormous; we had 25 recruited freshmen coming into this year. The team that was already here was a great group of people and it’s a great location. The coaches were amazing and the team was amazing. Most of all, if you wanted to swim in Division 1, where else would you go than Orange County? If you wanted a great coach and a great team to train with, UCI had all of these things.