His swim program terminated, TSU coach refuses to just dry up

John Steadman

August 19, 1992|By John Steadman

All those freshmen swimming recruits, men and women, plus the returning varsity teams at Towson State University are in for what literally will be a dry run. The school has abandoned the sport. It was a jolt to the coach and athletes since it came without a word of advance notice.

But, hold on. Coach Ray Riordon, to his credit, isn't folding up like a cheap accordion. He has vowed to do all within his personal power somehow to find a way to keep swimming alive at Towson. The sport was building tradition, as evidenced by the fact it was coming into its 25th year of existence.

Reunions were planned with grand old grads reminiscing about the past and, of course, writing checks for the overall good of the school. Among loyal alumni, it's regarded as payback, a special gift. But Riordon says none of that is going to happen from the swimming fraternity because it is irate over what has happened.

"The mood at the pool is one of disgust," he said. "Scholarship swimmers are coming back but have no team to join. And incoming freshmen recruits were anticipating the chance to swim for Towson. Now the sport has been terminated. The announcement was timed to come out when only a few members of the student body and faculty were around."

It's difficult to understand why Towson summarily scuttled swimming. A school of its size probably has an athletic budget in the vicinity of $3 million. So why not subtract a percentage from each sport, across the board, to bring about the necessary financial cuts? This would have given swimming a chance to continue. Instead, the plug was pulled.

Admittedly, these are tough economic times for athletic programs at every level of competition. And it's not an easy task for those making the decisions. But Riordon, in a strongly written letter he has addressed to "friends of swimming," has this to say:

"The manner in which this was done and the timing [three weeks before the start of classes] is very unprofessional and inhumane. The obvious personal and financial hardships this places on the students and their families in this day and age are totally unfair."

Riordon is appealing to Towson alumni, swimmers past and present, their families and friends, even those afraid of going in the deep end, to request a hearing with Dr. Hoke Smith, university president, in an attempt to reverse the decision. If Hoke keeps an open mind and takes another look, while first trying to quiet the emotional involvement, he may be able to find a way to come to the rescue of all concerned.

Towson swimming, under Riordon, has never been a washout. LTC The men's team had 21 winning seasons in 24 and seven conference championships. The women, with Riordon showing the way for only the last three years, shows progress. In the classroom, the women have excelled, posting All-America academic records for five straight semesters.

It's understandable why Riordon and the swimmers feel abandoned. He said he was on the campus every school day this summer as director of aquatics and was never once informed the swimming teams were about to be discontinued. Then, boom, out of the blue he got the word. According to the coach, he was never given the chance to consult with Dr. Smith or Bill Hunter, the athletic director.

Towson is dropping swimming for the two teams, men and women, which cost a total of $60,000, and indoor track, which saves $3,395. In swimming, 18 women and 12 men were intending to return for the upcoming season. Among incoming freshmen, Riordon had what he called a "good lineup of recruits," numbering 12 women and five men. Now, after making a commitment, they are held out to dry.

"I had one youngster who turned down a scholarship to Toledo University to come to Towson and pay his way," he said. "He liked what we represented in swimming. If the teams are not reinstated, the Tiger Aquatic Club will be discontinued. The purpose of the club was to provide individuals outside the university community a place to swim and train and provide our teams a source of scholarship funds."

It would seem the least the university could do under the circumstances is offer to return tuition and all other fees to any student/swimmer who doesn't want to attend Towson and desires to transfer. According to Riordon, what he calls a "presidential decision" was made a day after the deadline passed for paying bills for the new semester.

Riordon himself is a non-paid coach and estimates he averages an extra 30 to 35 hours of work each week in his training regimen with the Towson swimmers.

Personalities aside, the subject is so important to Towson it deserves to be reviewed by president Smith. One way to do it, if he's inclined, is to let every team take whatever budget cut is necessary to keep swimming and indoor track alive.

The athletes have a responsibility to the school, but the administration, in turn, owes them the same. That's not only appropriate; it's fair.

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