Letters to the Editor

Alumni Reaction to Sports Cuts

Dear President Hockfield, Dean Colombo, and Director Soriero,

I was a member of the MIT gymnastics team in the 1970’s. That experience was enormously valuable, and possibly even essential to my success at MIT. I had never done gymnastics before, and germane to the current discussion, I would not have participated in any other sport. But gymnastics caught my attention, and today I believe that without MIT gymnastics I would have had a vastly different and far poorer MIT experience.

I was never a “sports” person, and did not participate in any high school sport. It was simply not of interest. I had zero expectation of participating in any sport at MIT. Yet I was convinced to come to the gym a few times, with no commitment, to see what gymnastics was like.

There had been no gymnastics team or even equipment at my high school. I was intrigued by the idea of learning to do a handstand. Gymnastics did not have the usual trappings of “sports” to me. It was an individual effort requiring a unique combination of balance, precision coordination, strength, flexibility, and finesse. It was unlike any other sport, and it piqued my interest. The experiment worked. I began learning that handstand and building other skills, and later joined the team. Starting from scratch, I couldn’t learn all the events, and so I specialized in one (parallel bars), and dabbled in a few others.

While I was not truly an outstanding gymnast, I did manage to qualify for (and attend) the NCAA nationals in my one event. I also was awarded a straight-T for winning my event in our division at the New England gymnastics competition. Yet these were not the most important aspects of my rich experience. MIT gymnastics gave me an invaluable community.

It also added structure to my schedule, something I very much needed. And arriving at my dorm physically spent at the end of each day gave me the calmness I needed to spend the evening working on my studies — for me personally the vigorous exercise was a critical and essential need, though initially I lacked that perspective.

Of course I could have achieved the benefits of community, structure, and vigorous exercise via another sport. The point is that without a doubt I would not have done so.

Every person is different, and the unique aspects of gymnastics were a match for me, a benefit of the richness of diversity of MIT’s offerings. A wider range of sports engages a wider range of individuals. To me, that is what MIT is about — being immersed in an incredibly diverse group of people, all seeking excellence but vastly different from each other.

And to both attract and engage that population requires a wide range of offerings, not only academically, but in sports and other extra-curricular activities as well.

The minority experience is just as important as the majority’s. To lose MIT gymnastics (and other “marginal” sports) would be cutting out a vital part of that richness of offerings, the diversity that to me defines the excellence of MIT.

More Reaction…

Hello Professor Columbo et al,

This is Tom Hafer ’70. I have heard that budget considerations are driving decisions that are likely to result in elimination of “lesser” varsity sports such as gymnastics. I have supported the athletic department with my contributions over the years and lately I have provided specific support to the gymnastics team. I would be greatly disappointed if gymnastics were eliminated as a varsity sport.

I was one of the members of the group that founded the varsity program at MIT when it transitioned from club status in 1967. We formed a strong team that won most of our matches and, I hope, brought credit upon MIT and perhaps persuaded a few high-schoolers to come to MIT to try out its wide diversity of sports opportunities. I went to Nationals three times, coming in 12th on rings in 1968, and I was awarded a Straight T upon graduation.

Needless to say, I have fond memories of my gymnastics days but my feelings go beyond that. MIT can be a stressful place, but gymnastics, track, and the many intramural sports I participated in allowed me to forget my problems at least temporarily, and I emerged healthier and saner for it. Gymnastics is a sport where you can build capabilities in a continuous and linear manner and be proud of what you have accomplished while looking ahead to where you plan to go. There are no opportunities to pursue gymnastics after college, so I would have missed the experience altogether if it were not available at MIT.

I understand that gymnastics has a large “footprint” in terms of equipment and floorspace, and requires special coaching skills. But in my view, it is worth it. If MIT could afford a gymnastics team in 1967 when tuition was $1950 per year and the endowment was a small fraction of its current value, it is hard to imagine that it is unaffordable today. One thing is certain — once it is gone, it will not come back when better times return.

I have supported MIT for many years. I helped organize the “Pi-athelon” that has contributed thousands of dollars to MIT. If funding needs to be cut, I can suggest several places where savings can be made that would have a far less negative impact on MIT than cutting gymnastics. I would ask that MIT support my request to retain men’s and women’s gymnastics at MIT.