I see it every day I walk into my office at work. The picture of swimmers Julien Dodu and Boleck De Pawlikowski. Exhausted in every way, yet grasping onto each other in the water raising up their fingers signaling “No. 1,” after winning their relay during an American Athletic Conference Swimming and Diving Championship.
That picture is attached to a front page newspaper article. My first front page article in my sports journalism career and for The East Carolinian (TEC) on Feb. 23, 2016. My first front page article is framed and hanging proudly four years later for everyone to see at my first professional job post-graduation all the way up in North Dakota.
Why? Because I’m damn proud to have covered such a prestigious program that is recognized by so many on a national level. Now, however, it’s known in the most negative light it could ever receive.
East Carolina University recently cut both the men’s and women’s swim and dive programs on May 21 due to a lack of funds at the university. It cut four programs overall, but still has 16, the required number needed to remain Division I.
Athletic Director John Gilbert cited in an official press conference to members of the media during his official announcement that the deciding factor to cut the programs was because of looming facility maintenance. Excuse me?
ECU ultimately chose to cut a program because it couldn’t afford to keep up with maintenance, while some sports at the university can’t even afford or maintain a facility on their own. Yes, some sports at ECU must RENT facilities to even hold practices.
Yet, I never once got a seat in the swimming and diving facility no matter how early I went because they always sold out and had consistent support. I eventually had to get an official press pass so I could stand on the deck in order to have a view of what I covered to keep my job.
While the program has won four AAC Championships in the last six years, its success hasn’t just been recent. The men’s team started in the 1953-54 season and just four years later brought the Pirates their first national win of any sport at the institution in 1957. The program also made ECU history, featuring the first openly gay male athlete in the institution's 113 years.
His name is Alex Clark and he is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Clark’s diving story, which naturally goes along with his ambitious decision to officially come out, was a story that erupted across campus and was and still is known to most all Pirates. Clark and his article currently hangs next to Dodu and De Pawlikowski’s article. Both appeared on TEC’s front-page approximately one month apart.
The positive attention surrounding swimming and diving as of late jump-started a surge of wanted (and needed) coverage of ECU sports. These stories need to be told to add to the legacy of what it means to be a Pirate. I took it upon myself to see that the change was put in motion.
After the Clark feature, more and more athletes and more and more programs would reach out to the TEC staff with stories. It not only grew our following at TEC, but it gave the further meaning of why people became and would become Pirates.
I had the pleasure of hiring eight candidates to the TEC staff as the sports editor to work in sports alone in the fall of 2017. We had a reporter for both the men’s and women’s side of every sport offered at ECU and then some.
We always had more stories than could ever fit in the sports sections and had constant circulation online. The swimming and diving success that lead to more stories and exposure started this entire needed movement for the university.
This opportunity allowed for more writers like former sports editor Daniel Roberts and current sports editor Dylan Woolard the shot at their dreams of becoming sports journalists. I hired both of them. They covered swimming and diving with the same enthusiasm, if not more, than the people lucky enough to cover football or baseball.
The best sports stories in ECU history come out of Minges Pool and I will die on that hill defending that statement. The swimming and diving program started a revelation in Pirate Nation and it can’t be stopped now.
Alumni, current swimmers and people like me have already raised $501,880 as of June 7 with a change.com petition and donor pledges to keep what’s far more than a legacy in a pool alive. ECU failed its students and every Pirate that has set foot on the campus by cutting the program that unites the university more than any other.