By Missy Andrews
“My name is Missy Andrews, and I am a synchronized swimmer.” I must have said this thousands of times to thousands of people in my life, and for those that know me best, I’m the “synchro girl.” This is, of course, an enormous source of pride for me like any other athlete would understand. Just three weeks ago I was able to celebrate my retirement from the sport at US Collegiate Nationals, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
I have to be honest: I came to Canisius for the synchro team. As one of the top teams in the country and the best team on the East Coast, the decision was easy. For elite-level athletes, we have a limited pool of varsity teams to choose from. Any high school or college athlete can understand that a high-level performer wants to join an already established and strong team rather than join a struggling club or start a new team. Unfortunately, in the synchronized swimming world, we have such a small youth community that club teams are mostly comprised of college-age swimmers who want to try synchro for the first time, or have very limited experience; not something that a varsity-caliber swimmer would typically want for the amount of commitment a sport requires.
Following the removal of my team from its varsity status this week, I speak on behalf of my teammates that we are understandably crushed. This decision is based off of finances; Canisius is in debt, and our team costs money. This is complicated by the fact that synchronized swimming was dropped as an NCAA-recognized sport in 2010 due to size and growth nationally, which left Canisius supplementing our competitive financial needs. Canisius was one of three Division I programs, and we were so proud of the school for standing behind us. Synchro is trying to grow, and having varsity institutions support athletes is vital for us to promote this growth.
Our removal was understandable from a business perspective. On one level I’m grateful that I’m leaving Canisius – but I’m heartbroken to be feeling this way about a school I love so much, and heartbroken for my teammates whose college plans have been suddenly ruined. Because of the frankly thoughtless decision of the athletic department to wait until now to inform our coach and our team of this, we have freshmen athletes who will have to make the decision to transfer and go through the transfer process within the next four weeks on top of trying to finish this semester, which may very much be impossible so late in the year. We have five juniors who must now choose if they want to retire immediately or if they want to compete at a club level for one year, after we must turn away already-committed recruits that we now wasted this precious funding on to have see the school and make financial commitments. Any athlete can understand the desire to know when your last competition is; these girls might not have that choice now. Synchro is in a unique predicament as this club status is a death sentence, and we won’t let our reputation fall in such a way.
What makes this decision so frustrating is that, as the athletic department told us, we “didn’t do anything wrong.” In just my four years at Canisius, we achieved our 16th consecutive ECAC conference title, the longest conference streak for any team in the ECAC. Our regular season record has been undefeated since at least 2009. I was so proud to be one of three Griff athletes attending Olympic trials in fall 2011, and we have been in the top five nationally each year. Just three weeks ago, one of our freshmen won a national championship, we had several medal winners, and our team placed fourth nationally, competing against Olympians and international champions. We are also bringing home three All-American titles, two of which are achieving this for the third year straight.
Very few people know about any of that. Frankly, very few people in the athletic department even know that. This is not due to a lack of effort on our part; we have all begged for a small amount of recognition or even acknowledgement from the school. I should make it clear that we so appreciate all of the people that have showed us support through the years – many fellow student athletes and classmates have appreciated what we do, and for that I truly thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. We cannot thank the undergraduate community enough for voting us as the varsity athletic team of the year last year. I remember feeling that finally we were being recognized for the work we do. This is by no means intended to negate what other teams do. Any college athlete must sacrifice so much and work so hard for what they do. I just don’t think many athletes here know what it feels like to do something really incredible while representing your school and have the athletic department not even acknowledge that it happened.
This open letter is not intended to whine or complain. Canisius has provided our team with support, which has been so appreciated. While this letter is cathartic for me personally, my heart is truly broken for not only the remaining girls, who are like family to me as any person that is part of a team will understand, but for any youth swimmers that had collegiate dreams that could now be jeopardized. While I appreciate what support we have had, I am bitter and angry that it seems like the college did what was cost-efficient and easy rather than what is right. Synchro may be a small sport, but we need schools to do what may not always be popular to provide opportunities for our athletes. The message being sent, instead, is that our consistently high-performing teams will be punished. The way this has been handled is poor at best.
Those who know me personally know I talk a lot and have a tendency to rant (and those that have read this now understand that as well). Moving forward, I want to first and foremost celebrate and honor my teammates, past and present. No matter what, we know that we have brought so many great accolades to Canisius; anyone that doubts this should go on the pool deck and check our ECAC banner or look at the All-American wall. I am honored to know such amazing and incredible athletes and women, and to be considered amongst you is one of the biggest sources of pride in my life. Secondly, I ask the Canisius community – students, faculty, staff, and athletic department – to learn from this. Check out one of the “little” teams; give them the recognition they truly deserve. Celebrate in the victories of all of our teams, clubs, and programs. Give the successful teams their due. I will always be a proud supporter of the Griffs, and again thank the Canisius community for making my four years here – both in and out of the pool – the incredible experience that it has been.
Missy Andrews ‘13