Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Athletics Department has recently put an old, virtually unused space to use as a new facility to allow varsity athletes a place to practice as a team and to alleviate pressure in other fitness facilities on campus. Some students worry, however, that the new facility will create a greater divide between athletes and non-athletes on campus, and that the facilities’ new equipment could have been placed in a space where it could be accessed easily by the entire student body.
According to Eric Hoffman, Strength and Condition Coach, and organizer of the new facility, the new space, which is still located in the fitness complex, is simply an efficient use of underutilized space.
“This new area is at the old squash courts and is on the last two courts, where only very few people were using them,” Eric Hoffman, Strength and Condition Coach, and organizer of the new facility, said. “We cut a hole in the wall between the courts and have a new area where teams can conduct strength training together, as a team.”
The need for a larger fitness area has been noticeable to many students for a long time, especially those who frequent the Mullan Indoor Tennis and Fitness Center, the college’s gym for the entire campus community.
“The idea behind the facility was to solve overcrowding at certain times in the Mullan Center,” Adam Hertz, Director of Athletics, said. “We’ve tried a lot of different solutions for the center. It was incredibly congested and at certain times of the day, teams just couldn’t practice there.”
Some students are concerned, however, that the Athletics Department’s decision to open a new space for athletes solves the athletes’ needs for new equipment, without working to address the school’s general problem of having a too-small campus fitness center with old equipment.
Lucia Luna-Victoria ’15, said, “I think the real issue is that it [the decision to open up the new gym] denies the majority of people who use the Mullan Center better equipment because the equipment seems outdated. It [the Mullan Center] also seems small compared to other colleges’, and even within a P.E. class, students have to take turns using the machines.”
Swarthmore’s 4,000 square foot Mullan Center is relatively smaller than other colleges’ of similar sizes facilities, such as Haverford’s 7,200 square foot Arn and Nancy Tellem Fitness Center or Amherst’s 8,000 square foot Wolff Fitness Center.
The new facility, still in its opening phases, gives preference for use to in-season varsity athletes then off-season varsity athletes, and is only open to non-athletes, when no athletes have it booked. Students, athletes and non-athletes alike, can only use the space, during designated times during group practices, under the supervision of a coach. Because a coach needs to be in attendance, it difficult for non-athletes or club sport athletes to access the space.
According to Hoffman, however, athletes have been making great use of the facility. “So far, things have been moving and small groups have been using it,” Hoffman, said. “We’ve introduced the space to the teams and their coaches. The demand has been good so far.
The facility includes some new equipment, but with a special focus.
“The new center is catered to be more sport-specific and more athletically useful. We have some specific weight-lifting equipment that we use,” Hoffman, said.
The initial reaction from varsity athletes contacted by The Gazette has been positive, and many athletes are happy to have a space dedicated to practicing as a team.
“Teams are setting aide a certain amount of time from their practice time now to practice together in this facility and this makes their time practicing as efficient as possible,” Hannah Deming ’12, Women’s Soccer Team Captain, said. “For example, when you have a very large team, like the men’s lacrosse team that needs to get through a work-out in Mullan, it just makes the center a mad-house and it’s hard for everyone in there. It definitely hurts the non-athletes as well since you’re competing with everyone else to use the same equipment.”
The new facility has already proven successful in this regard, as new workout times show.
“We can push the men’s lacrosse team, with 40 people, through a workout in about an hour [in the new area],” Hertz, said. “This would undoubtedly take a much longer time in the Mullan Center.”
However, the new facility is not sitting as well with other members of the college community, who worry that creating a facility where athletes are given preference will create demarcations at a school where athletes have traditionally sweated in the gym, elbow-to-elbow, with exercising non-athletes and faculty.
Catherine Kelley ’14, a player on the Women’s Rugby team, which is a club sport acknowledged that varsity athletes needed to train harder than club sports participants but said, “We shouldn’t be segregating athletes. Ideally, if there were any way to make the Mullan Center larger with more updated equipment, that would be the best solution since it wouldn’t create two distinct groups because of this new center: varsity athletes and non-varsity athletes or non-athletes as a whole.”
These concerns may be alleviated in a couple of years according to the most recent draft of the Swarthmore strategic plan.
The Plan, a document that proposes ways in which the college can make improvements across a wide range of areas, suggests “expanding and enhancing the variety and scope of our wellness initiatives”, possibly by “expand[ing] or build[ing] a fitness center to accommodate our community’s wellness and fitness efforts.” However, there are presently no firm plans to expand the Mullan Center or create a new fitness facility for the entire campus.