There are certain realities about athletics facilities on campus that the athletic department and the college can’t ignore. The Lamb-Miller Field House has basically reached the end of it’s life. Perhaps back when it was built in 1935 it was able to accommodate the needs of the college athletics community, but the same cannot be said today. As the main indoor athletic facility on campus, the fieldhouse hosts many teams during the winter such as track and field, baseball, softball, and club sports such as Ultimate Frisbee. As a freshman, I have not yet experienced Swarthmore athletics in the winter season, but from conversations with many athletes, I have heard that teams compete for space and resources, with the occasional fight to the death. Well, perhaps that hasn’t happened quite yet, but that’s not to say that tensions don’t rise as teams try to find space for practice. It’s usually not realistic to think that teams can practice outside when it’s below freezing or snowing, and we all need space. At this point, the college really does need to seriously investigate ways to improve and expand the indoor facilities, especially since the college plans on growing in population over the next few years. This year’s freshman class is the biggest ever, and all indications point to the trend continuing as the college invests in new housing facilities. As more and more students arrive, the stress on the facilities is only going to grow.
Perhaps the most obvious solution is to construct a new, larger field house. However, that idea has a lot of issues, primarily that there isn’t open enough space for a new fieldhouse. The current fieldhouse is bounded by Clothier Field on one side, the Matchbox on another, a road on the third, and the baseball field on the fourth. Perhaps, then, it would make sense for the college to expand the field house upwards, making a multi-storied facility. The issue with this is that the current fieldhouse would probably have to be torn down or otherwise seriously impacted as more stories are built, preventing teams from practicing there at all. it seems only reasonable to suggest that a new fieldhouse be built that can be used once completed without interfering with the current one.
Take a walk to Cunningham Fields and ask yourself, “Can I really call this a field?” Cunningham Fields, located across the road behind Alice Paul and David Kemp, are the primary home of club sports here on campus (when conditions allow) and host some varsity sports when other facilities aren’t available. And while I’m being a little theatrical in my description of the state of the fields, they really are in bad shape; uneven elevation and containing patches of grassless dirt in various areas. These poor conditions are an expected result of the many hours of practice and games that occur on these fields each week.
As a member of the club Ultimate team, I can say from experience the field we usually practice on has various patches that are practically void of grass, merely a layer of dirt with an occasional blade providing a spark of green. When running downfield, your chief concern should not be people around you kicking dirt into your eyes. With every step taken, new divots are created, perfect for someone to trip or twist their ankle. Of course, I understand that the college isn’t going to dedicate the same resources to club sports that it gives to varsity athletics. I can understand if we’re not as important to the image of the college as, say, our national championship contending women’s soccer team. These are much more high profile and popular events, and I would argue they are much more important for the image of the college. But that doesn’t mean that we club athletes should be ignored.
The college stresses its dedication to health and wellness, and that’s something club sports provide. Proper maintenance of those fields, perhaps even, dare I dream, the installation of several other turf fields would go a long way for all the teams. Practices would be so much easier on smooth, well-turfed fields. Drills would run much more smoothly, concerns over safety would be greatly minimized, and all-in-all, playing would be a much better experience. All athletes should have access to high quality facilities, and the college is in a position to provide them.
I have spent a lot of time at schools similar to Swarthmore such as Williams, Amherst, and Mt. Holyoke. Although we may not like to think about it, these are often the schools we end up competing against when trying to attract the highest caliber students and student-athletes. These are schools that have fairly spectacular athletic facilities, large, new gymnasia and fieldhouses, and a plethora of top notch athletic fields. In the end, some students’ decisions may come down to how they view the college overall, and athletics facilities are inherently tied to that. If we can’t do something to match the standards of similar schools, we are bound to lag behind.
Every time we athletes step out onto the field, we have the name of Swarthmore College on our uniforms. We all love to compete, we all love our sport, and we all love our college. We compete for this college because we want to do the best we can for it, and we want to give Swarthmore the best image we can. Providing academic opportunities for all who wish to attend this college should be a priority. But athletics can’t be ignored. The college should strive to have well-rounded students who succeed academically while also participating in athletics or other extracurriculars. Student-athletes want to be successful, both in academics and athletics. All we ask is that Swarthmore gives us the tools to do so.