Tom Archdeacon: Ex-swimmer dives in to save WSU program

4:54 p.m Wednesday, June 21, 2017 Local
Jim Witmer
Former Wright State swimmer Rafael Candido (in pool, center), who competed in the 1990s, is among those hoping to save the school’s swimming and diving program from the budget ax. FILE PHOTO

According to a former Wright State University swimmer who is now an international business director for a company that manufactures medical equipment, a “large donor” has emerged and could help raise the funds needed to save the targeted WSU swimming and diving program for the coming season.

“Our goal was to raise $85,000 by June 30 to keep the program running and yesterday we had approximately $45,000 of that when a large donor challenged other parents to raise $20,000 and then he would match it. And that would get us there,” Rafael Candido, a WSU swimmer in the 1990s who now works for Capsa Healthcare, said by phone early Thursday morning while on a business trip to London.

“In one day’s time we’ve talked to several people and been able to raise $9,000 of that $20,000.

“That’s why I believe the swimming and diving program is going to be saved.”

A month ago Wright State announced it was eliminating its long-honored men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams as part of the school’s $30.8 million in budget cuts ordered by the university’s board of trustees.

Although the overall athletic budget is scheduled to be raised by $1.4 million for the coming school year — a move criticized by many within the university but said to represent more realistic annual expenditures rather than the low-ball figures included in past budgets — Wright State said cutting swimming and diving would save $500,000 a year in salaries, travel and operational expenses. Athletic director Bob Grant said scholarships for the 38 athletes and coaches’ salaries would be honored.

Several swimming alumni and other backers of the program take issue with that $500,000 figure. Candido said when gross revenue from swimmers’ tuition and room and board is factored in, the program actually produces just over $1 million annually.

Wright State cuts swimming and diving program

Grant was out of town and could not be reached for this story.

“If it plays out that there is no more swimming and diving, that’s a tough pill to swallow,” said WSU coach Kyle Oaks. “But right now I don’t see anything good coming of sitting around and pointing fingers and playing the blame game. That doesn’t solve anything. Our best option is to find a way to better deal with the hand we’ve been dealt.”

Candido and other swimming alumni agreed and set out on a three-point plan soon after the cuts were announced.

“First we asked the board for more time to come up with a solution,” he said of their early June meeting. “We got an extension of about 20 days.”

Oaks explained the $85,000 figure:

“Certain costs the university is locked into regardless, but it’s my understanding that the $85,000 is the cost they could have avoided if they cut the program. It would pay for a modified schedule that would include the conference championship, the midseason championship and a few meets, most of which would be at home.

“We have just seven meets total scheduled. Six is the minimum required to be able to compete at the conference meet. The one extra meet is in case weather cancels anything along the way.”

The uncertainty surrounding the program already has taken a toll. Incoming recruits are opting for other schools, Oaks admitted. At this point he knew of just one or two of his returning swimmers who was transferring but figures some of the top athletes will get calls from other programs.

He said it’s difficult for swimmers to find another school two months before programs gear up again for the coming season. Rosters are set. Scholarships are taken. And there is the question of whether all academic credits will transfer so an athlete can stay on course to graduate.

Those were the next two points in their three-point plan, said Candido, who lives in Columbus:

“We want to be able to save the team this season and give these kids time to transition if they need to or time to graduate. And we want them to have time to mentally prepare if they’re not going to be able to swim again.

“And the third part of our plan is to create an endowment to make sure the program is sufficient for years to come.”

To facilitate the effort, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) offered the national framework to raise the $85,000, seeting up a contribution fund at http://www.cscaa.org/savewrightstate. So now, WSU swimmers who are used to their fate being decided by a stopwatch, find themselves anxiously watching the needle of the donation meter on the CSCAA webpage.

“My plan is to stay here and advocate for the kids as best I can,” Oaks said. “I told our athletes, ‘Every one of you has an individual set of circumstances. You’re going to feel emotionally frustrated, but I’ll help you. If you want to talk to other programs and coaches I’ll be happy to give them a call and do what I can for you. If you want to stay at Wright State, I’ll be happy to support you in that endeavor, too.’ ”

The CSCAA said if the $85,000 is not reached in time, all donations will be returned.

Oaks hopes it doesn’t come to that: “If the program can be saved for a season it buys time to figure out a better solution.”

One point brought up in discussions is the aging WSU natatorium, but that can be a distraction, the coach said.

“I’m not a technical overlord, but in my time there I’ve always thought the pool was well-maintained and we never experienced any major issues,” Oaks said. “We never came in and found the pool needed to be drained or it was super hot or cold or the chemicals were out of whack. I don’t think the pool is going to shut down or be in disrepair tomorrow. “

Candido agreed: “Regardless of what happens, the pool is not going to close now. It has passed all certifications.”

Another point Candido offered was the way WSU swimmers and divers “advance the student body.”

He offered a set of statistics he said were gleaned from public records. He said the average ACT score of a swimmer and diver is 25.6 compared to 21.5 for the average WSU student.

He said incoming athletes had an average high school grade-point average of 3.58 compared to 3.08 of the general school population. And he said the first-year retention rate for athletes in the program is 73.9 percent compared to 67 percent of other students.

Oaks, who was a swimmer at Wooster, as was his wife, said: “Swimming has had a lot of value in my life. It taught me about myself and gave me my work ethic. It gave me an opportunity to continue higher education. I appreciate swimming for the role it’s had in my entire life …

“It’s been nothing but good stuff.”

Candido — who came to WSU from Recife, Brazil and soon became part of the powerhouse Raiders teams of former coach Matt Liddy — feels the same:

“Swimming here changed my life completely. I wouldn’t be here in the United States working toward the American dream without Wright State swimming. I think of the friends I made in that swimming pool. I met my wife at Wright State. I just learned so many valuable lessons with swimming.

“It truly saved me and that’s why I can’t do anything less than fight to save the program now.

“I want other kids to get the same things I did at Wright State.”