Cross Country Stars QuitPoor facilities, lack of concern cause unfortunate parting
Hunter’s 2010 Men’s Cross Country team was one of the best in the school’s long history. With four runners flirting with school records, and a near-perfect performance at the CUNYAC championships, it was a talented bunch.
And with sophomores as their top four runners, it was a bunch with incredible potential. Unfortunately, that potential will never be reached.
Before the 2011 season began, three of those top four runners – Alex Arslan, Joe Papa, and Chris Guerrero - quit the team. While each member had his own reasons for quitting, there was one common problem at the root of their decisions: poor training facilities.
The cross-country teams train in Hunter’s B4 gymnasium, on the very bottom floor of the west building. It is an auxiliary gymnasium that is used for basketball, tennis, volleyball, and track practice. Its surface is a rubberized purple material that, according to several members of the track team, feels like pavement.
In addition, the track in the gym is 100 meters around. A standard indoor track is 200 meters. The shortened track and its sharp turns put runners’ bodies in unnatural positions. That, coupled with the unforgiving surface, makes the gym a far-from-perfect place to train.
“Running in B4 was impossible,” said Arslan, now a junior. “As far as I know, no other college in the U.S. does what we do.”
According to him and several other runners, training in B4 not only inhibited their improvement, but also led to a series of injuries.
“We were never all healthy at the same time,” he said. “Obviously something was wrong.”
Guerrero also blames the B4 conditions for the team’s injury bug. The injuries, he said, were not normal track injuries like bruises, but worse ailments like stress fractures. Guerrero himself was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis.
Many on the team were fed up with what they viewed as unacceptable conditions, and they tried to do something about it. Jose Miranda, the fourth of the team’s elite runners, arranged a meeting with the athletic administrators this summer.
At the meetings, Miranda stated his and his teammates’ case and requested that the team be permitted to train on their own outside of B4.
“They heard me out and allowed me to make my case,” Miranda explained. Then, they proposed some compromises, none of which satisfied Miranda or his teammates.
The administrators agreed to look into the possibility of practicing at an off-campus indoor facility during indoor season, and practicing outside during outdoor season. Still, that left the cross-country season unchanged.
Their reasoning was that, in the past, off-campus practices were poorly attended. They did not want to risk that happening again.
Immediately after this “failed meeting,” as Guerrero described it, he, Arslan, and Papa quit the team.
The trio was incredibly frustrated with the decision. They knew the potential their team had, and they wanted nothing more than to reach that potential and improve as a team.
Guerrero understands the risk of off-campus practices, but believes that it is the only way that the program can develop. And with the talented and dedicated crop of runners on the team, he saw this year as the perfect time to make the move out of B4.
“We weren’t really asking for much,” he lamented. “We asked for something better, and they said, ‘No.’ So we thought can probably be better on our own.”
Arslan echoed that sentiment. “I felt that the only way I was going to become a better runner was to get of the team as soon as possible,” he said.
Although they quit the Hunter team, the trio did not quit the sport. All three trained intensely over the summer, and saw marked improvements.
Unfortunately, these improvements will be lost on Hunter, as little effort was made to retain the star runners.
Arslan sent a letter to the track coach informing him if his decision to quit the team. He received a reply wishing him good luck. No one tried to convince Papa to stay either.
“I think if the communication between the coach and those two athletes was better, them leaving certainly could have been prevented,” said a diplomatic Miranda.
Guerrero did in fact rejoin the team before the season, but it was not because he was appeased in any way. He has an “athletic dorm” at Hunter’s Brookdale campus, and quitting the team would mean losing his dorm.
But still, he is not sure if he will continue into the winter indoor season with the team. Without two good friends and great runners, it’s not the same feeling.
“We had a really strong team, and now we’re back to rebuilding,” he explained. The 2011 cross-country team, if kept in tact from 2010, would have stood a great chance at qualifying for nationals. Now, that looks highly unlikely.
“This could easily have been prevented,” Guerrero sighed.