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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Chlorinated Watergate – An open letter about synchro

urlFor those of you expecting a long angry rant against SAB and how unjust the decision to not disqualify the black team’s synchronized swimming routine was, set your sights elsewhere. I am writing this to provide clarity and to slowly walk through the events that transpired and how they relate to a bigger narrative that many of you do not know about. I feel the need to write to all of you because I like many of you, felt and still feel frustrated after Olympiad Friday night. It goes without saying that synchronized swimming is the single biggest event that Olympiad has. Members put in ridiculous hours in a week’s time to create a routine that will wow the judges, and as the past years have shown, if you win synchro, you usually win Olympiad. I think this is the main reason that people felt so emotional about the actions that took place this year at the YMCA.

Friday night of Olympiad took me back to my freshman year of college, when I also participated in synchro. At the time, there were many moves that were condoned by the YMCA that are no longer allowed today. Teams were allowed to have members on their shoulders as well as perform flips along with many other maneuvers that would later be outlawed. While there was some gray area in terms of some regulations, there was one rule that was made clear. Teams were not allowed to stack more than one person on top of another.

Now it may have been because it was my first Olympiad, but that year I witnessed the best synchronized swimming routine I have ever seen. The maroon team, consisting mainly of Wright Third and Hardy First/Basement, put on an absolutely fantastic routine. To this day, I have never seen a more technically difficult, in-synch routine executed in such a flawless manner. Everything was fantastic, and then it happened. A maroon member rose out of the water creating a stack of THREE PEOPLE!!! I barely believed it when I saw it. In what can only be described as a blatant violation of the rules, the maroon team capped off their routine in an infamous fashion. Nevertheless, I was not surprised when the maroon team was jumping into the pool in pandemonium for their landslide victory. If that had been all that I known about that night I would probably not be writing this, but we on Baker/Roush had made a tradition of going to a now-closed diner on Friday nights and having discussions about different subjects depending on the week. Since it was Olympiad week, there was only one thing we were talking about, and one member that was in our group that night happened to be SAB member, Stephanie Morin. She came in exhausted and quite frustrated by the maroon team’s actions. I recently caught up with Stephanie and confirmed the actions SAB made towards the maroon team all those years ago. According to Morin, “because maroon had knowingly broken the rules, we did not award them any spirit points for that night[. I]t essentially cost them the overall Olympiad win.” She later mentioned that the loss of spirit points for the night was a greater deduction than a disqualification in synchronized swimming.

As a result of the maroon team’s actions, the YMCA banned all stacking, flipping, and any other possibly risky maneuvers from then on. I think that it goes without saying that I thought justice was served when two days later, the maroon team finished in third place while the white team (my team) celebrated to “Party Rock Anthem” as champions of Olympiad.

If we fast-forward to today, you can probably see the similarities between my freshman and senior experience with synchronized swimming. However, there are many aspects of how this year’s events unfolded that will provide you with a better understanding of why certain events occurred the way they did. For example, many of you are probably not aware that before Friday morning, the black team had not been notified that there was anything wrong with their routine. Also, while many of us were aware that the black team received a 10-point deduction to their routine, no one really knew how much 10 points was really worth. I also wanted to know if any other penalties were administered towards the black team. SAB student director Bronwen Fetters was kind enough to take my questions, and provide clarity to what transpired. She informed me that the rubric that the judges had was out of a total of 75 points. So the black team, had they performed an absolutely flawless routine, could only receive a possible 65 points. I was then informed that the black team was also awarded last place for spirit points for the pool events for their actions, which is a significant point deduction. Also, Bronwen notified me that while the black team won, they were only awarded the amount of points as the second place blue team (“Blue Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fish with”). When I was able to process that the absolute best that the black team could do was receive 87% of the possible points for synchro, as well as the other deductions SAB implemented, I felt that they had intervened in an appropriate manner. Given that most of the members of SAB are juniors or younger, they were probably unaware of what happened three years ago, yet they were still able to stay consistent in their handling of a high-pressure, highly-scrutinized situation. When I was made aware of this, I was convinced that the black team did not win Olympiad because of their efforts Friday night, but rather despite them.

As you can see, I am not frustrated with the way things were handled by SAB, so at this point you might be wondering where my frustrations lie. For a while, I don’t think that I knew myself, I just knew that I was frustrated, but when I had time to process, I realized that I was disappointed this year for the same reason that I was disappointed three years ago. The YMCA opens its doors to HU and hosts Olympiad on Friday night and gets nothing back from it. All that they ask is we simply abide by their rules and respect their space. In both cases, the teams that violated the YMCA’s regulations were told beforehand. Therefore they violated the regulations knowingly. The amount of disrespect and selfishness that this represents from those that served or are still serving in leadership positions and are viewed as role models by many on campus pains me at times. The antics of the maroon team resulted in the YMCA having to take actions that resulted in synchronized swimming not having the potential excitement and creativity that it had before, and most likely the YMCA will take similar actions resulting in more restrictions in such a way that synchro will never be the same.

When I was growing up, I made it a goal of mine to leave whatever activity I was a part of in a better state than when I came in so the future participants would have a greater opportunity to succeed than I had in that activity. I believe that this is a mindset that any leader should take in whatever activity they undertake, and when I look at the members of the maroon and black team alike, I see teams chalked full of role models and leaders. Yet, here we are, awaiting the Y’s course of action. Most likely we will see teams not have the capabilities we had because a few individuals knowingly and unapologetically crossed the line.

I guess the reason I am writing this is for the future more than anything. To anyone considering participating in synchro, if you are told by the YMCA that you have an illegal move in your routine, be respectful and CHANGE IT. I don’t care if it is Friday morning; for your own and everyone else’s good, CHANGE IT! No good can come from doing otherwise. As history has shown, even if your routine was the best, the points will not end up displaying that, and you most likely would have had the best routine without the illegal move. Also, you will probably upset basically everyone else on campus for something that is forgotten a week later unless some jerk decides to write a letter to the editor to make sure everyone remembers what you did and blow the situation way out of proportion.

Joseph Brenneman can be reached at This letter to the editor reflects the views of the writer only.

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