From the Bergen Record

The other sports

Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Record

HERE he is, the president of the United States of America, thrusting a fake saber at Olympic fencer Tim Morehouse, and scoring a point.

Here he is, during that same event, making a pitch for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Chicago: "It is true that I always wanted to fence and I thought that would be cool. So I might get a couple tips from you guys." By "you guys," President Obama meant Morehouse and Daria Schneider, another fencer at the event.

Schneider is a senior at Columbia University and is on its fencing team. She is also a 2012 Olympic fencing hopeful. Morehouse won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics and graduated from Brandeis University, where he was a member of the fencing team.

It would have been great to see a Rutgers University fencer on the South Lawn, too. Or, not even aiming that high, it would have been great to know that a Rutgers University fencer could have taken part in the event, which got a lot of media play and highlighted the president's interest in fencing.

Alas, there is no Rutgers University fencing team anymore. Which is appalling and, in the face of the history of the sport, the history of the sport at Rutgers and this recent event, embarrassing.

Rutgers sacrificed the sport on the altar of football in 2007. It also demoted from Division I play five other Olympic sports to make way for the almighty pigskin: men's tennis, men's swimming and diving, and men's lightweight and heavyweight crew. The galling part is that the sports cost the university about $800,000 combined. For the 2006-07 season, football spending hit $13 million, and the university paid $2.6 million in football subsidies.

Bereft over the decision to get rid of the six sports, Rutgers alumni promised to pay a good chunk of one year's budget for all the axed teams in the hopes of keeping them alive. The offer was ignored.

Then there's the fact that the Rutgers fencing team was one of the school's highest in academic and athletic achievement. And that the university is losing good students to other colleges outside the state. Just in fencing, Adam Pantel of Mendham left Rutgers for Brown University and in March was named Northeast Fencing Conference's Fencer of the Year. Laura Paragano of Bernardsville chose the University of Pennsylvania and qualified for the NCAA fencing championships in the 2008-09 year.

Had Rutgers had a fencing team, "I definitely would have made it one of my top three" schools of choice, she said.

Another prestigious and now-defunct sport, Rutgers crew, dates back to the Civil War era — the oldest sport at the university. At least 11 Rutgers oarsmen have competed on Olympic teams.

We have urged Rutgers in the past to reverse its decision. We urge the university to do so now.

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