Over the last two weeks, the feedback I've gotten over USA Racquetball Intercollegiate Championships: Who Do You Serve?, has been interesting to say the least. I've received inquiries as to why I didn't actually speak to anyone at USA Racquetball and made the article seem one sided. I'll admit that I did purposely bypass that option because of the "exact" wording that I read in the intercollegiate application statement regarding student status. One word that came up was "undergraduate", which was used to identify Erik Garcia as ineligible. A word I didn't find within the application statement.
I believe this matter is important, and not because the rule is right or wrong. It is important because of the language and the application. Thomas Carter, who is a student who reached out to communicate his position on the matter, describes the rule as "hazy". He couldn't be more right. It needs to be tightened up. But I want to stress, that just addressing this rule, without looking at the organization as a whole, in terms of inclusion and having a diverse leadership approach that actually represents what it's constituency looks like would not be adequately taking advantage of this situation. I say this respectfully yet critically. Getting more numbers to the intercollegiate championships should be only part of the organization's overall goal.
Among the many conversations I've had both in dialogue and through correspondence, there will continue to be difficulty in grabbing the scope of what this type of thing encompasses, on a number of levels. My hope is simply to hold up a mirror and ask, "Who are we?" And with that, see who is it we don't see in that very same mirror.
I did manage to speak with Steve Czarnecki of USA Racquetball. I will say the conversation wasn't a hard discussion, but it was tempered. (For a number of reasons I think.) Although in princple we may have seen some things the same way, the urgency may not have been mutual, and in the end, we agreed to disagree on some specifics. His statement for my follow-up:
"Naturally, the conduct of any collegiate championship must have eligibility criteria that identifies who is able to participate as a student athlete. The current eligibility requirements for the U.S. National Intercollegiate Championships require participants to be full-time undergraduate students making satisfactory progress toward a degree. Our focus for collegiate racquetball is on how best to grow the sport throughout the collegiate ranks. As with any dynamic organization, in alignment with our focus, USA Racquetball will continue to evaluate the eligibility criteria for this National Championship in advance of next year’s playing."
Of all the facebook shares of the blog entry, this one (below) seemed to be the most contentious. I actually stumbled upon this one a bit late in the thread, but nevertheless jumped in to engage. I respect everyone's view, but I see this as a typical start to these kinds of issues. but, if the discussion doesn't remain relevent, then falling back into old patterns that can remain socially limiting is what I believe can happen.
I've included below two correspondences. One from a student that played in the Intercolliegiate Championships and Mike Lippitt, President of Reaching Your Dream Foundation, a group that works comprehensively with international players here in the states.
First, my correspondence with a student and Thomas Carter was open enough to allowing me to include our correspondence in this follow up. He makes some very valuable points about what this event is really about. Thanks again Thomas!
Normally I'm a fan of your articles. You normally do a good job of presenting different perspectives and getting people to think about certain issues. However, I feel the article on Erik Garcia twists some information and is pretty one-sided.
First of all, I take a lot of offense to the statement about a team taunting CSU Pueblo's players, because while you did not name the school, I am pretty sure you are talking about the college I attend. You are very wrong. Let me tell you this right now. The players on my team and on Pueblo's team are very friendly towards each other. Throughout the week at intercollegiate nationals, we hung out together a lot and had fun together. It's no secret that our coaches don't get along, but from a player perspective, we all respect each other and are friendly towards one another. I know that Pueblo's team thought our coach was the reason Erik couldn't play, and while most of our team did in fact believe the executive board made the right decision by ruling him ineligible, I can guarantee you that none of our players taunted anyone on Pueblo's team about this.
That leads me towards the second issue. You did not even mention the counter argument, which is why someone would think that USRA and the executive board made the right decision. Here's my perspective. From what I know, Erik is enrolled in the English Language Institute. While this may be helping him learn the language so he can attend college, the program he is enrolled in does not count as a program working towards a degree, and that is one of the requirements to be eligible. I do believe the wording on the rule is a little hazy, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. Why? There are many reasons, but the biggest one is because Intercollegiate Nationals is a qualifier for the USA team. If they start letting people slide through loopholes, it could eventually have an effect on who qualifies for the USA team down the road. Not only would that would cause a controversy that is way bigger than this one, that would truly not be fair.
One other thing I have an issue with is the idea that one coach is the reason Erik was not eligible. That is ridiculous. The whole board voted on it, so it is obvious to me that there was a group of people who believed he should not be eligible, not just one single person. I do agree that they should have made a decision earlier than 2 days before the tournament. However, the decision was not hastily made. I am under the impression that the issue was brought up to the board well in advance of the tournament, and the board took a while to weigh all of the evidence and vote on it.
Also, it seems to me like you only talked to the people from CSU Pueblo before writing this article. I wish you had interviewed some more people so the article could have been more well rounded. Talking to people who made the ruling, coaches and players from other schools, and someone from the school whom you accused of taunting Pueblo's team would have led to a more insightful article. Please take this criticism the right way. This is not to bash you, but instead to help in the future and also to open the dialogue on this particular issue a little bit more. I would love to hear your reactions to what I am saying, because just like you, I want to promote discussions on issues like this one.
One last thing. I do feel bad for Erik on a personal level. While I believe the board made the right decision, I can understand how disappointed he probably was.
Thomas...thanks so much for your response...it's pretty late here so I will re-read it in the morning (and not on my phone)... but from what I can gather it's pretty good with points. I will however say...that for most of the students competing... it's not about getting on the national team...it's about the common experience of playing in the event to promote racquetball. Educationally...there should be no "hazy"...and keeping the rule in a way that promotes access would do wonders in bring numbers up significantly. I love that you wrote this...I would even like people to read your responses. It's about dialogue here. More tomorrow! Thanks Thomas!
Yeah I definitely agree they need to clear up the rules so they aren't hazy. If they broaden the rule so it includes more people, I'm all for that. My big thing is that rules are rules, and they have to abide by them. Oh and yeah you are welcome to publish my response. Thank you for taking the time to respond!
Of course...We can communicate more tomorrow. I will add one thing about rules...they become dangerous when they are selectively enforced...because I'd have to ask...how many players where actually passing their credited course work? Or where actually taking 4 classes and didn't drop any? AND...if you check one...you should check all...not just arbitrarily... there can be too many dangerous justifications... Have a rule? Great. But you can't enforce it just as a convenience. That would be bad. Let's keep talking...
Yeah I completely agree with what you just said. and I look forward to talking more tomorrow!
He man, again, I'm glad you sent this message. I think you made some good points about the teams hanging out together...which is the true spirit of this event in the first place. I believe you guys were actually being cool with the CSU guys... and it probably was maybe one comment that was heard, or one comment that was taken out of context... but either way, when there is "haze"... it affects peoples perceptions of things...on both sides. "That" is what USA Racquetball should be alert to... because ultimately, they have a mandate to serve racquetball as a whole.
This is a good opportunity to talk about things... and shore things up... AND maybe find ways to turn 200+ participants to 500.
Let's see where this thing settles... I want to keep it in dialogue, and want to include your letter to me, I'm pretty confident that you get it, (regardless of position,) and know that things are always better in the light.
Thanks again kiddo. Good stuff.
(And thanks for the cool respectful words in your first letter. That means a lot!)
I agree. I think both of us agree that rules need to be enforced universally, not just selectively. The other issue is the interpretation of the rule. You and I both read the same rule and came to different conclusions about what it meant. That shouldn't happen. We should be able to read the rules and have a black and white answer regarding someone's eligibility. If they open up the rules to make them more inclusive, that would be great. College racquetball is an amazing thing, and it would be great if more people had the opportunity to experience it. I don't know if you've been to collegiate nationals before, but the experience is completely different than any other tournament I've been to. It's hard to describe what it feels like to have your whole team cheering you on during a match. You don't get that feeling at an individual tournament. Not only that, but the atmosphere is so chill. Everyone in the tournament is there because they truly have fun and love playing racquetball. Also, everyone makes a ton of new friends every year. Overall, it's a great experience and it would be awesome if even more people could experience it. I really believe collegiate racquetball is one of the best ways to grow the sport. Thank you for discussing this with me! Your perspective on this is one I haven't seen before, and it's helped me get a better understanding of the issue as a whole
Likewise. It's good to hear from your perspective. As an outsider, that loves racquetball, it's good to see things from all sides. You can see more people when you look around.
Thank again Thomas.
- Freddy Ramirez
Mike Lippitt's letter:
I read your recent blog about what happened with Eric Garcia and his exclusion from the National Collegiate tournament. Without getting involved with any of the politics and details regarding what did or didn’t happen, I can say I completely agree with your point of view about the need for the USAR to begin thinking inclusively rather than exclusively about players like Eric.
As the President of an organization deeply commited to growing racquetball and a Life Time Member of and donor of the USAR, I believe that at least some of the future growth in racquetball will come from bringing in players from outside the United States to local communities with communitiy colleges and or Universites who support diversity and racuetball. Clearly those student athletes will have great skll and can influence the popularity of racquetball both in their own country and in the USA, such as Paola has in Mexico as an extreme example.
In reality, most of the foreigh players wanting to come to the USA to go to school and play racquetball will have language challenges. Hopefully there will be at least a few forward-thinking language program like the one at CSU Pueblo which will accommodate the student athlete’s language needs. The current situation where Eric Garcia was not allowed to play speaks to the larger issue I believe the USAR needs to address: do we want to grow the sport, which includes allowing initially language challenged players from other countries to come to the US to go to school and play? Or, do we want to stand behind a set of less than contempory policies and rules which are restrictive if not downright discrimitory? Obviously my choice of language belies how I feel about the issue, which is, of course leads me to advocate for chaninging any restrictive rules or policies ASAP so a situation like this doesn’t happen next year.
Please feel free to use my letter or any part of it to you in your follow-up blogs on this most important topic. As a donor and member of the USAR, I am willing to reach out to other members and donors to make sure the USAR board does the right thing and young players like Eric are in no way discriminated against because of a policy or rule which is not in keeping with the growth of racquetball and fairness in general.
Mike Lippitt, President, Reaching Your Dream Foundation
My hope with all this is to engage more people to critically think about what we look like as a sport here in the United States, by using this situation to again ask, "Who are we?" And, if I'm someone that USA Racquetball considers in its constituency, more progressively ask, "Who do we want to be?"