Erik Solky, a senior on the vanishing Huskie men’s gymnastics team, is a young man with a solid future surrounded by younger men with somewhat shakier prospects.
The 1988 NCAA qualifier will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, take law school entrance exams this summer and has already received coaching offers from clubs in Chicago and his home state, sunny Arizona.
“I’m tired of the cold,” Solky said on another gloomy November-in-April day.
Conversely, Solky’s roommate, sophomore Bryan Lewis, is looking at one of the bleakest outlooks of the seven underclass athletes who will be without a sport if they choose to stay at NIU.
Lewis, a walk-on not added to the roster until just before spring break, has no scores or competitive college experience to offer those coaches interested in NIU’s gymless gymnasts. Cary Groth, NIU associate athletic director and emergency counsel to the four gymnasts considering transfer, admits Lewis will have a “tough time.”
To change a phrase, a tough time has been had by all since Huskie Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell recommended dropping the sport Feb. 21. The time spent fighting to influence NIU Athletic Board minds—gathering more than 4,000 student signatures, for example—meant time not studying. When books were cracked or classes attended, daydreams, or daymares, set in.
“You’d be studying and it would cross your mind, ‘What am I gonna do?'” Lewis said.
“The day after (the recommendation) I went to class but I didn’t pay any attention,” said Brazilian freshman Genaro Severino, who is considering an offer from the University of Pittsburgh. “I just thought, ‘What am I going to do, what’s going to happen to me?’ I was just lost.”
This sense of limbo is to be expected said Elaine Blinde, a member of the physical education department at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Blinde has interviewed men’s and women’s athletes whose programs have been cut and said the emotional effects can be seen as many as four months after a sport’s demise.
The athletes admitted going through a process similar to sociologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory on a terminal patient’s reaction to inevitable death.
The patient is first shocked and denies the fate; then anger sets in (“I just wanted to go out and hit someone,” freshman Shawn Holm said), then a “bargaining” period when the patient tries to change the outcome, by praying (the gymnasts’petition drive) for example. Depression follows (“It’s more in the heart than in the mind,” Solky said) and finally acceptance.
The gymnasts, with an average of 12 years experience, should have a identity crisis as well, said Blinde.
“They’re almost exclusively defined as athletes,” Blinde said. “What are they (now)? They’re no longer athletes.”
For Lewis, who, like the others, has spent as much as four hours daily in practice, time will crawl after this season.
“That is my social life since I’ve been here,” he said, adding there would now be “a big, empty spot” in his life.
The scholarship gymnasts who choose to stay at NIU will keep that status and those who wish to transfer—freshman C. Felipe Fulcher, sophomore Gustavo Boschi, Holm and Severino—will be given every chance to do so, said Groth.