Letter to Craig Littlepage: UVA Athletic Director

Timing’s everything, huh? In case you didn’t know, I’m a Univ. of Virginia alumnus. If you asked me what I majored in 12 years ago, I’d have told you swimming and partying. I swam under Coach Mark Bernardino for three years. And while those years weren’t easy, I made some of the strongest friendships I will probably ever make in my entire life. It kind of comes with the territory. Those who wake up at 5 a.m. three days a week to jump into a pool stay together. Those who brave 3-4 hour Saturday a.m. practices stay together.

About 10 days ago, we were informed via Facebook that our coach was stepping down. It came as a shock to everyone: past, present and future athletes. Within minutes a coalition of sorts had been formed and efforts to get to the bottom of what happened were underway.

Join the Friends of Virginia Swimming and Diving for Mark Bernardino Facebook page.

Follow the FOVSD for Mark Twitter feed.

Join this Google group.

Send your letter.

I stewed it over for about a week, trying to come up with what I wanted to say. How I could say anything meaningful that might have a small impact in helping the cause.

Below is my letter, but apparently, it was a little too late. They announced the new swim coach, Augie Busch, this morning. Two years of head coaching experience at Houston and he’s fit to take over a 35-year legacy that Mark Bernardino built? I don’t think so. It’s an outrage. And at this time I have little confidence in him or Mr. Littlepage. Feeling helpless and angry.

Dear Mr. Littlepage,

I am not an Olympian. I am not a doctor. I am not the owner of several highly-successful online companies. I have no masters degrees. Looking at my accomplishments since my days of walking onto the pool deck of the Aquatic Fitness Center as a proud member of the University of Virginia Swimming and Diving Team, you may find them to be rather mediocre in comparison with the other alumni who have been voraciously e-mailing you, imploring you for your attention into the matter of Coach Dino’s recent retirement.

But what’s far from mediocre, quite spectacular, in fact, is Coach Mark Bernardino’s passion for the sport of swimming, and the depth of dedication, perseverance and heart he instilled in all of us to be better than we’d ever been before walking into his house.

I distinctly recall one practice on a Saturday morning. Coach yelled at us as we were gasping for air, barely hanging on the walls, “What I’m asking you to do today is the hardest thing you’ll ever be asked to do in your lives.”

Those words have stuck with me, and they’ve been an integral part of who I am, and who I (still) aspire to be. If it’s easy, everyone would be doing it. So work harder. Be better. Rise above. Never quit.

Mark demanded a fighter mentality in all of us, so it is for this reason we reach out to you for answers. It is both shocking and out of character for Mark to have, essentially, quit on a team, on a future recruiting class, and on all of us — the Wahoo alumni. With no warning. No explanation. Just a lame, heartless and formulaic press release. Surely someone as celebrated and beloved as Coach Dino (we were all so proud to see him sitting atop his victory bounty like the Ghost of Christmas Present in the recent issue of the Alumni Magazine) could not depart in such a bizarre fashion. Unless, god forbid, something is wrong with his health — and we all pray this is not the case.

As a former journalist, I have been tipped off to more than my fair share of political scandals, and one came a little too close to home: the abhorrent ousting of UVA’s President Theresa Sullivan a little over a year to this day. It is with great sadness and frustration that the leaders of my University, one which I hold so very dear to my heart, seem to have learned very little from this distasteful blip in our history. Thomas Jefferson would NOT approve.

This is not a form letter. And I will not accept a form letter response. Your words to my swimming family, thus far, have been empty, and for this we are all greatly disappointed. I hope for action. I hope you will take exemplary measures in enlightening all of us into what appears to have been an unfair ousting of a man we admiringly called “Coach” for some of the best years of our lives.

Mark bleeds orange and blue, and has for most of his life. He deserves more from you, and from all of us. He deserves more than mediocre.

Sincerely,

Monica (Nista) Fike
CLAS ’01

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