Pomona's hammer throw field became the subject of heated debate last week after students circulated an online petition that called for replacing the hammer throwing pit with an extension of the school's Organic Farm, located on the southeast corner of Pomona's campus.
Supporters of the proposal have since removed the petition due to the negative reactions it generated. They are now calling for a campus-wide “dialogue” about the use of the field.
“Anyone who has worked at the farm is familiar with the field that divides the west farm from the east farm, and some people take it for granted,” said Adam Long PO ’13, a member of the ASPC Environmental Quality Committee (EQC), which has discussed repurposing the hammer throw field. “Ever since coming to Pomona, however, many students and I have looked at that space and wondered if this field, which is used quite infrequently, could be repurposed into something that is useful to a wider range of students.”
Long said that the space could serve several purposes.
“Last semester, over 45 plots on the west farm were checked out to individuals and groups from across the 5Cs, and there was still demand for more. Most of these plots are in shaded locations, and the open space of the current hammer throwing field would be much more productive,” he said. He suggested that the area could also host the recently established Pomona Ceramics Club, be used to grow produce for the dining halls or an on-campus farmers’ market, house a greenhouse, or serve as a laboratory space for ecology classes.
The original petition was created by Lucy Block PO ’11, who is also a member of EQC. It was released and promoted via a Facebook event page on April 17 and removed on April 20 after triggering a heated online discussion.
Casey Matthews PO ’11, a runner for the track team, said that although there is currently only one student hammer thrower on the team, the field is frequently used by visiting throwers.
“The meets that we host are a huge part of the program—they lend a lot of prestige to it,” Matthews said, noting that the recent Pomona-Pitzer Track and Field Invitational brought hundreds of international athletes to campus. “Without the field, the track team would suffer a great deal, beyond just not having the space for practice.”
“There’s a long, successful history of hammer throwing on campus,” added women’s Track and Field coach Kirk Reynolds, who has worked with the team since 1989. “There have been numerous hammer throwers through the years.”
Reynolds went against the argument that the field could be used for something else because it is not currently used by many athletes.
“I would liken [this argument] to somebody looking at a soccer team and saying, ‘You guys don’t have any left-footed forwards this year. Since you’re not currently using this corner of the field, why don’t you give it to us?’” he said.
Supporters of the petition insisted that they were not calling for a complete abolishment of the field, but were rather suggesting it be relocated.
“There was no intent to uproot or disrespect athletics at all,” said ASPC Environmental Affairs Commissioner and EQC Chair Nate Wilairat PO ’11. “We thought that expanding the farm and relocating hammer throwing activities elsewhere was a reasonable proposition, especially when considering how many athletic fields there are in Claremont.”
Reynolds argued that hammer throwing needs its own space. He explained that the hammers—8- to 16-pound metal balls attached to wire, which are swung around and thrown up to hundreds of feet away—create large craters in the ground, so hammer throwers cannot share fields with other athletes.
“It doesn’t kill the grass, but it would damage a soccer field,” he said. Reynolds also said that finding a new location for the field would be difficult due to safety concerns.
“It’s a big area because that’s the required specifications from the NCAA, and we host competitions where visiting teams throw out to the far reaches of that grass,” he said. “It’s not something you can safely do around lots of people.”
Men’s Track and Field coach Tony Boston agreed.
“Anything we could possibly find would be far removed from the athletic fields and that doesn’t work out well when you’re hosting competitions or even practices,” he said. “To have a coach working with an athlete somewhere else on campus, the rest of the team would not be supervised, and that’s another safety issue.”
“I think the farm is a very valuable resource, but I don’t think this petition was well thought-through,” Matthews said. “My biggest qualm is that the way it’s being presented suggests that there is some sort of alternative.”
Wilairat acknowledged that a relocation of the hammer throwing pit may not be possible, but he said that the proponents of the petition were unaware of this due to the difficulty they had while trying to communicate with the athletics department.
“It may be the case that hammer throwing requires a very particular space and cannot be feasibly moved to another field. That's okay,” he said. “But we had no way of knowing that if [the Athletics Department] would not meet with interested parties.”
Long declined to name the people that he and other supporters of the petition attempted to contact, but he said an attempt at communication was made.
“A professor inquired with the chair of the Athletics Department on two separate occasions and someone in the administration on one occasion and never received a response to any inquiry,” he said. “We have attempted to start a discussion, but have been ignored.”
Boston and Reynolds said they were never contacted by students and only learned of the proposal through conversations with athletes.
Since the backlash against the petition, Block and Long have revised the text on the event page to clarify that they and other students are not encouraging the immediate repurposing of the field, but rather calling for an open conversation among students and administrators.
Block said the changes were made “to make it very clear that this was about writing a student letter of support to get a conversation going, and that conversation was about collaboratively finding solutions to serve the needs of both [the Athletics Department] and the farm.”
Block, who discussed the proposal with farm workers and EQC members prior to creating the Facebook event, admitted to writing and publicizing the original petition independently, without formal backing from EQC.
“Unfortunately, because it was written and publicized without the consultation of the EQC or faculty, the original language and wording of the Facebook event and associated petition was inappropriate and misleading,” Long said. “This is what caused many of the negative reactions from students.”
“Because of difficulties communicating with Athletics, I created the petition as a way of getting that conversation started,” Block said. “The idea was that the conversation would come first, and ideas about viable alternatives to where the field is would come out of that conversation. I consulted with a professor but because I did not expect much controversy, I put up the petition prior to approval from EQC.”
Block said that supporters of the petition have not decided what action they will take after they acquire a satisfactory number of signatures, but that the main goal is to “demonstrate student interest in order to get the ball rolling.”