Cornell basketball keeps tragedies in mind

Louis Dale, Jeff Foote, Ryan Wittman of Cornell University

Cornell University is riding a wave of athletic success this week after a dark couple of months on campus. The Big Red hockey team is playing deep into the NCAA tournament and the men's basketball team is in the semi-finals of the Eastern Regionals of the NCAA tournament at the Carrier Dome. But, the university community is also mourning the loss of six students in six months to suicide. The suicide concern is so high the university is taking steps to build higher fences on bridges spanning Ithaca's familiar gorges.

In Syracuse, players who wrapped up practice on the Carrier Dome floor Wednesday afternoon appeared relaxed as they joked with each other and talked about the tremendous season they are having. But, when asked about the recent tragedies on campus they acknowledged they are keeping it in mind.

"What we're trying to do is give people something else to think of," said Cornell senior and star forward Ryan Wittman. "Something to take their minds of that. We've been feeling a lot of support from students and locals around our community. It's a difficult situation. Not making people forget about it just giving them something else to think about for a little while."

Cornell players are hoping a strong contingent from Ithaca and greater Central New York area make the Dome more of a Cornell home game tomorrow night. CBS Sports Analyst Jay Bilas, who is calling the game, pointed out today the magnitude of a potential Cornell trip to the Final Four. Only one team from a mid-major conference has gone to the Final Four in the last 30 years. He sees Cornell as a talented enough team to get the job done if the Big Red plays well and Kentucky is off its game just a little bit.

In related news, Cornell University officials say two fatal bridge plunges this month have been ruled suicides, bringing the number of students who've killed themselves this academic year to six.

The body of 19-year-old sophomore William Sinclair of Chevy Chase, Md., was recovered March 11 from one of the gorges bounding the Ivy League school's campus. That was a day before 21-year-old junior Matthew Zika of Lafayette, Ind., was seen jumping from a bridge into a gorge's rushing waters. His body has not been found.

Cornell spokeswoman Claudia Wheatley confirmed Wednesday that medical authorities ruled the deaths suicides. They followed another fatal leap last month and three suicides last semester.

Despite the string of deaths, Cornell maintains its suicide rate over time is normal for colleges.

Information from the Associated Press in Ithaca was used in this report.