In the coming weeks, both the Order of the “C” and the Women’s Athletic Association will hold their end-of-the-year banquets. The events, undeniably classy affairs, serve to honor the accomplishments of the athletes and coaches who dedicated themselves to athletics over the course of the year.
The centerpiece of each event is the blanket presentation, during which the graduating fourth-years are cloaked in a maroon blanket marked with a wishbone “C.” The tradition dates back to the start of the Order of the C in 1903, where the majority of the student body would annually gather in Mandel Hall to send off their senior athletes.
While this campus’s interest in sports has certainly waned, the athletes’ enthusiasm has not, and today members of both organizations look forward to one day getting “the blanket.”
For added incentive, each senior receives a star on their blanket for each year of a sport played, color-coded to each respective sport. Those who make the rank of captain during their athletic careers also receive a black star for each year of captaincy.
This system is all good and well, until you notice that on stage there is a big departure between the star count on each blanket. This is endemic of the problem that mars both the Order of the “C” and the WAA banquets—star inflation.
The problem: Due in part to Title IX compliance, Indoor Track and Field and Outdoor Track and Field are considered two unique sports. When you add cross country into the mix, most runners are considered three-sport athletes.
The result: Each distance runner’s blanket looks like a Van Gogh painting.
Additionally, through the Patricia R. Kirby Award, the Women’s Athletic Association actually honors the senior who has received the most stars over her tenure at the University. The award was named after coach Kirby, who before retiring in 1989, coached badminton, softball, basketball, and volleyball. Now the award goes almost exclusively to a female runner.
It is perhaps ironic that the award, which was intended to go to the athlete who mastered a wide range of skills and fit into a myriad of teams, now perennially goes to an athlete who exclusively focuses on one sport—running. While not to say running isn’t a hard sport (possibly the hardest, in my opinion), it doesn’t represent the breadth of achievement that the award seeks to recognize. A proper recipient is someone like fourth-year Nofi Mojidi. A multi-sport athlete, Mojidi represents the Maroons for two teams, playing basketball in the winter and then running sprints for the track in the spring.
In a way, the award has changed from honoring diversity in athletic talent to acknowledging a commitment to Chicago sports for all three seasons. Distance runners may be the only ones to compete year-round, but no collegiate athlete is ever truly out of season. NCAA regulation limits the amount of time for official practices, but it has no control over the training that individuals take on outside of the team. If you walk into Ratner in the near future, you are likely to see the basketball teams participating in shooting drills or the football team doing dead-lifts (while grunting excessively loudly).
The solution to this is perhaps frivolous, but simple: classify Track and Field as one sport, leaving out the distinction between indoor and outdoor. The difference between cross country and distance track is big enough, I begrudgingly suppose, to be considered different sports, but to get three sports out of running distances is a little crazy.
While this is not the most pressing issue facing our school, I’d like to put my objection on record. If nothing else, this will serve to preempt the groans of many when a cross-country senior takes home a blanket that looks like an overhead view of the Academy Award’s red carpet.