May 24, 2011

Sharing the moment

While preparing for the Maroon’s end-of-year issue this Friday, I’ve had more than a few of those “Oh yeah! And remember when…” moments. You’ve probably had a few of these moments before—you start thinking about some of the great times you’ve had this year, and as you continue to think, you keep on remembering one more great moment.

In my case, this happened when I tried to remember all the great sporting performances we’ve had this year as a university, performances that, unfortunately, barely made a blip on the radar screen of many Chicago students.

I think back to fall, and the first memory that comes to mind is that of fourth-year Liz Lawton taking sixth at NCAA Nationals, powering the women’s cross country team to a 10th place finish in the country after having not even qualified the year before. “Oh yeah! And remember when…” our football team also happened to win the Founder’s Cup, triumphing over Wash U for a brilliant 13—10 win at home before a raucous home crowd? That the win came after an equally impressive 24­—20 win over Case Western, a team which, up until that point, hadn’t lost a game all season. The Maroons pulled off the win in dramatic fashion, with second-year Demetrios Brizzolara catching the game winning pass, a 46-yard bomb from fourth-year Marshall Oium.

“Oh yeah! And remember when...” our women’s soccer team qualified for NCAAs, falling in the first round in a 4—3 shoot out after two grinding overtimes? Even with the disappointing NCAA finish, the women still had had fourth-year Claire Denz named an All-American.

“Oh yeah! And remember when…” our women’s basketball team won 21 straight games and reached the Elite Eight at the NCAA tournament? Yeah, that team is returning all five starters, no big deal. The girls play fierce defense, score with frightening efficiency, and have All-Americans in third-years Taylor Simpson and Meghan Herrick. “Oh yeah! And remember when...” fourth-year Andrew Wells-Qu went all beast-mode on the NCAA, taking fifth in the 800-meter run, despite being the 12th seed going into the event? Wells-Qu wasn’t even our only All-American, as fourth-year Kristin Constantine came home with a medal as well.

“Oh yeah! And remember when...” third-year Matt Johnson put on one of the greatest individual performances in the history of Chicago basketball? With his parents in attendance, Johnson put on an inspiring performance, with the kind of numbers that make your head spin: 39 points in 36 minutes off 12—25 shooting from the field (7—17 from three), while also chipping in on the defensive glass with seven rebounds. Oh yeah, and he put in the game-winning bucket, too. Almost forgot about that one.

The spring season hasn’t even ended yet, and we still have moments to be excited about. Remember when baseball beat Wash U? “Oh yeah! And remember when...” they did it twice more…in the same day? Men’s tennis also had the pleasure of upsetting Wash U, earning the two seed in the UAA tournament and establishing themselves as one of the top 10 teams in the country. Our women’s tennis team has provided us with three years of “Oh yeah!” moments, ever since our historically powerful recruiting class landed on campus in 2008.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make with all this? I keep trying to think of what the greatest sports moment has been this year for our university, and I’ve come to the conclusion that narrowing it down to just one is impossible. And you know what? That’s a good thing.

We’ve had a lot of great accomplishments this past year on the playing field, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ve done enough to earn a reputation in our conference as that school that you just don’t want to play. When other schools travel to Hyde Park, whether it’s for softball, tennis, or a wrestling meet, they know that they’re in for a battle. If the question is, “Has the University of Chicago arrived as a D-III sports powerhouse?” I think the answer can very safely be. “Yes.”

The issue that I’m trying to raise is that while the NCAA has taken notice of University of Chicago athletics, many of our own classmates have not. That’s not to say that we should abandon our identity as an academic school—we will always be a school focused on education, and even the athletes will attest to that.

But just because the focus of our school is education, that doesn’t mean we can’t also be enthusiastic about our sports programs. I am not advocating that our students travel hundreds of miles to watch teams compete at nationals, like Wash U students do. We’re all busy, and many of us simply don’t have the time to make that kind of journey.

I am, however, encouraging our student body to take an interest in the phenomenal sports programs we have here. If you don’t have an interest in actually watching sports and going to the games, that’s fine. Just being aware and noticing that our tennis team just won regionals or that our cross country team just took 10th in the country is enough.

The greatest part about being at a D-III school is that our athletes are students like any others. You see us in class and just walking around campus. And when we can all collectively enjoy each other’s accomplishments, both academic and athletic, it will strengthen the bonds between the students that compete in athletics and those that don’t, so we all share our “Oh yeah! And remember when…” moments together, on and off the field.