by Caitlin F. McCarthy
When one first grabs a copy of the coveted Sewanee Purple and instinctively turns to the back cover, they are always greeted with articles highlighting the athletic activityof students at our fine university. What many might not know is that there have been innumerable accolades and feats through a myriad of different sports through Sewanee’s history. We may be a D3 liberal arts institution but we have had winning sport moments – past the famous footballers, “Iron Men,” team of 1899 – that deserve the utmost respect. There is so much recent sport history that signals excellence in the athletic department.
This year alone the baseball team opened the season with a 15-0 win against Johnson University; the men’s basketball went from a win-loss record of 4-21 in the 2009-2010 season to a 17-9 record in the 2012-2013 season; in November, the cross country team gave their best performance at NCAA regionals since 1998; in 2012 Carolyn Barske (C’02) was inducting into the Tigers Hall of Fame as the first equestrian athlete for being Sewanee’s first and only IHSA National Champion back in 1999; the football coach began hosting “coffee with coach” dates at Blue Chair (sadly this is the biggest news for the football team who reached their peak in 1899 and again in the late 1950s); the golf course was completely redone allowing better play and more opportunities for both the men’s and women’s golf teams; men’s lacrosse has pretty much dominated every team all over the country, and they have earned several awards, titles, and championships; last month the men’s soccer team hired a new coach who is has a strong background in winning, and he isn’t too hard on the eyes either; the Escobar dream team made waves on the Sewanee swim team; Coach Shackleford of the men’s tennis team won coach of the year award, twice, and the tennis players continue to win and look good doing it; Amy Nelson (C’15) set a new school record for track and field; in January the women’s basketball beat Oglethorpe University, making Coach McCarthy the winningest coach in Sewanee’s history with 95 victories; the field hockey team had an 8-8 record and also earned a top academic award for the team collectively having above a 3.0 in season; women’s lacrosse beat the heathens over at Rhodes, as well as 9 other teams, so far this season; the women’s soccer team started a blog and had an impressive six game winning streak this past season; softball was almost unable to compete in matches this month due to the majority of the team suffering from a range of injuries, but in true EQB spirit, freshman Savannah Rosegave up her first Sparty weekend to temporarily join the team, allowing them to field a team and subsequently participate in conference matches; last season the women’s tennis team was ranked #15 nationally; and last but certainly not least, the volleyball team hosted a hugely successful series of Stand Up To Cancer matches and named three players – Jamie Sue Wilson (C’15), Kayla Sewell (C’16), and Diamond Stewart (C’17)– to the All-SAA team. Wow, what remarkable feats for Sewanee athletics!
Above marks the conclusion of the published celebration of the Sewanee teams and their respective glories. Now the reader is implored to look at the far other end of the spectrum – the typically ignored and undocumented plight of an ex-DIII athlete. When it comes to ex-student athletes, everyone is one, or at least knows one, yet this issue remains unaddressed. What is it like? What happened? And where are they now?Last year alone, the Sewanee field hockey team lost ten players. To be fair, half of that number was the result of some truly incredibly talented seniors graduating. The other half of those players preferred lacrosse, were tired of the constant injuries from intense matchups and long practices, or were simply burnt out.
Ex-goalie Ellie Barton (C’16) was one such field hockey player. Barton began playing field hockey during her puberty-ridden days and as she developed, both as a person and a player, her interests changed. After two intense years as a self-described “fock-star,” Barton has parted ways with her second favorite sport. (Her first love will forever remain watching baseball games.) “I have a lot of time,” Barton states, “I miss the girls on the team but having weekends and a social life is nice. It feels nice not seeing the same 20 people for a whole semester.” The past two seasons found the field hockey team playing a combined 19 away games – a huge amount of time to be away from the Mountain.
One problem many ex-athletes face is returning to “the real world.” That is, a world without regulated practices, mandated work outs, long weekends on the roads, required study halls, trainers placating every hurt and strain, demanding coaches, and teammates holding each other to high standards on and off the field or court. Some student athletes find it difficult to be just one half of that equation, and return to sports. Such is the case with Luis Tinoco (C’15). Once a superstar soccer player, Tinoco retired his cleats to focus on being pre-med. But he just couldn’t stay away. Now Tinoco can be found once again wearing his cleats, this time on the football field as a kicker.
For many student athlete the decision, while initially tough, is really for the best. Many freshman come into Sewanee pumped to take DIII by storm. But then reality hits. High school sport leagues had been a breeze, DIII division leagues are not. High school sports brought glory, Sewanee athletics bring the occasional awesome Purple article and an eye roll from a roommate when the smelly equipment is strewn about the study room. High school sports could be balanced with classes, DIII practices and coursework requires stamina, perseverance, commitment, and a total lack of aversion to sleepiness unknown the vast majority of college students. DIII athletes, especially Sewanee Tigers are required to put so much work into their teams, friendships with teammates, and classes 24/7, on and off season. This work can wear down on a person until eventually the inevitable happens. Burn out. A lucky bunch manage to keep this affliction at bay long enough to graduate, whereupon they can then proceed to look back fondly on the victories and friendships, and block all memories of bus-sickness, salty and dressing-less salads at Olive Garden for team dinners, and many nights at Quality Inn.
I was one such case of burn out. After periodically breaking and spraining my wrist on and off for 11 straight years of field hockey, coupled with more weekends away then on the Mountain to kick-start my college years, it was time to hang up my number 13 jersey, and say goodbye to field hockey forever. This breakup was inevitable; as awesome as it would hypothetically be, I was not a 2020 Olympic hopeful, and there is not much one can do with field hockey after graduation, especially at the D3 level. So I said sayonara to my trusty pink field hockey stick and started pursuing what really made me happy. I rushed a sorority (#goKD), joined some exciting clubs, became a Bonner scholar, involved myself in community service, finally had Sundays free to go to church, made friends outside of the field hockey team, took classes that didn’t have to center around Tuesday morning workouts and practice schedules, and basically did a whole bunch of activities that fulfill me. Quitting sports was no easy task – suddenly I had to be aware of what I was eating because I no longer had two hour practices six days a week– and I really missed my teammates. But I found my passions and still live vicariously through others as sports editor.
In my case, I was really lucky. Others do not have such an easy time quitting. When teammates or coaches feel betrayed, when people discuss your waste of talent, when all the hours put into a single sport seem suddenly wasted – these actions can crush an ex-student athlete. Sometimes the worst can happen – rumors fly at a small school, condemning the person for making a very personal choice.
So as this academic year comes to a culmination, let us commend both the student-athletes and ex-student-athletes alike. The tireless dedication and work put in, in some cases to the point of exhaustion and burn out, is all for the betterment of the Sewanee community. We are all Tigers, whether we are DIII athletes, or make up the 80% of the student body who participate in club and intermural sports, or make up the innumerable spectators and fans, or simply love a good Purple sports article. Let us finish this year proud of our many accomplishments, in support of each other, and ready to see where next year’s sports take us.
Yea, Sewanee’s Right!