I had an interaction the other day with a student who asked me if I had purchased my ticket to White Party. I said that I hadn’t, because I had a game on Saturday and have never been able to attend. He replied, “Oh, that sucks,” implying that I was in the wrong for having a passion that required me to make sacrifices.
It was not this one interaction that inspired me to write, just the straw that broke the camel’s back. This community undervalues athletics and overvalues other aspects of the college experience. This is a call to action for our schools to embrace and integrate academics and athletics more seamlessly into our little bubble we call the 5Cs.
Every day, athletes are faced with similar situations that can distract them from achieving their best. These distractions come in the form of academics, friends, and college nightlife activities. The 5C community is one that often ridicules and mocks those who choose to participate in athletics, rather than create a nurturing environment that rewards and celebrates athletes.
Liberal arts colleges emphasize a close-knit community. One is supposed to feel supported by leaders and peers of the community. However, I have not experienced this sense of community here in my past four years of athletics. With the exception of the annual Pomona-Pitzer vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps basketball game, attendance at athletic events is very poor except for a small subset of students—nearly all fellow athletes. Even our professors do not seem to support and value our commitment as athletes. On the rare occurrence when athletes must miss class for game days, we are rarely excused and must face academic consequences. Our idea of community seems to incorporate almost all aspects of student life at the 5Cs, with the exception of athletics.
A simple way to better support our athletics would be to increase awareness of games and sports within our community. Why not advertise athletics the same way that speakers, events, and parties are advertised? An easy way to implement this would be to make cards and flyers that can be seen around campus for all sporting events.
Athletics can help increase awareness and attractiveness of a school struggling for recognition on the national level. After Florida Gulf Coast University won its first-round game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, hits on its admissions page increased by 400 percent. Research shows that there is a positive relationship between Division I football victories and number of applicants. Furthermore, increasing the number of applicants due to strong athletics increases the chances of having stronger students and thus lowers the acceptance rate, both of which the 5Cs strive for.
In Division III athletics, we are student-athletes, not athlete-students, implying that grades and classes are more important than games and athletics. It is common for required major classes to conflict with practice times. Thus, athletes are faced with the problem of suffering academically or suffering athletically. This is not a choice that athletes should be forced to confront. Athletics should be valued as a higher priority at the 5Cs and should fit more closely with academic responsibilities.
Pomona College has taken necessary steps in this regard by giving athletes a quarter-credit for each semester of participation. Pitzer College and Claremont McKenna College, however, have not acknowledged the difficulties faced by athletes and the impact athletics have on effectively completing coursework. Aside from the annual P-P athletic dinner, there is no acknowledgement of the commitment, hard work, and skill of our athletes.
Playing sports builds character in a way that cannot be paralleled. Our community should be encouraging students to participate in athletics rather than discouraging participation; athletes should feel embraced and rewarded for their hard work and commitment. It is my passion and my privilege to participate in the athletic program at the 5Cs. Fully embracing and integrating athletics into our larger school community will strengthen our community and our connections with each other.