So what’s the point of DIII sports?

A group of male waterpolo players stand on the edge of the pool, cheering and grabbing each other in celebration.
Many 5C athletes credit their teammates and competition as their favorite part of the DIII sports experience. The CMS men’s waterpolo team proves this to be true. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

It’s pretty easy to guess why Alabama has a football team. Every Saturday that the Tide rolls onto SportsCenter, a treasure trove of money in the form of merchandise, sponsorships and much-coveted TV deals rolls in right along with it.

But we have a couple of football teams here at the 5Cs too, and there isn’t much money made from the free live streams of their games. So what exactly is the role of sports in Claremont?

As a member of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s soccer team, it’s a question I’ve asked myself frequently.

A page on the NCAA’s website helps answer that question. It outlines the Division III philosophy, which includes the principles of academic excellence, the ability to pursue non-athletic activities and an emphasis on the positive impact of athletics on the athletes.

Erica Jasper, CMS’ new athletic director, echoed these points. 

“I think most of your [DIII] institutions have kind of come and openly said that we believe that athletics and competitive athletics are an integral part of the student experience,” Jasper said.

Athletics, despite their popularity, are often considered to be the antithesis of academics. But athletes say they also offer important life lessons.

“I think there’s tons of lessons you can tease out of sports,” said Ethan Kable CM ’20, a student-coach on the CMS men’s soccer team. “I don’t think that many parents sign their kids up for sports from a young age doing it saying, ‘Okay, I’m just going to breed my kid to go play professional sports.’ It’s because they realize that there’s a lot that can be learned out of it.”

But frankly, I may have gleaned all there is to learn about interpersonal relationships playing club soccer in elementary school. 

That is not to say I don’t continue to grow through athletics at the college level, but somehow, these lessons don’t seem like the same ones my parents were thinking of when they signed me up to play rec league soccer. 

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Playing sports in college is important to both Kable and me for reasons that extend well beyond what we learn. 

In fact, Kable’s mere presence highlights the importance of the social dimension of DIII sports. After his sophomore year he was forced to medically retire, but returned as a coach, despite his many other academic and extracurricular commitments.

“Being involved with the soccer team and being involved with my friends and having that social aspect was kind of more important, and I also felt like it was something that you can’t really get at any other time in your life,” Kable said. 

Chloe Hamer PZ ’21, a winger on the Pomona-Pitzer women’s soccer team, agreed that this is what she enjoys most about her team. But she’s also connected to her sport and driven by a desire to win. 

“I’m also extremely competitive — I think most athletes are — you have to be competitive, so it’s just wanting to win, wanting to prove yourself,” she explained. 

But for some 5C athletes, competition isn’t as readily available.

Kiubon Kokko CM ’21, a junior walk-on diver on the CMS swim and dive team, likes his sport. But in a field where only the top 18 members of the team are actually allowed to score in the conference championship meet, it’s been difficult for him to work his way into the lineup. He said diving is a way to stay fit while doing something he’s passionate about.

“I enjoy seeing myself get better,” Kokko said. “And it’s good to feel part of a group of people.   But I wouldn’t say that it’s central to my identity or anything like that. I definitely think it’s a large chunk [of who I am] but not a very important chunk of my time here.” 

There are also many students on campus who don’t play sports at all, and only interact with the athletics program as spectators at games, if ever.

Ellie Reingold PZ ’21, a social neuroscience major at Pitzer College, said she enjoys having sports on campus, but is unsure whether their impacts are universally positive.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit elitist and exclusive because sports do mixers or throw specific parties or pre-games that are exclusive to the sports involved,” she said.

Annabel Walsh SC ’21 also expressed skepticism about some aspects of sports culture.

“People love to complain about their sports, but it’s like, ‘you’re signing up for it,’” she said. “You literally have the choice to do it or not.”

That could easily have been leveled at me by any number of friends or acquaintances. I’ve complained many times this year about 7 a.m. Wednesday lifts.

“It brings me happiness, and the sad parts or the upsetting parts make the good parts even better,” Hamer said, about the difficulties that come with being a student-athlete.

She said her connection to her sport might be difficult to understand for non-athletes.

“It’s such a huge part of your identity that you just get lost in it kind of, and sometimes, it sucks if you have a bad game, taking that so harshly,” Hamer said. “It might seem trivial to some people, but for some reason … it’s just this weird connection to your sport.”

I love the sport that I play, and I wouldn’t want to be at school without it. But there are undeniable parts of it that may limit my experience as well. I can only conclude that things that keep me waking up for 7 a.m. lifts must outweigh the tiredness they cause me or the pain of losing or not playing well. They always have up until now.

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