Athletic Hall of Fame Ceremony
October 11, 2013
It is a real pleasure to be with you this evening in order to honor W&J’s scholar athletes, whose performances inspire us all. Every day our athletes earn my respect. They manage the same tough schedules that every W&J student faces and, at the same time, they devote hours to physical training, planning new game strategies, and building a sense of team camaraderie, even in those sports where they ostensibly compete as “individuals” like wrestling or tennis. The lessons they learn on the court, on the field, in the pool, and on the track complement their classroom learning to create the kind of people we honor tonight—individuals who are innovative, compassionate, strategic, entrepreneurial, disciplined, and strong in body, mind, and spirit.
This has been a remarkable year for W&J athletics. Baseball took third place at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships--the highest achievement in school history for that sport. And to win their first two games they had to dominate in a total of 28 innings in a single day. Our track and field team sent a record four athletes to national competition, including Scott Ryan who is here tonight. At that same national track and field tournament, Cheyenne Mangold, who graduated last year, earned All-American status in two events in one day--the 400 meters and the 400 hurdles. Wrestling is seeing a revival at W&J—wrestling, sending TWO wrestlers to nationals this year for the first time in 10 years, one of whom, Josh Etzel, won All-American status by placing 5th in his weight class. Women’s basketball went to the ECAC tournament in a season that brought its Coach Jina DeRubbo her 300th win. And, speaking of wins, Pete Curtis just logged his 200th win as the coach of our women's soccer team. Our men's LAX team won the inaugural PAC tournament for that new conference sport, and one of our field hockey players, Erin Barno, was the fifth player in W&J history and one of only 29 women nationwide in 2013 to win NCAA's highest honor, which includes a post graduate fellowship. She is studying in Boston and helping to spread the good word about W&J.
Whether you live in the immediate area or traveled to W&J from afar, I hope you have become aware of W&J’s new "Be a President" campaign. Many of the students we feature on billboards and in the Be a President videos are athletes--not only the three Belhi siblings, who are basketball stars, but also Katlyn Vinnoy, pictured holding an injured cat--she is a pre-vet student as well as a star golfer and national SAAC representative for the PAC at the national level.
Of course, we want all W&J students to wear the title "president" proudly, but it is the athletes who earn that title ex officio, if you will, by virtue of being part of a team. The title "President" is more, however, than the name of our college mascot. What does Be a President mean? We say W&J students are presidents because we—faculty, staff, coaches, alumni--work with them to identify their strengths and then nurture those strengths so that our graduates can be leaders in any field they choose--in business, in their church, in sports, in healthcare, in education, in their community.
And how do we prepare these leaders? We teach them how to become global citizens and how to work in diverse communities, as well as the importance of bettering their communities and demonstrating uncommon integrity. And it is clear that our scholar-athletes earn the title President every day. They learn the skills of global citizenship as they travel abroad to complete challenging Magellan projects, including this year exploring fair trade coffee laws in Ecuador, doing gastroenterology research in Baltimore, and spaying cats and dogs in the Cook Islands. Our athletes work to improve their communities by reaching out to lend a hand--whether building for Habitat for Humanity, reading to elementary school children, or raising money for the Special Olympics. And they learn to practice integrity. They learn to accept that that if a strike was called by a baseball umpire, it is a strike, no matter what they think they saw. They learn to compete within the rules, training their bodies through practice and physical training, not artificial stimulation. And, at the end of the game, they shake hands with those they defeated or who defeated them.
I was a three-sport varsity athlete as an undergraduate and I know how important athletics was to my education. There is no other activity that I can think of where the relationship between the effort put into it and the achievement that results is more obvious, more clear. The body is such a remarkable machine that a week or two of strength training results in visible changes. Practicing repeated free throws or swimmer’s turns can make a world of difference in an athlete’s performance. Sports teaches you that you have to do the work yourself—you have to practice, you have to learn the strategies, you have to think and work together with your team. Personally, sports gave me the discipline I needed to get through tough situations.
Sports also provide a chance for us to be our animal selves, to let the adrenalin flow and our aggression to come out. We can literally grit our teeth, grunt, scream, fall down, butt heads, and throw things. Sports remind us of our most basic instincts—competition and aggression. It’s a safe place for animal violence. But it is also a place where we can vent our emotions in a civil environment. Perhaps if the members of our most prominent political parties could engage in a rugby match on the White House lawn, they would learn how to battle one another and respect one another at the same time, for athletics allows us literally to butt heads but to do so in a way defined by clear rules.
So, at W&J we enact the insight passed down to us from the Greeks—that a sound mind requires a sound body. Those students who learn the discipline, strategy, and perseverance required of a successful athlete are the same students who will excel in other arenas in life. They will think more clearly, work better with others, and have a sense of control over their lives. They are and will be Presidents wherever they go and whatever they do.
It makes sense that W&J would have a heritage of fine athletes to match its excellence in the sciences, business, education, and law. The wonders of the body can be explored through dissection and through cross-country running. The strategy of a winning play is planned with the same kind of analysis as the preparation of a fine legal defense or an entrepreneurial business plan. W&J graduates fight disease, fight for justice, fight ignorance, and fight for the glory of W&J in the sports arena. It is truly a pleasure to celebrate their accomplishments tonight.