Why sports matter at Mac: Senior athletes reflect on past four years

By Patrick Murphy

In the fall of 2008, Macalester College embarked on a new era. Long regarded as an academically elite liberal arts institution, the Macalester administration made a commitment to improve the dismal state of the athletics program. Change was ushered in by newly hired Athletics Director, Kim Chandler, who oversaw the opening of the $45 million Leonard Center. Coaches stepped up recruiting efforts and students began choosing to attend Macalester to seriously pursue athletics as well as academics. Talented high school athletes seeking a challenging academic environment came to Macalester in hopes of pursuing their academic interests and turning around historically futile sports programs. “I, like others in my class, came to Mac to be a part of a winning program,” said Psychology major and two-time Jewish All-American baseball player Mitch Glasser ’12. “Upon meeting my new teammates in my class, I saw that everyone was serious about winning. Three years later, the baseball team won our first conference championship in 61 years.” Psychology major and basketball player Maggie Wood ’12 pointed out how this year’s senior athletes have grown exceptionally close over the past four years, bonding over being the spearhead of Macalester’s renewed commitment to academic and athletic excellence. “We’re extremely proud of the work we have all put in these past four years to turn the athletic programs around,” said Wood. A Divide Forms While sports teams began to climb in the standings, tension grew within the student body. The athletes responsible for the athletic awakening of the institution came into an environment unaccustomed to anything more than a passive disinterest regarding athletics. “The establishment of the LC (Leonard Center) symbolized a stronger commitment to a competitive athletic program,” said International Studies/Political Science major and swimmer Grace Fleming ’12. “More competitive athletes were drawn to Macalester, but I don’t think the administration considered how this would change the campus dynamic.” A tangible schism quickly formed and continues to persist between athletes and the rest of the student body. For many, cross over between the two groups is minimal or nonexistent outside of the classroom. “For as open-minded as this school is supposed to be, there are some extremely narrow-minded approaches from both sides of the spectrum,” said English/Educational Studies major and football player Will Dhonau ’12. As both groups have largely kept to themselves, misunderstanding and resentment have grown. “Although it seems a lot like something that should be left in high school, these divides do exist,” said Economics major and basketball player Patrick Piepkorn ’12. “I think they are more or less simply because of the amount of time we spend with people on our teams or activities, and with people who share common traits. I don’t think it is necessarily anything malicious, but it does exist.” While there are exceptions, and some teams are more integrated into the larger student body than others, many athletes continue to feel like outsiders off the court or field.

“Some students seem to hold an odd and unnecessary stigma of athletes,” said Wood. “I don’t know if it was bad experiences in high school or issues with athletes in general, but I feel that it’s an attitude that impacts the institution as a whole. By creating a divide, we lack school spirit, partnership and union on campus among other things that contribute to a traditional college experience.” Why Sports Matter at Mac As the administration has maintained its commitment to athletics over the last four years, some have raised the question of whether sports even matter at Mac at all. In an effort to avoid my personal bias, the following section is composed entirely of the input of senior student athletes. “Sports matter. Period. To be an elite institution is to be a part of a well-rounded community that excels both academically and athletically,” said Wood. “Sports matter at Mac because MacPics matters, MIO matters, Geo Club matters, Sirens matter, Fresh Concepts matters, Queer Union matters, and every other student organization and club matters,” said Sociology/Psychology major and soccer player Jenna Machado ’12. “My freshman year I read an article in The Mac Weekly about how athletics don’t matter here at Macalester. That was pretty fucking infuriating,” said Dhonau. “In my opinion, being a student athlete and being involved in a team atmosphere year-round is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Sure, athletic events and teams might not matter to some people on campus, but they are far-and-away the most important aspect of some students’ education.”

“Sports allow a space for student interests outside of the classroom to flourish,” said Allison Kappeyne ’12. “Athletics have been one of the most meaningful ways I’ve gotten to know mentors and best friends during my time at Macalester,” said Geography/Sociology major and cross country and track runner Skyler Larrimore. “There is something so beautiful about having a shared daily routine, a time to set aside everything else to connect with people that are both so similar and so different from yourself. From my perspective, athletics at Macalester, or at least the running program, has provided a supportive space for women to gain a sense of inner strength and find some clarity in the midst of all this school stress.” “Sports teach leadership, cooperation, and determination–all things, I believe, that are required for one to be a ‘global citizen,”’ said Psychology major and football player Colin Westcott ’12. “I think it is needless to say that sports are important to the athletes at Mac,” said HMCS major and volleyball player Danielle Dweck ’12. “Sports provide an opportunity for students to receive an incredible education while still being able to compete at an inter-collegiate level. On the other end of things, I don’t think sports matter to many people that are not connected to the athletes in some way.” “Macalester is all about pursuing your passion, and I think that is epitomized in athletics,” said Fleming. “Students devote a huge amount of their time trying to improve themselves and their team in order to achieve a common goal. You are not going to get a lot of attention or money by being a DIII athlete; you do it because it’s something you love. The reason sports matter at Macalester is because it is a representation of the virtues Macalester tries to instill in all of its students– dedication, leadership, and drive.” “Sports matter at Mac because it gives so many talented student athletes a chance to showcase what they are passionate about,” said English major and softball player Amanda Knopf ’12. “Especially here, I think the athlete’s heart is incredibly apparent because, in addition to academic demands, they dedicate so much time to a sport without the drive of scholarships or fame.” Students First and Foremost While the facelift of the athletics department has led to increased enrollments of competitive athletes at Mac, the commitment to academic excellence has not wavered. “I’m proud of the commitment my teammates and I have made, but we are also all serious students who came to Macalester for the same reason as other students,” said Fleming. “None of the athletes got in to Mac solely on athletic talent,” added Economics major and tennis player Chris Fowler ’12. “All the student athletes at Mac are students first and foremost. Also, athletes are involved in much of the same stuff that other students are, on top of their sport(s).” As Macalester is still known much more for its academics than athletics, recruits know coming in that they are expected to fully commit to both their studies and sports. “I came to Mac expecting to be pushed physically at a high level and to be able to commit completely to school,” said Geology major and soccer and tennis playe
r Lucy Miner ’12. Chemistry major and soccer player Matt Weyer ’12 expressed the appeal of playing alongside athletes who were fully committed to both athletic and academic excellence. “Wearing a Macalester jersey means representing people who think like I do and dedicate themselves to their studies like I do,” said Weyer. Going Forward Several interviewed athletes expressed concerns that some of the changes that have gone on with Macalester athletics do not reflect the culture of the institution as a whole. “As Mac’s athletic program continues to grow, the athletic department needs to make sure to keep Mac’s quirky personality. We are meant to be an odd bunch,” pointed out Machado. “To work to bridge this gap, I think changes are going to need to come from the athletes themselves at first,” said Fowler.

“As an athlete, you need to understand how easy your actions get lumped into the perception of the entire team. You represent your team everywhere you go.” “We as a student body need to get over appearances,” urged Dhonau. “Whether someone wears flannel or Under Armour holds no bearing on them as a person. Some of my best friends here have been non-athletes, and I think that’s true with a lot of athletes. I love hipsters and ballers all the same.”
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