There’s a reason somebody dreamt up the idea for Div. III athletics. Div. I teams are for schools like the University of Michigan and Notre Dame that thrive on an ostentatious game-day culture. Div. II falls somewhere in the unknown middle territory, but Div. III feels like something else entirely. Sports teams give us a designated excuse to spend time outdoors, and in a place like Berkshire County, it feels like a crime not to spend time outdoors. Then there are the competitive benefits – not everyone who loves the thrill of a race, game or match could play on a higher-level team. But I think the main reason the College’s athletic culture thrives is because the teams operate as families. Everyone who shows up for practice genuinely wants to be there – not because they expect to go down in history, but because they love the game.
The first person who spoke to me on campus was not my Junior Advisor or an entrymate, but an extremely enthusiastic girl trying to recruit first-years for the crew team. Though I was initially overwhelmed by her zeal, it became clear that this level of passion characterizes most sports teams at Williams, from football to ultimate Frisbee. Within moments of moving into my room, I realized that you couldn’t even go to the bathroom without a poster encouraging you to come to an informational meeting about crew. Even though the crew team’s posters said “no experience necessary,” I didn’t really believe them until the Purple Key Fair. The best decisions I’ve made have been spontaneous, irrational and often questionably sane, so I wrote down my unix and went to the meeting. Four weeks later, I couldn’t be gladder I did.
I feel the most at home on a sports team. I’m beginning to realize that the sport itself can be interchangeable, though I gravitate toward those that require less hand-eye coordination and have a slightly obsessive nature. I look forward to the bus rides to and from practice as much as anything else. It’s a time dedicated to talking to your teammates and getting excited for the challenge ahead. Of course, you could try to get a little reading done or put in headphones if you need some space, but by and large, the team is closer because everyone wants to relax and spend a little noncompetitive time together. It’s the perfect opportunity to complain about how late you’ll be staying up to finish a paper (or listen to complaints, if you’re a better person than I am), catch up on stories from the weekend or swipe a granola bar off the girl two seats in front of you.
The same can be said for team dinners. Monday through Friday, Driscoll fills to the brim with teams claiming two or three adjacent tables and cramming them with extra chairs. These gatherings, reminiscent of extended family reunions, bring out the best in people. I’ve learned that cereal can be considered a dessert food, that some people actually like kale and most importantly, I’ve heard lots and lots of stories. Some are sport-specific – apparently it is possible to get catapulted out of your boat during a race – but others reach across the lines of fields, lakes and courses. They are the stories about classes and strange professors, Friday nights and general life experiences, the kind of nonsensical tidbits that only serve to bring you closer together.
In a small community within a small town within a rather small state, sports teams let you reach out. They are a vehicle for meeting people you wouldn’t have run into otherwise and for having an incredible amount of fun with them.
One of the novice boats we use is called Competere II, and while the word “competition” sometimes conjures thoughts of Darwin-style survival of the fittest death matches, it also means “to seek together.” At this point it’s hard to say where we’re going, but we’re going as a cohesive unit, and along the way, there’s sure to be more penguin dances, more air strokes, more moments when the boat is balanced and more when it’s not. If I’m going to get better at rowing or even just being a Williams student, it’s going to be because I’m learning with other like-minded people.
Molly Burroughs ’17 is from Saint Louis, Mo. She lives in Pratt.