Archive | The Wildcard

The Wildcard: The last one

There’s just something about sports.

I’ve been following athletics closely since before I could do long division, and I still can’t quite figure it out. What is it about a bunch of people throwing around a ball in some manner that captures the hearts of millions? How can people become so invested in that ball-throwing or kicking activity through nothing more than watching it on television? Why do people quite literally dedicate their lives to these events even though so few make it?

Two conversations I’ve had stick out in my mind as the closest thing to an answer to those questions.

The first was with Brandon Beachy, former Indiana Wesleyan University baseball player and current rising star in Major League Baseball with the Atlanta Braves. Following his team’s untimely end to the 2011 season, I got a chance to talk with him on the phone. It had only been a short time since the season ended, but he told me he was already itching to get back to playing.

One thing Beachy said that surprised me was the fact that his offseason regimen started off with not even throwing a baseball for weeks, even months, on end. I caught him in the middle of this athletic abstinence. He said it was driving him crazy. I can only imagine it’s the same way for countless others with the same routine.

The second conversation was with current IWU student and former Wildcat volleyball standout Kelsey Masuda (sr). This talk happened in two parts: the first, shortly after her final season ended, and the second just weeks before she closes the book on college entirely. During both talks, one thing was evident: She still had the fire inside her to play. Whether it was four days or four months after her last dig, she still had that passion for the game.

It was easy to see in her, as well as Beachy, that athletics weren’t just something they did for fun or to pay the bills. Something deeper drives them to do what they do. Something inside them makes them want to sacrifice their bodies, time and energy for their sport. Both of them knew that they would miss their game because it was a part of them.

While I’ve never even so much as sniffed a high school junior varsity roster, I can relate to this idea in my own way.

I’ve been writing sports since I was 15 years old. As a high schooler working for my local newspaper, a staff writer for The Sojourn and now the sports editor for that same publication, it’s all I’ve known for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m moving on again, writing my last Wildcard, I’m finding that I still have that passion for sports that I did when I was 15.

Whether you’re an athlete, writer or just a die-hard fan of athletics, there will always come a time when you have to say goodbye to them in one way or another. As I’m finding out right now, typing these last few lines, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. Some people don’t get it. Heck, I’m still not sure I fully know why. But for me, it’s OK to not have all the answers. It’s OK to sit back in amazement.

Because there’s just something about sports.

Posted in Sports, Sports Columns, The WildcardComments (0)

The Wildcard: The one with the football team (part II)

Like any living, breathing human being, I don’t like to admit when I’m wrong. As little as I try to let this phenomenon happen, sometimes things just slip through the cracks. Today is a day where I correct, or maybe more accurately clarify, one of those mistakes.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about the prospects of Indiana Wesleyan University getting a football team. How it didn’t happen last year, how it probably won’t happen for a while but how we can all look forward to the Wildcat logo on a gridiron … someday.

But I failed to consider the cost.

I don’t take back anything I said. Should IWU ever field a football team, I will be first in line for tickets. I’ll be at every game. I’ll cheer until I can’t anymore. But until that happens, I will not be cheering for this school to pick up the pigskin.

It’s not because I hate football, it’s actually my favorite sport. It’s because I love IWU without football and getting a team would change some fundamental things about this university.

Education and athletics have always had an interesting relationship. Ever since you were in high school and the drama club wondered why it was stuck with second-rate props while the basketball team got all the funding it needed. That precarious relationship continues through the college ranks. Starting a football team at a small school like IWU adds more than just something new to do on Saturdays.

One of the more noticeable aspects football adds is sheer numbers. Taylor University is a comparable college that already has a team. The Trojans’ website lists more than 70 active players on the football roster.

At IWU, with an on-campus undergraduate population of around 3,000, it’s easy to wonder where those 70 athletes would come from. The answer is most likely an increase in overall enrollment, another step away from the personal, small-college experience that runs a cool $30,000 a year.

With those additional students would inevitably come a different type of IWU student. This is not always the case, but football would bring student-athletes who come solely for football and are uninterested in contributing to the other aspects that make this school what it is. This goes for any school and any activity, but in my opinion, football at Christian universities tends to be the greatest offender.

Then we have the issue of money. At a university making many cuts to prevent further financial difficulties, is the high cost of a football team and all the accoutrements that go with it really what IWU should focus on at this point?

Two weeks ago, we learned IWU is fielding a Wildcat club football team. This is intended to be a step in the direction of an intercollegiate squad, but on a level that is much less of a financial risk. The players on the Wildcat roster will probably come from current IWU students and not be used as a recruiting tool for high school athletes.

I’m not looking to cause a stir. If nothing else, I hope my words promote contentment for the situation the Wildcats are in right now. A situation that is on purpose, because as IWU’s much-beleaguered administration has rightfully determined, this is not a good time for intercollegiate football.

Maybe the right time is coming. When or if that day comes, you can find me at the 50-yard line. I’ll be painted from head to toe in red, screaming my head off like a moron. But until then, I’m more than happy to cheer for the teams we do have.

Posted in Sports, Sports Columns, The WildcardComments (0)

The Wildcard: The one with the offseason

If you’re anything of a football fan, I’m sure you’ve been following the insanity in the NFL over the last week. Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Sean Payton, cuts, trades and bounty systems have turned football’s offseason into a spectacle more entertaining than the NBA’s regular season.

Maybe you won’t find any scandals or blockbuster deals here at Indiana Wesleyan University while most of the Wildcat teams are out of season, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining, or at the very least, challenging for those involved.

The level of difficulty and dedication from these Wildcats is evident.

Like when women’s basketball coach Steve Brooks said he started planning for next season on the more than 10-hour bus ride back to Marion. Or when men’s basketball coach Greg Tonagel detailed his players’ rigorous offseason schedule, saying they wouldn’t be getting very many days off in preparation for next year. Even the student-athletes get into it on their own, as personal training regimens are a necessary part of succeeding in intercollegiate athletics.

I’ve recently gained a new level of respect for what these young men and women do for their sport in the offseason, whether that’s working out before most people are awake or sacrificing a second slice of cake in order to be a millionth of a second faster or throw the ball a millionth of an inch farther.

For me? I just started running again.

That may not sound like much, but trust me, it’s a huge step for a guy who usually spends more time writing in a day than sleeping.

I ran every day early on in high school. Sometimes multiple times a day. But one winter I got sick enough to break me of that healthy habit, and I just never picked it up again. It wasn’t until I laced up the old running shoes a couple weeks ago that I remembered how much I enjoyed it, but also how difficult running can be. Especially when you take a three-year breather.

I won’t admit how much I’m running, or how little it now takes to get me gasping for air like an asthmatic fish out of water. I fear I’d lose respect from the entire IWU cross country team. But it definitely served as a reminder for me how difficult athletics are.

It’s easy for fans (myself included) to forget about all the work athletes put in on a weekly basis between games. But it’s even easier to forget about the work they put in between seasons. For IWU student-athletes, that doesn’t mean changing teams or answering a never-ending string of questions from the media (although I do my best), but that doesn’t diminish what they do. With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, this is something we can’t forget.

Of course, however, it’s not completely the offseason for Wildcat athletics. There’s still a lot more baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field to be played.

Posted in Sports, Sports Columns, The WildcardComments (0)

The Wildcard: The one with next year

Well. That didn’t go the way we hoped.

If all had gone as planned, maybe both of the Indiana Wesleyan University basketball teams are fresh off their respective tournament runs. If all had gone as planned, maybe tonight IWU is having an all-campus party in celebration of two NAIA titles. If all had gone as planned, maybe a dual-championship banner is hanging in Luckey Arena right now.

Then again, if all had gone as planned, the women’s basketball team wouldn’t have ended up in the same bracket as a Northwestern (Iowa) team that had won three NAIA championships in the last six years and IWU wouldn’t have fallen behind by 13 with less than six minutes to play in the quarterfinals. If all had gone as planned, the men’s basketball team wouldn’t have stumbled into the national tournament following a double-digit loss to a team the Wildcats should have easily beaten and George Jones (jr) wouldn’t have gotten hurt.

But those things did happen, and both Wildcat basketball teams left the big dance far too early. The men had barely arrived before they had to leave, bowing out in the first round, and the women, going into nationals as the top-ranked team in the country, only made it to the elite eight.

Both teams had the hopes and potential for much better end finishes to their respective seasons. When a team heads into the tournament as No. 1 and having not lost in more than a month as the women’s Wildcat team did, obviously the expectation is to take home the crown. To an extent, anything less than the title is just a disappointment.

For the men, after an up-and-down season that appeared shaky leading up to the national tournament, the first-round exit should not have come as an earth-shattering shock. However, for a group that was ranked 13th in the country, once the nation’s top dogs, losing to Warner Pacific (Ore.) on day one falls short of what these Wildcats were capable of doing.

So what happens now?

Women’s coach Steve Brooks said of situations like the ones both Wildcat teams find themselves in: “Don’t ask why this happened, ask, ‘What can I do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? How can I use this experience to make me stronger?’ ”

It’s so easy to say “There’s always next year,” because it’s true: Another season will take place and each team’s record will reset at 0-0 with a fresh shot at glory. But that’s not the case for everyone on the roster. No team returns the exact same as it was the year before. Whether through graduation, retirement or some other means, at least one player played their final game. For them, there will be no “next year.” Far too often, teams and fanbases take the encouraging concept of hope for next year and turn it into a crutch to lean a disappointing season on.

Not all stories are those of a heroic comeback after a dismal year. Some end with that disappointing finish. If that sad-but-true idea was thought about more, maybe some might not be so quick to be content with “there’s always next year.”

Posted in Sports, Sports Columns, The WildcardComments (0)

Follow The Sojourn on Twitter