Archive | The Wildcard

The Wildcard: The one with the classes

When I was in high school I worked for my town’s local newspaper. During the summer I mainly sat in the office answering phones and typing obituaries (not even as fun as it sounds). But high school sports season was when the fun really began. I covered basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, track meets—pretty much every kind of sporting event you can think of. Most days, by the time I got home from school at 4, all I had time to do was make dinner, eat and head to whatever game was on my schedule.

Some nights I wouldn’t get home until after 10 p.m. Then it was time to write the story and pick the best photos for publishing. It was then and only then that it became homework time. Sometimes that was 11 p.m. Sometimes I wasn’t so fortunate.

It wasn’t too hard to worry about how little time I had to get everything done most nights, especially since I had to wake up at 5:30 every morning to catch the early bus to school. But then I thought about the athletes I was writing about. How much crazier must their schedules be? They were taking the same classes I was, plus their time was taken up with games and practices. Sometimes I barely got all of my work done. How did they do it?

Then my journey took me to college at Indiana Wesleyan University, where I continued to cover sporting events. Once again, I became overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a writer and full-time student all at once. Once again, I saw firsthand how challenging being a student-athlete is. I had classes with athletes, I got to know athletes; I became friends with athletes. It really is a full-time job. Then throw in a major, or maybe two. Where does sleep fit into a schedule like that? Some athletes at IWU even dare choose a major like nursing to go along with their sport. Now we’re just getting crazy.

Think about this: An athlete who plays just two games in a week and practices just one hour a day has basically taken on the load of two additional three-credit classes. And that’s just at a bare minimum.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to realize just how impressive an accomplishment it is to be a collegiate student-athlete. The amount of time it takes each day to keep up with studies as well as speed, reading as well as running and papers as well as perseverance is enough to make even the most organized student start reaching for fistfuls of hair. Yet every year, IWU and countless other universities see dozens, if not hundreds, of students accomplish this impressive, yet undervalued feat.

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The Wildcard: The one with the other team

It was a weird feeling to say the least. I was at a basketball game. I was cheering on the Indiana Wesleyan University men’s basketball team. But I was sitting in the wrong section. It was Tuesday, Nov. 22, the day most of IWU left for Thanksgiving break, so the student section was nearly bare. But I wasn’t even with the few students who had shown up.

I was with the other team’s fans. Marian University, to be exact.

This may not sound like a big deal, but for someone who takes sports loyalty as seriously as a Mac lover takes Apple press conferences, I felt strangely like a traitor.

The reason for my seating choice was Jess Chadwell, a sophomore forward for Marian.  Chadwell started the game for the Knights, sank the team’s first basket and scored seven total points in the game.

But before he was a young star-in-the-making at an MCC college that just happens to be a rival of my own school, Jess was my friend. We went to high school together way back in Georgetown, Ohio, what seems like a lifetime ago. As a writer for the local newspaper, I also went to many of his games and closely followed his career.

Back in Georgetown, Jess was a celebrity. He was Superman. Everyone knew him. He helped bring a state title to town. He scored seemingly at will. And to top it all off, he was as good of a person as you’d find.

Jess’ jersey may have changed, but nothing else has. When I found out that he had transferred from the University of Toledo to Marian and would play in Luckey Arena, I knew I had to be there.

Game day came and I sat with Jess’ family. His father (my high school principal) and mother (a softball coach I often worked with) both cheered for him just the way they did in high school. It was a nice dose of nostalgia, especially seeing an old friend play a game at which he is so skilled.

But I still couldn’t help feeling weird about what I was doing. I was rooting for the Wildcats just like always, only with a few cheers for my old friend mixed in. I was doing the same thing that I had jeered others for. The first time I saw a student in an IWU shirt sitting with a student in a Taylor shirt at a volleyball game, I, and the rest of the student section, let them have it.

Why wasn’t I getting the same treatment?

Maybe it was because Marian isn’t IWU’s chief rival. It could have just been the lack of people in the bleachers. But I almost felt like I deserved to be harassed. I promote student pride in our athletics as much as anyone, how could I sit with the enemy?

For me, it came down to the point I am forced to make far too often when the troubles of the real world make us forget about sports, instead of the other way around: There’s more to life than rivalries, allegiances and sports. In the end, it doesn’t matter where I sit, as long as I’m still rooting for the Wildcats.

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The Wildcard: the one with Jenn Goethel

Not much can be said about the Super Bowl that hasn’t already been stated and restated ad absurdum. For Indiana locals, this year’s event was even more hyped than usual, as the big game was held in Indianapolis. As is custom, many of the biggest names in sports and entertainment were in attendance: Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Jeff Gordon, Alec Baldwin, Carrie Underwood and Indiana Wesleyan University student Jenn Goethel (jr).

Goethel, a public relations major, spent the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLVI working for NFL Experience 2012. A company which puts on events surrounding the game for an inside look at all things Super Bowl, a football amusement park held at the Indiana Convention Center. Goethel’s job was an operations manager, supervising a specific section of the event, dealing with everything from directing patrons to cleaning up after sick children.

Needless to say, she has some interesting stories.

Jeremy Sharp: Were you at the game?

Jenn Goethel: Yeah, there was a huge group of people and we just wanted to see how far the passes could go, so we definitely got to the front section. People were loving it. Because hey, it’s the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl game, why not?

JS: I know you have some good stories …

JG: I met Mike Greenwald, the “Mike and Mike” guy, in the elevator. I asked him why he was here, not even knowing who he was. I get on the elevator and I just saw this guy taking a picture with people and I wondered who he was. And he looks at me, I’m in full work attire, and he goes, “So why are you here? You here for the big game?” And I look at him and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m kinda working it.” And he goes, “OK.” And I go, “You?” And he goes, “Yeah, I’m kind of working it too. I’m an ESPN sports analyst.” The next day I was talking to my dad and he goes, “You are an idiot.”

JS: How’s this job going to help you in your future?

JG: I’m getting so much out of it already. It really developed my communication skills because you had to be clear and concise with whoever you were talking to. Also, respecting the athletes and not being able to ask for an autograph and not being able to take pictures and keeping professional. That’s where the lines were drawn. Are you in it to meet the athletes or are you in it because you love it? And I discovered that I was in it just ‘cause I love it, not because I need the autograph. I mean yeah, I got some cool stories, but you know when they say, “Do what you love and love what you do,” I found the perfect job.

JS: Are you going to keep working there?

JG: What happens is, I can look at them and continue on for the next two Super Bowls. They kind of have a travelling team. Not everybody that works for them works for them all year round. We have the opportunity to keep travelling with them to New Orleans next year and New York City the year after, so hopefully we’ll see how everything pans out. But yeah, it’s looking like that might be in the works.

JS: One more cool story.

JG: It was close to closing time and all of the sudden I hear, “Somebody just got a bloody nose on the Lombardi Trophy, can we get somebody out here to clean it up?” The Lombardi Trophy is in a case, but there had already been a joke a few days before that somebody puked on the Lombardi, so I wasn’t sure if this was a joke. But from the panic ensuing in the manager’s voice, somebody had literally gotten a bloody nose on the Lombardi Trophy. So we can’t figure out if the kid ran into the trophy or what. People were freaking out because you can’t get blood on the Lombardi Trophy.

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The Wildcard: The one with the cheerleaders

I was running late for our interview. But it was OK, because she was too. Katelyn Burkhardt (so) and I were set to meet at 4:30, with the stipulation that either of us may be running a couple minutes behind schedule.

It didn’t take long to figure out why someone like Katelyn would have a packed planner.

Katelyn is a member of the Indiana Wesleyan University cheerleading team, a team that practices two or three hours four times every week. That’s not even counting the time spent at basketball games. That’s before the team steps up its schedule to get ready for its national competition in April.

And they say cheerleaders aren’t athletes.

“Basketball games are just the surface of what we do. There’s so much more to it than that,” she told me as we chatted about everything from workout routines to the perception of cheerleaders in general. Even the perception of cheerleading at IWU could use some fine-tuning.

As we talked, it became evident that not only are cheerleaders at most levels fully aware of the stereotypes that surround the sport, but that they actively try to fight those labels.

Yes, I called it a sport. Cheerleaders practice, train and compete – the three main aspects of an athletic competition. The same logic that is used to boil it down to just yelling and raising your hands can be used to strip baseball to simply hitting a ball with a stick. The debate over whether or not competitive cheerleading is a sport is over, and the “gimme-an-I”s have it. Now it’s just a matter of how much respect the sport and those who participate in it are given.

Cheerleaders undeniably get a bad name. But most of that reputation comes from a “one bad apple spoils the bunch” type of situation. Opinions are formed and reinforced by watching teen dramas on television that are hardly an accurate representation of reality.

But the truth is that these young women and men aren’t those preppy cheerleaders you might have gone to high school with. They are athletes who work very hard at their craft and perform it very well. I’m not going to pass myself off as an expert in this field. When I go to basketball games, I can’t professionally evaluate the cheerleaders’ stunts or lifts. But I do know hard work when I see it. And what the IWU Wildcat cheerleaders are doing is definitely hard work.

Routines that the team does on gameday during timeouts may seem easy enough, but think of everything cheerleaders have to do to make it look effortless, just like those who play basketball, volleyball or any other IWU sport.

My interview with Katelyn didn’t last very long. We both had other things to do. After all, cheerleaders have a minimum G.P.A. requirement just like other athletes. Getting a look, however brief, into the life of a full-time student-athlete who spends so much time outside the classroom working on cheerleading made me appreciate what she and others like her do. It takes guts, skill, time-management and lots of hard work to pull off, but the IWU cheerleadering squad does it on a daily basis.

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