Intercollegiate Sports: Then and Now

Posted by on Jul 16, 2017 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

The game was a very tight one. Two nationally ranked teams were playing. The score was 4 to 4 with 12 seconds to go in the game. Everyone was anticipating an overtime period. The game was college lacrosse. The date was April, 1956. The location was New Haven, Connecticut and the teams were Yale and West Point. The Yale team was moving the ball towards the Army goal when Army defenseman Ben Glyphis intercepted a Yale pass.

On the field was an official with a gun raised above his head and pointing straight up. He was loudly counting off the remaining seconds in the game: 12, 11, 10, 9. Glyphis passed the ball to an Army midfielder, Jack Wegner, who was streaking down the field: 8, 7, 6, 5.

As Wegner raced toward the Yale goal, I was sure he would just fire away. But when my defenseman left me to pick up Jack, Wegner passed the ball to me: 4, 3, 2. I caught the ball, turned quickly and fired at the goal. The ball hit the back of the net just as the gun went off. The referee threw up his arms indicating that the goal was good. Army won, 5 to 4.

Pandemonium followed. My teammates rushed me, knocked me down and everyone (except our elderly coach) piled on top of me. With 25 players burying me, I held my breath. I hoped the pile of players, lacrosse sticks, gloves and helmets would all be untangled soon. After defeating Yale, Army went on that Spring to beat archrival Navy, 8 to 5. A few days after the victory over Navy, my class graduated from West Point. The Spring of 1956, was a joyous time which I can remember so very well.

In those many years since those lacrosse games in 1956, much has changed in intercollegiate sports. There are now 873 NCAA certified college lacrosse programs as compared to less than 200 in 1956 (all were men’s teams). Today, five hundred are women’s teams and 373 are men’s.

Title IX, which opened intercollegiate sports wide open to women in 1972, has made a huge difference not only in lacrosse but in many other sports.

Last Spring, my wife, Connor, and I watched the Emory University annual invitational track meet. Thirty five colleges were competing in both men’s and women’s events. These were all Division Three schools– hence no athletic scholarships. It was amateur sports competition at its very best. More than one thousand athletes competed for two days at the marvelous track and field venue at Emory.

We watched our two granddaughters, Dyess and Porter, run the five-kilometer race. Sixty runners (running in three separate heats) circled the field twelve and half times.

By far the biggest change in intercollegiate sports in recent years is the emergence of highly trained and motivated women competing in a wide variety of sports. What has been especially fascinating to me is the amount of teamwork and mutual support members of those track teams demonstrated. I had understood teamwork in lacrosse and hockey but not in track and field.

Upon arriving as freshmen (Dyess in 2014 and Porter in 2016), they immediately went to a cross-country camp in North Carolina. They lived and breathed long-distance running for four days.

In less than a week, our California granddaughters had found fifty new friends—both men and women. When they formally checked into Emory, they already felt at home. It was a beautiful way to transition into a new environment.

One of the major reasons they picked Emory was the reputation of Emory’s cross country and track program. They both were good runners in high school but knew they were not fast enough to compete for a Division I team.

Emory was a perfect fit. No one is cut from the team. Emory has an outstanding coach (John Curtin). His teams (cross country in the Autumn and long distance track in the Spring) do well, but they are not full of elite runners.

What lessons can be learned from the experiences of our granddaughters?

1. Do your research carefully.
2. Pick a first-rate academic institution.
3. Choose a school with an athletic program that fits your interest and your skill level.
4. Carefully examine the competence and character of the coach of your sport.

One final point. An important development at American colleges in recent years has been a major expansion of both club and intramural athletic programs. Learning teamwork through sports competition and making a lifetime commitment to regular exercise are positive aspects of college life today.

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