The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 4

This, my friends, is the final installment! If you missed Parts 1-3, click here and here.  Oh, and here.


Anyone who has watched March Madness on TV has seen the super-slick clips they put together with players from top-seeded teams staring at the camera with a steely gaze, spinning basketballs on their fingers without even looking at them, dribbling the ball between their legs in slow-motion and then at normal speed, etcetera.  To make the clips even more awesome, they are always set to ultra-dramatic orchestral scores like Lux Aeterna or “Dawn” from Thus Spake Zarathustra.  Polished film segments of high-caliber athletes set to epic soundtracks always make for an enjoyable viewing experience, but how often do viewers actually consider how incredibly awkward it is to film these segments?

Lucky for the student-athletes at our school, our PR/media department was inspired by videos made by the Louisville men’s basketball team, and they decided that our sports teams were going to film similar clips to show before every home game.  So, one day last spring I found myself standing in front of a green screen with three of my teammates, all of us trying to stare unblinkingly and unsmilingly at a camera lens while the videographer adjusted the focus and the lighting guy adjusted his equipment to make us look super shiny and the PR woman hit us with a barrage of directions:

“Show me some swagger, girls! Don’t be afraid to show some attitude. Stare at the camera…hold it… Ok now maybe spin the ball around in your hands, just play with it, you know, toss it from hand to hand.  Maybe bounce it a few times?  Good, good, perfect! Hold it just a little longer… Ok we’ve almost got it, maybe let’s just try one more… Do you need some more time? To stop laughing? Just pretend we’re not here.  Ok maybe just a few more takes…”

It was strikingly similar to America’s Next Top Model, just without Tyra Banks and the aspiring models.  And the direction we heard most frequently was “Are you girls ready now?” because we physically could not stop laughing long enough for them to begin recording.  So much for being consummate professionals… But seriously, try staring at a camera and holding an intimidating facial expression in complete silence for 30 seconds when you’re not even sure what expression your face is actually producing (what if it’s less like a stare-down and more like a constipated grimace?) and you are standing between three of your closest friends and can feel them all trembling violently from suppressed laughter.  I would argue that if anyone in such a situation is able to refrain from even chuckling, it is because that person is an undercover robot, who also probably aspires to be America’s Next Top Model.

SA 9

Our best game face attempts…


These scenes are just a glimpse of the escapades that have taken place on my team and within our athletic department.  Some days our locker room was filled with a cacophony of exclamations like “Why have we played country music in here EVERY DAY this week??” and (from the bathroom) “Guys, I finally pooped!”  (This one was usually followed by whoops and cheers and congratulatory handshakes.) Other days would find me in the training room ice bath with a teammate discussing such topics as whether true altruism can and/or does exist.  There were moments of unbelievable heartache, like when we found out a teammate had sustained too many injuries to continue playing the sport she loves.  And there were moments of hysterical laughter, such as when the entire men’s basketball team showed up to one of our matches wearing Depends.  These behind-the-scenes stories tell so much about the athletes, more than any highlights reel or post-game-write-up ever can.  So while the price of being a student-athlete has undoubtedly been more than I bargained for, I have a wealth of memories to show for it.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your favorite moments from this four-part series – I’d love to hear your thoughts.



The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part I

SA 6

When I first committed to play Division I volleyball, I remember having a premonition that I didn’t really know what I was getting into – it wasn’t long before I found out I was right.  But, I’m not just talking about the usual culture shocks that high school athletes encounter when they find themselves competing at the collegiate level: the two- and three-a-day preseason practices, the long travel days, the exponentially increased appetite that leaves one hungry even after 4-5 meals a day, and the feeling that one’s 18-year-old body has been stolen and replaced with that of a 50-year-old man with double knee replacements.  No, nothing could have prepared me for behind-the-scenes shenanigans ranging from strip-teasing supporters to dealing with a presidential debate, from legendary injuries to painfully awkward photo shoots, all of which occurred in just one of the nation’s athletic departments.

(Part I)

During my first two years with the program, our fan base was pathetically small, consisting of local girl-scout troops, elementary school volleyball teams, family members, and the four faithful season ticketholders who had been coming to every game for more than a decade.  We tried to guilt-trip our on-campus friends into coming, but most regular students come to the school to ski, so the campus would empty on the weekends as our potential fans hit the slopes.  Then, a tongue-in-cheek conversation between one of the volleyball juniors and a member of the men’s swim team changed everything.

Alyssa and Andy were talking at a student-athlete leadership conference when Andy mentioned he’d always thought it would be fun for his swim team to show up to Alyssa’s volleyball games in Speedos.  After the two laughed at the picture, Alyssa got serious: “Do it, Andy.  I’m ordering you.”  Spurred into action, Andy rallied the swimmers and then proceeded to take his initial idea to a whole new level.  At our next home game, he and his teammates showed up wearing their team-issued sweatsuits and filed into the stands grinning obviously.  Alyssa glowered at the absence of Speedos.  But then, after we won our first point, Andy unzipped his jacket and tossed it into the air.  And so it continued: every time we earned a point, one of the guys would lose a jacket, a shirt, a pair of pants, and so on until all of them stood in the bleachers sporting nothing but Speedos and giant smiles.

SA 2

From that point on, the swimmers became legends.  They would show up to our games wearing winter hats and mittens and scarves so they could have more items to strip off.  During time-outs they would perform cheers and hold push-up contests, and their striptease routine would reveal Speedos of every color and design as our points racked up.  The shocked reactions of visiting teams were priceless, and my team began to brag that we could easily pick any swimmer out of a butt line-up.

One night our match was a particularly close one, and the crowd began to notice that the swimmers were running out of clothing to remove.  On one of the final points, the guys looked up the line and realized that everyone was already down to their Speedos.  Andy, the fearless leader, felt all eyes on him and understood the sacrifice would have to be his.  He shrugged, reached down, and whipped off the tiny spandex uniform.  I heard gasps and stifled screams, and several parents covered their children’s eyes.  But Andy just laughed – he had been wearing a nude Speedo under the first the entire time.

Tune in next week for Part II…


The Tangent-Minded Professor

Last week my professor sauntered into our classroom ten minutes late, sat down, kicked off his shoes, and proceeded to lecture for the next two hours with his fly open.  The only thing surprising about this scenario is that it no longer surprises me at all, because after just three weeks of school I can state without hyperbole that this man is the oddest professor I have ever seen.

Professor has white hair that stands on end, spectacles that rest on top of a bulbous nose, and an accent that places his country of birth somewhere in the United Kingdom.  When one first sees him, his stern frown and grizzled overall appearance give the impression of the stereotypical curmudgeonly old professor.  However, as soon as he begins to lecture, his eyes light up and it becomes apparent that he is incapable of speaking unless he is smiling.  In fact, he smiles perpetually, to the point of becoming unnerving.  His words have a deliberately slow and measured cadence, and once he has begun lecturing he doesn’t really stop.  The steady flow of speech continues as he fidgets in his chair, stretches his arms above his head and holds them there, and removes his outer layers of clothing.  (This final habit often results in a sweater being stuck on his head for several uncomfortable seconds, during which he continues to speak but all the class hears is muffled sounds emanating from within the fabric.)

Some days we don’t spend more than 30 minutes of the two hour lecture period discussing the book we’ve been reading, because Professor often embarks on legendary tangents that leave him paralyzed with teary-eyed laughter and draw nervous giggles from the sympathetic portion of the class.  Once, while giving us the details of an upcoming paper assignment, Professor decided to take a moment to describe what would happen if someone strayed too far from the given prompt or (God forbid) plagiarized:

“Then of course, the trap door would open beneath said student, and they would fall down, down, down, into the deep, dark abyss where the sea monsters reside, which is, after all, at the end of the world – the edge of the map, so to speak – because we all know that at the edge of the map ‘there be monsters,’ because of course, the world is flat, although those scientists – the fools! – would have us believe otherwise, but we all know the truth!…”

At this point I returned to creating photo collages on my phone.  But try as I might to stay distracted in his class, Professor’s bizarre tangents and perplexing behaviors keep my attention from ever wandering too far.

One day he decided to interact with a character in one of the plays we were discussing.  While reading the character’s thoughts regarding the supernatural presence of his dead fiancé, Professor stopped after the line “She’s still around here somewhere…” to respond, “Of course she is – on the rainbow bridge, with your first pet chinchilla, to be sure!”  Why “chinchilla” is the first pet that popped into his head remains to be explained.

Other statements include Biblical references, such as when he forgot to emphasize a point and berated himself with “Aaahh, I’ve passed over this like a Levite on the other side…”  If he feels that verbal chastisement is not enough to match the gravity of his error, he will beat himself on the head with a paperback book, like a monk who whips himself to atone for his wrongdoings.  (Misspeaks deserving of such punishment apparently include unintentionally referring to actor Richard Briers as an actress.)

Sometimes Professor attempts to incorporate comic relief into his lectures; these are often borderline-politically-incorrect.  When reading portions of plays aloud in class, he performs the dialogue of female characters in a high-pitched voice with trilling r’s and a dreadfully whiny tone.  And while trying to convince us to sympathize with the challenges of his academic post, he sarcastically complained, “I have to think of witty things to say, write assessments, remember to be respectful of diversity, and so on and so forth…”

It’s becoming apparent that I will be learning a lot more than I bargained for when I initially signed up for this class; the course description made no mention of South American rodents or sea monsters.  Well, I guess taking notes on Professor’s strikingly odd deviations from the syllabus will keep me from dozing off for the rest of the quarter.


Apparently, I am the Future

Orientation week: a week of meeting new people and trying to remember all their names, a week of constant activity and information overload, a week of walking to the extreme end of campus for a 10 minute laptop configuration and then back to the opposite end for a 45-minute lunch before heading out again, a week of trying to come up with fresh answers to “Tell us something unique about yourself.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m having a wonderful time, and am already super excited about the classmates I have already befriended and the schedule I have lined up for the quarter. However, sitting through the endless welcome speeches from administrators, professors, and student government leaders has made me realize what a curse my analytical mind can be. Because I can’t just sit and appreciate their kind sentiments. I fidget in my seat as I count the overwhelming number of worn-out phrases they manage to cram into each well-meant sentence . . .

Some examples, and I cross my heart I did not make any of this up: In the last 3 days, I’ve been told, many times, that these next 4 (or 5. or 6.) yrs will be the most important of my life. They will change my life. Today could be the most important day of my life (picture Viva la Vida playing inspirationally in the background.) My classmates and I are the future, and it is all up to us to make a difference in the world. We are the solution to world poverty, oil spills, terrorism, and the economic crisis. Everyone is depending on us to make the world a better place. I must own my future. I am the only one who knows what I can be. I must take advantage of this amazing opportunity. There has never been a better time to enter college/pursue a business degree/fill in the blank. Then there was lots of stuff about diversity and inclusiveness . . . Oh and it is very important to be open-minded. So important that one of the administrators re-phrased the old spiritual “I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table” to be about coming to the “table” “hungry” for new ideas and had the entire freshman class stand up and sing it with him.

Now that I’ve finished venting, I’ll wrap up with some definite positives: my orientation group of 15 is a wonderful group, a totally diverse (!) mix of freshies They are thoughtful and open to sharing those thoughts, they are friendly and welcome conversation, and they are determined to make this college experience a good one. The campus that I spend so much time walking across each day is a beautiful one, with brick pathways scattered with chalk messages saying “Welcome Class of 2014!”, fields of green grass where people play Frisbee, and beautiful buildings with gold-capped towers and domes. And the cafeteria food is goooooood. (I’m talkin made-to-order omelettes every morning 🙂 ) 

So, if this good stuff keeps up, I think I might be able to handle the pressure of making the world a better place. We’ll see – first I have to finish the 4 most important years of my life.

Wish me luck,
(Originally posted 9/8/10)