Clare Myers. Staff Writer
Everyone has a Groundhog story, right?
Get a group talking about the University of Dallas experience and inevitably our strikingly unique tradition will come up.
It may come as a shock to many, then, to find out there are a significant number of students who have never been to a Groundhog Party in the Park, and no, I’m not talking about those long-suffering volunteers who stamp hands and herd students onto the shuttles.
I’m talking about the basketball team.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams played away games last weekend and weren’t even in Irving for the semester’s most hyped-up event.
In fact, members of the men’s team have never been able to go to a Groundhog event.
While attending UD without experiencing Groundhog might seem unfathomable to many, it is just one example of the differences between the life of a student and that of a student-athlete, a difference that can be difficult for non-athletes to appreciate.
The separation between athletes and the rest of the student body is not a wholly remarkable phenomenon. Sports forge strong bonds of friendship in a way that few other activities do, especially because of the sheer number of hours devoted to them.
During the week, members of collegiate-level teams spend several hours a day with their teammates in practice and related activities — even during the offseason. Even when the team isn’t traveling out of town to compete, weekends are largely consumed with games or tournaments — again, time spent almost exclusively with teammates. Athletes come to campus early for preseason and stay for Christmas breaks. The time of practices determines when they eat meals in the cafeteria; their season determines when — or if — they go to Rome. All this makes teams incredibly tight-knit, often at the expense of isolating them from the rest of the university.
It will come as news to no one that there is a divide between student-athletes and student non-athletes here. Yet, as the topic keeps cropping up — in focus groups for UD’s new strategic plan, for example — some may ponder the repercussions of this separation for the community. Can a Bubble divided against itself remain whole, or is it doomed to burst if we fail to address this problem?
And it is a problem. I’m not referring to the existence of different social circles. Nor am I suggesting that we make all students attend one athletic event per semester or force athletes to become active members of the Dragon Club in hopes of creating a Disney-approved utopia of perfectly diverse circles of friends. Even in such a tiny Bubble, different social groups are natural.
The problem I’m referring to is the lack of understanding between the two social groups. For example, student-athletes can underestimate the level of commitment non-athletes make to other extracurriculars and dismiss activities that require less involvement than sports as less impressive or worthwhile.
But when it comes to misconceptions, athletes definitely get the worse end of the bargain. They’re often perceived as standoffish, exclusive or uninterested in anything except for their sports. Perhaps the worst stereotype, though, is that student-athletes aren’t as academically competitive or hard-working as other students. Members of sports teams face more than their fair share of challenges when it comes to their studies. They wake up at six in the morning for practice before class and head back to the gym after class for afternoon practice. They slog through organic chemistry under the weak overhead light of a charter bus. They spend days corresponding with professors who refuse to work with them if they miss a few classes due to competitions. Despite all of this, large percentages of student-athletes consistently rank on the Dean’s List and Honor Roll. Yet, in an academic setting, they’re often not taken seriously by their peers.
Speaking as a multisport athlete in my sixth season as a Crusader, I know how hard members of sports teams have to work to strike the right balance. We give up huge chunks of time and sleep each day, and we give up the opportunities to participate in some other activities or to relax. Sometimes, we even have to give up Groundhog for the love of the games we play.
Student-athletes understand the trade-off they make when they sign up; they realize that getting the irreplaceable experience of playing college sports means they have to sacrifice a great many other things.
Respect shouldn’t be one of them.