For 52 years, students, alumni, family and friends have been celebrating Groundhog at the Party in the Park. In recent history, though, a notable group of students has been MIA from the celebrations: the athletes. Rumors of ultimatums, rules and ulterior motives for scheduling away games have made their way around campus, leading to annoyance from players and their friends and harsh judgments of the coaching staff. How could these coaches keep their players from attending the university’s best tradition?
Each sport has its own vibe, and thus each team takes a different position to the tradition. Back in 2013, rumor spread across campus that baseball players were given an ultimatum – do not participate in what is arguably the most exciting and important University of Dallas tradition, or go to Groundhog and get kicked off the team. Athletes from other sports teams have participated in Groundhog festivities, but with the 2015 celebrations, coaches seemed to be wary of their athletes being in the midst of it all. Ultimatums fostered tension in the teams and with the student body, so this year the coaches took a new approach. They did not create rules in which athletes (or their friends) could find a loophole. They gave the official rule, which comes with an official punishment.
NCAA rules state that a student-athlete cannot consume alcohol within 24 hours of a practice or 48 hours of a competition. It was not until I sat down with the coaches that I understood why the rule has to be the way it is.
Though very understanding of the tradition of the school, softball coach Beth Krysiak said that her first priority is to be a coach.
“If we had an off weekend, [Groundhog] would certainly be something that they could attend, but with the season our priority has got to be a little shifted,” she said.
Baseball coach Joe Myers recognized after spring season 2013 that the ultimatum was not best for the team. His rule was simple this year.
“If you want to go, go, just know that the NCAA rule for alcohol is in effect,” he said. “If I hear or find out [that you were drinking] I’m not going to ask any questions, I’m just going to give you the NCAA suspension.”
Myers said that with this rule, his hopes are that the players can enjoy the tradition, and make whatever choice is needed to be able to say, “I’m not going to be tempted.”
With this new rule, baseball players were finally able to experience the hype of a Groundhog Party in the Park. Senior Trevor Keele and others said they were excited to be a part of the celebration for the first time.
“Groundhog is a huge tradition at UD,” said Keele. “It is the one day where current students and alumni all come together to have a great time.”
Sophomore track and field athlete Katie McIntyre was one of the few student-athletes who raced in the track and field meet on Groundhog weekend 2014. For her, the decision between racing or going to Groundhog wasn’t even a question.
“Coach said it wasn’t an option, and I would have gone [to a meet] again this year,” she said. “I think that if you’re playing a sport then that’s one of the conditions.”
As a student, Groundhog is one of the most exciting days of the year. Some might even say that it is the most exciting day of the year. Saturday night, an estimated 1500 people attended the Party in the Park. As an athlete, there’s a fine line between commitment to the team and wanting to be a part of the tradition. And quite frankly, it’s obnoxious.
As a student-athlete, I can say that there are a lot of school events that we as athletes miss out on. Groundhog might be the biggest, but there are plenty of athletes who have missed a Spring Formal or two, Mallapolooza, Battle of the Bands and more.
Everyone knows the connotations that Groundhog carries — the sweatshirts plainly state it, so there’s no point in saying, “Well, what if the athlete doesn’t do this?” If you’re an athlete, there’s no way around the fact that you have to take care of your body. How you take care of your body does not just affect you on the field; it affects the team. You’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Athletes here compete at the Division III level and make the choice to join the team because of our love of the sport — there’s no money involved, and no one is pressuring us to play.
During any sports season, no matter the celebrations during it, players have to remember the bigger team that we are a part of. Having to miss out on the Groundhog celebrations is definitely not ideal. Everyone goes; it is all anyone talks about in the week leading up to it and in the days after it. The stories from the night are the ones that are told time and time again.
But as athletes, it is one of the many sacrifices we have to make. It is not the coaches’ fault the season coincides with Groundhog, and it is not that they want to keep their athletes from participating in Groundhog. The NCAA laid down the law, and even though UD is not high up on the NCAA’s radar (sorry, team), it is the rule even if it does not seem fair. And as is the case with many other rules, this is one of those that is frustrating but simply must be followed.