Athletics and Education

Coming back to Wesleyan after years in California, one of the most surprising aspects of the campus culture for me has been the wealth of athletic activities available — both formal and informal. Not only is the Freeman Athletic Center the class act of NESCAC, but all over the campus one can find students engaged in sports ranging from ultimate Frisbee to field hockey, from soccer to softball. In addition to the more than 700 varsity athletes, there are countless pick-up games or casual leagues. During the most recent glorious fall weekend, I was struck by the range of playful yet intense activities.

Football, men’s and women’s soccer, and field hockey were all involved in overtime matches on Saturday. We came out on the winning end in field hockey, and tied in men’s soccer, but in some ways the striving and focus the students exhibited were the most notable aspects of the contests. One sees the camaraderie and coordination of the players as they pull together (as I noted in the crew teams I saw at the Head of the Connecticut Regatta), and their shared jubilation or disappointment depending on the result. Whatever the outcome, the team regroups and begins work again, whether they had a big win (like women’s tennis) or a very frustrating loss (like football). The work — the practice and play — continues.

How is all this effort and competition, be it in intramural soccer or varsity cross-country, related to education? Recently I came upon a short piece on “The Active Life” by a beloved Wes faculty member and philosopher, Louis Mink. In a brochure on Liberal Education Louis wrote: “Sports provide the occasion for being intensely active at the height of one’s powers. The feeling of concentrated and coordinated exertion against opposing force is one of the primary ways in which we know what it is like to take charge of our own actions.”  Louis went on to say that “liberal education is education in the mode of action. It is something one does, and learns to do, not something one gets, acquires, possesses, or consumes.” That sounds just right to me: liberal education, in contradistinction to training, has everything to do with learning to take charge of one’s life.

Our students are busy, talented people. Why do they take on more challenges in athletics, or for that matter in their studies, or in the arts? Louis Mink wrote about the “overpowering reward” of feeling one’s own self-directed action having results against real difficulties. We learn about our limits, and about how we sometimes can overcome them when we take on the mental, physical and social challenges of sports. Of course, we also experience the great pleasure of the active life, often in the good company of teammates or campus supporters.

I often talk about the exuberance of our Wesleyan community, and how much I value the affection and achievement that it creates. Athletics are a big part of that, and that’s why I am so happy to cheer on the Red and Black!

[tags]athletics, NESCAC, Freeman Athletic Center, liberal education, Louis Mink[/tags]

15 thoughts on “Athletics and Education”

  1. President Roth, you should come and cheer on the Wesleyan Equestrian Team at the Wesleyan Horse Show in Hebron, CT on Nov. 21. Ours is a fairly successful team that is relatively unknown on campus.

  2. Don’t forget the Men’s Water Polo team! We are hosting a league tournament this weekend (Oct. 17/18). We sometimes see you at the pool getting your laps in; why not take the family along to represent the red and black? It might even remind you all of California living!

  3. a very inspiring piece president Roth!!! about the intramurals, come cheer on “Asante-Kotoko” this Sunday in the Soccer A league!

  4. I am pleased to see that President Roth gets it. What was true in the early/mid 70s when I was a student at Wesleyan remains true today: Wesleyan demands passion from the members of its community. You need to be passionate–too care deeply–about something. It might be your school work, a political cause or, even, beating Trinity in some game being played next week. The passion an athlete feels for his/her sport and team matter as much to the vitality of the community as that of the artist or scientist. All of these passions combine to make the community alive and to be whole! What makes Wesleyan–and D3 athletics–different is the recognition that the passion for a sport exhibited by its participants IS a virtue unto itself. My son is a D3 lacrosse player (not at Wesleyan, but for a nationally ranked team) and he cares every bit as much about his sport and his team as any athlete at any school (regardless of the Divisionj) and puts every bit as much of himself into it as he can muster. He, like the athletes at Wesleyan, do it for themselves. And, at least at Wesleyan, something would be lost if they were not here! Thank you, President Roth, for recognizing this value in Wesleyan athletics and our athletes.

  5. An inspired note, and I couldn’t agree more. President Roth, you do seem to love your job! The holistic environment at Wes, the way sports, film, drama, journalism, academics, social life, etc, all swirled into the mix, is something I’ll always treasure.

  6. My wife and I are delighted–as I’m sure many other parents of Wes student athletes are too–that our son, a freshman lacrosse player, has the opportunity to combine a great education with competing at a high level of Division III athletics. And this is before we’ve experienced post-game Wes lax tailgating, reputed to be the finest of its kind. Thanks to everyone who helps make Wesleyan athletics rock.

  7. President Roth,
    Thank you for attending the events and sharing your thoughts to that end. That is solid leadership.
    The education scholar-athletes receive in college goes much farther than those four brief years. It solidifies a stubborn tenacity in every athlete’s soul, which translates to a work ethic that every employer loves to see.
    I, for one, look for such experience on employment-candidates’ resumes; shudder to think, I have even hired an ex-Williams athlete!!!

  8. President Roth,

    Thank you for your coments in support of student athletes at Wesleyan. We are thrilled that our son, John can get a great education and continue to play a sport he loves! The mens tennis team had an outstanding tennis season! The team has 6 freshman varsity starters and accomplished an 5-0 record. Their best record in years!!The spring season should be equally promising!! Just as an aside, the tennis team is one of the few teams with no budget for uniforms. Any chance we could get some uniforms for these student athletes? It is embarrassing to go to the Williams invitational and not even have uniforms!

    Go Wes!

    Kind Regards,

    Ellen gallagher Parsons

  9. President Roth: My son plays #1 on The Wesleyan Men’s Tennis Team. Under Coach Alrutz, Jeff had a great tennis season as a Freshman and combined a well rounded academic experience with it. With big hearts, the team came in 5-0. Looking forward to Spring Tennis!

  10. Recently, my husband and I, inveterate sports fans and still active after our stints as varsity athletes, spoke with you at a men’s tennis match. We were so impressed that you made an effort to be familiar with so many aspects of the Wes community, including watching a tennis match while the team was in its “off-season.” You even learned (from us) about our son, a freshman at Wes, and suggested that he connect with a math prof. who has a clay court! Overall though, the outstanding features that stand out about athletics are that it experientially trains youths to multi-task, manage time, live through the joys and camraderie of being part of a team (win or lose), and perhaps, exercise effective leadership. We look forward to more visits to Wes as we watch our son grow in many ways.


    Amy Hirsch (parent, 2013)

  11. We are grateful to president Michael Roth for sharing his thoughts on the true meaning of athletics, and to Tennis Coach Ken Alrutz for leading our son Michael ’12 and the rest of the men’s and women’s teams through a successful fall season. We have often discussed with Michael what is the real takeaway from athletic competition. You cannot practice life… you can only live it, because everything counts, and nothing is ever lost. So athletic endeavors give us the opportunity to scale life down, for a short time, to the dimensions of a tennis court or a football field or a swimming pool, and to put ourselves to the test. Michael has gained hugely from his tennis tests over the years, and we are grateful he can continue to pursue this passion at Wesleyan.

  12. Pres Roth’s blog brought back many great personal athletic memories that were part of my Wesleyan experience. One glorious afternoon in the the Fall of 1975, I found myself scoring 2 goals, and assisting on another to a player who had been a soccer rival in Chicago, in a 3-1 trouncing of Williams College (freshmen squad). As a junior in 1977 I would hook up with a group of talented ultimate frisbee players who, after my graduation, would later go on to win a World Championship. As I endeavored in the Spring of 1979 to finish an undergraduate thesis, my close friends and I formed the softball juggernaut-the Mudsharks- and rolled to an undefeated intramural season. There were of course plenty of less than exultant moments in the various athletic venues over the years but the chance to play and compete was a great thing about Wesleyan.

  13. Prez-

    Just wondering now that the university fired Frank Hauser the longtime head football coach and alum- when are you going to do the right thing and fire the athletic director? He obviously doesn’t have much of clue of how and when to dismiss coaches.

    Kind of cold hearted that Coach Hauser got released a few days before Christmas and pretty dumb considering that the timing was right in the middle of the very important time period for the recruiting of student-athletes for the program.

    Biddiscombe should be next.

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