Rain postponed the Saturday game. Sunday morning we ate our typical pregame meal at Spangler Hall at the Business School, and that afternoon, in front of a sparsely filled stadium with a few loyal fans and family, we defeated Penn and won the Ivy League title. There were no video cameras, no live commentators, no ticket scalpers…it was sport in its purest form; a game in which the only people we were playing for were ourselves.
This has very much been my experience as an Ivy League athlete and specifically a student-athlete at Harvard. Everyone knows we don’t offer scholarships, but we also don’t have tutors, athlete-specific class lists, unlimited practice time, or for that matter, any special privileges. We are not treated as athletes who attend school, rather as students who happen to be gifted athletes.
However, this does nothing to diminish expectations, and certainly is not accepted as an excuse for a lack of success. Each and every year we are expected at the least to win the Ivy League title, and more importantly to compete nationally in hopes of reaching a Final Four. Top-ten rankings and NCAA tournament runs have become the expectation for the Harvard men’s soccer team.
As a walk-on I was not sure what to expect when I was finally accepted at Harvard after taking a year off. I wasn’t sure whether I would be good enough, or whether I was ready for the full-time job that was being a Division I athlete. After a few days on campus however, I realized I was not alone. Our team was, and as I later learned, always would be a mix of highly recruited athletes who chose Harvard over top athletic powerhouses, and kids like myself, who were largely ignored during the recruiting process but happened to be good enough to play if we could get ourselves admitted. I am not sure if either path is an indicator of one’s potential success. For every All-American like Andre Akpan and Mike Fucito, there were several highly recruited players who never panned out or ended up quitting shortly after arriving on campus.
Though the lack of scholarships and special privileges make it easy for kids to quit, it brings those who don’t even that much closer together. And though the obstacles to being competitive are greater here than anywhere else, it also makes winning that much sweeter.
As a captain this past year, I would have loved for our starting central defender’s lab not to have been during every Tuesday practice, or for Friday classes at 12 not to have pushed back the departure time for every road trip we took, but then, it would not have been Harvard. It can be difficult, annoying, and sometimes even discouraging, but in the end it is what makes this experience so valuable. We are not athletes, we are truly student-athletes. Every victory, every title, every accolade is the product of college athletics the way they were meant to be, and being competitive and winning games with the target of Harvard on your chest makes it truly special.
I sometimes wish we had some of the advantages of more
athletic-minded institutions, but finally after four years I have
realized that this is how it has been done at Harvard for the last
375 years, and this is how it will continue to be done for the next