BURKE: A sport by any other name

Smaller sports programs, like women’s rowing, deserve more credit than they get

In your most recent publication, you printed a “Spring Season Preview” that celebrated the upcoming seasons of the women’s softball team and the men and women’s lacrosse teams. This “preview” of the spring season represents a nagging problem within the sphere of Virginia sports, which is the lauding of a small group of sports in lieu of countless other teams that go unnoticed. More specifically, you forgot the team that no one seems to be able to remember: the women’s rowing team.

For those critics who don’t find the rowing team worth discussing, perhaps you should review our rap sheet in the athletic world. Our team has won two of the last four Division I NCAA Championships, and we have won 13 out of the last 14 ACC Championships. Our coach, Kevin Sauer, is a nine-time ACC Coach of the Year and has been named a National Coach of the Year. We are currently one of the preseason favorites to win the National Championship again this spring. Multiple graduates have gone on to compete at the Olympics. By not acknowledging our roster of more than 70 women, you are indirectly ignoring the largest female sports team on grounds, and countless peers that you have taken classes with, regardless of your major.

But this issue encompasses a problem far bigger than the rowing team’s lack of notoriety. Perhaps the most infuriating argument for any athlete to hear comes in the following, politically correct collection of words: that we as a university should focus on, support and prioritize the sports that rake in the most revenue for the school. We’re all thinking it: football, basketball and lacrosse. With no disrespect to the immense effort that those teams and their coaching staff undoubtedly put in every year, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of collegiate athletics, and one that an esteemed publication such as The Cavalier Daily should work to refute.

If we as a student body wish to emphasize only the activities and choices that reap the highest economic value, then we should probably do a clean sweep of the English, Anthropology and Sociology departments, simply because they do not yield the same numerical value as an economics degree might. By prioritizing the economic importance within collegiate athletics, you are disregarding the founding spirit and original purpose of them, which is to educate individuals about sacrifice and teamwork, to encourage them to push their physical and mental limits, and to ingrain lifelong habits of discipline and strong work ethic.

This does not simply apply to the women’s rowing team. These standards are upheld by every sports team in the University — club, intramural or varsity — and to suggest that they are trumped by the importance of revenue throws a wrench into the system of Jefferson’s initial vision for his University. The exclusive recognition of a select few sports teams on campus serves to prioritize prestige and stigma over achievement and success; it tells young women and men that their importance will be determined on a sliding scale of importance, and that they better hope to be naturally adept at lacrosse or basketball, because swimming and rowing don’t hold the same societal importance.

The women’s rowing team isn’t asking you to come to every race. We don’t need the Hoo Crew to make massive posters of our faces (although we wouldn’t complain if you did), and we aren’t even asking you to stop mimicking the Pocahontas canoeing gesture that we always receive after telling you we row. However, it is crucial that our student body de-stigmatizes the importance of one sport over another. Our school is packed with an unbelievable concentration of talented athletes at every level, and the values and principles that these individuals are learning within daily practice and competition, and the resulting benefits that the University will receive from encouraging its future alumni to participate in these endeavors, are impossible to quantify.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with cheering on our more popular teams, and these teams provide numerous benefits to the school, not excluding the importance of ticket revenues. But collegiate sports are not stagnant. They are growing exponentially, and as other prestigious colleges shift to make room for new athletic groups and endeavors, the University will be left behind if we continue our narrowed focus to a handful of already established teams. The swimming and diving team and the tennis team are two other incredibly successful teams who compete on grounds, and they could also benefit from a little positive buzz. The first step in change is through the spread of information.

There is some good news in spite of everything: our team is used to anonymity. If you ever find yourself on Massie Road at 5 AM on a random weekday, head over to the U-hall arena. You’ll find us there, all 70-plus girls, the engineers, the business students, the Brits and the Jefferson scholars, slugging through an excruciating anaerobic threshold workout, because we have a goal. We are working toward our third National Championship, and we don’t need a piece of paper to tell us to do so.

To the golf, track & field, tennis, squash, baseball, and cross country teams, good luck in your competitions this spring. The rowing team will be watching you, and hopefully The Cavalier Daily will too.

Caroline Burke is a third-year student in the College.

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