Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quite The Juxtaposition

Tomorrow night is the annual Princeton Varsity Club Senior-Athlete Awards banquet. It's an event held the Thursday of Reunions each year, and it gives the graduating senior athletes a chance to gather as a group for a final time.

The night features numerous awards, including one to someone on the Princeton campus whose work has benefited student-athletes, another to an alum who has worked for the betterment of "sport and society," and awards to current senior athletes for academic achievement and service. The night ends with the awarding of the Roper Trophy and von Kienbusch Award to the very best male and female athletes in the class (and a video, if TigerBlog gets around to finishing it today).

The Roper Trophy is named for William Winston Roper, whose 89 wins in the early 1900s remain the most ever by a Tiger football coach. The von Kienbusch Award is named for C. Otto von Kienbusch, who graduated in 1906 and went on to a long career as an art collector. Legend has it that C. Otto had been a big opponent of co-education at Princeton in his later life, but he was won over by a group of early female athletes who traveled to his home in upstate New York to the point that he endowed the award that is now presented annually. C. Otto died in 1976.

TigerBlog always juxtaposes another gathering of all of the athletes in the class, freshman student-athlete orientation, with the PVC banquet. As an aside, TB had a teacher in high school whose absolute favorite word in the English language was "juxtaposition."

While at freshman athlete orientation, TigerBlog always looks around the room, wondering whose bios will be written into the banquet script four years later as the major award winners. Sometimes it's the most hyped recruits who enter; sometimes not.

Either way, TigerBlog sees a group at the banquet that is smaller than at freshman athlete orientation, as attrition will always be a part of Ivy League and college athletics. At orientation, there are athletes who are anxious, excited, unsure of what their experience here will be. At the banquet, there are athletes who have had four injury-free years as a starter and others who spent more time in the training room than in the lineup.

At freshman orientation, everybody's record at Princeton is 0-0. At the banquet, the memory of in varying degrees epic wins and excruciating losses are seared into the memories of the athletes, never to be forgotten.

At freshman orientation, the room is filled with strangers who are just getting to know their teammates, the other athletes and the people whose job it is to try to help them have the best experience they can. At the banquet, the room is filled with people whose bond formed over the previous four years is one that will last in many cases forever.

At freshman orientation, the room features brand-new Princeton athletes who can't possibly fathom that their time on this campus is finite and that the ability to play their sport on this level is a great gift. At the banquet, there are those who stuck with it through graduation, and they all say the same exact words when TigerBlog reminds them of that one hour in McCosh 50 four Septembers ago:

"I can't believe it went this fast."

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