Friday, June 1, 2012

And The Winners Are

Rick Fiorito stood under the big tent by the Grad College a little after 9 last night, right at the conclusion of the Princeton Varsity Club Senior Athlete banquet.

Moments earlier, his son Tyler had been one of five winners of the Roper Trophy, given each year to Princeton's top senior male athletes.

And now Rick was reflecting on the night, which TigerBlog assumed included some nostalgia lasting back long before Tyler ever made his first save at McDonogh School, let alone at Princeton.

And that's when Rick summed everything up perfectly and succinctly.

"This is a great honor for him," the father said. "I was looking through the program and the people who won the award in the past. It's quite a list."

It is.

The Roper Trophy goes back to the 1930s, and the list of great Princeton athletes who have won it is wildly impressive.

In addition to Fiorito, the names added to the list this year are Donn Cabral from track and field and cross country, Jon Christensen from swimming and diving Alexander Mills from fencing and Fiorito's lacrosse teammate Chad Wiedmaier.

The von Kienbusch Award only dates to the early 1970s, when women's athletics first began at Princeton. The award is named for Carl Otto von Kienbusch, who legend has it was a big opponent of women at Princeton, until some early women's rowers visited his house in upstate New York. By the time they left, he was so impressed that he endowed the award that honors the top senior female athletes.

This year's winners are track and field/cross country's Alex Banfich, basketball's Lauren Edwards and track and field's Eileen Moran.

The eight athletes who joined those who came before them are now part of an elite company, and that's what Rick Fiorito picked up on in the instant it unfolded.

The banquet itself benefited greatly from something missing during 2010's massive thunderstorms and 2011's sweltering heat and humidity - the fact that it was a perfect weather night.

After a 90-minute reception, the awards program began - in a "big" way.

Devona Allgood, the 6-3 center of the women's basketball team, wore heels that made her about 6-6 or 6-7, and she gave the first of two keynote addresses, with the other given later by men's squash player Clay Blackiston. The first three words of his speech? "I'm not athletic."

Stu Orefice, the head of Dining Services, was honored for his support of the athletic department with the Marvin Bressler Award. Reddy Finney, the longtime headmaster at the Gilman School in Baltimore, received the Class of 1967 Citizen Athlete Award for his contribution to sport and society.

Finney praised the senior athletes for their own community service and said he'd love for them to come to the prestigious Baltimore prep school and get the boys there to follow in their footsteps.

Princeton also gave the Art Lane Award for service to six seniors: Edwards, Wiedmaier, soccer's Manny Sardinha, field hockey player Allison Behringer, swimmer Hannah Cody and tennis player Hilary Bartlett.  Edwards and Wiedmaier became the first two Princeton athletes to win the Lane Award for service and then either the Roper or von Kienbusch.

Phyllis Chase and Inge Radice, with 60 years of service to the department, were both honored as they head into retirement. Douglas Davis was also honored, his for the shot that defeated Harvard in the 2011 Ivy playoff.

Mostly, the night was about giving the more than 200 athletes who are heading off to graduation and then their separate ways next week, one more chance to be together as a group. And to understand that Princeton Athletics was here long before they were and that they will stay connected to each other through the University and the athletic department but especially through their teams.

There is a certain provincial nature of each team, as they cheered for teammates who received awards or when they came up on the screen for the video, but there is also a collective unity among all of them.

As he does every year,  TB thinks back to the first time the athletic class is together, at freshman athlete orientation in early September of the first year's on campus. To that point, they know little about Princeton and almost nobody outside their teammates, and the athletes are clearly segmented team-by-team.

At the banquet, they've been through so much in four years, and their bond extends beyond just their teams.

Just as TB senses how closely they cling to their teammates at orientation, he can also feel how much cross-team respect there is at the banquet.

It's part of what makes the night so special. And it's unique to a school like Princeton, with so many different teams and athletes.

As Rick Fiorito figured out, a big part of the night is how the current class takes its place in the long history of Princeton Athletics.

For the athletes themselves, though, it's mostly about saying goodbye, the start of a few days of parties and then Class Day and graduation.

They get dressed up, the mingle, they laugh, they cheer for their teammates, they honor those who have achieved the most.

TB wishes them all the best. And he thanks them for competing as hard as they did, enduring how they did, and helping Princeton continue its tradition of athletic success - all while making it such a great place for people like TB to work.

They're special people, every last one of them.

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