Friday, October 12, 2012

Sara And Manny

Sara Hendershot had just finished her participation in a two-hour discussion on the past, present and future of women's athletics, and now some of the audience members were coming up to ask questions and talk about how much they enjoyed having her there.

As one man in a suit extended his hand, he mentioned that this was the first time he'd ever shaken hands with an actual Olympian.

There is something extraordinary about having been an Olympian, something that drives people like Hendershot to recommit to getting back there again and that makes people like those in the audience yesterday marvel at that level of dedication and athletic greatness.

The occasion was the College Athletic Administrators of New Jersey's annual symposium and awards luncheon. In the interest of full disclosure, TigerBlog is now the president of the organization.

Hendershot was joined on the panel by Erin Buzuvis, a lawyer/blogger/professor at Western New England whose specialty is Title IX issues, and Linda Yost, Associate Director of Athletics at Stockton State in South Jersey. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Yost had been an assistant basketball coach at Brooklyn College and had been involved in a very contentious Title IX suit.

The panel discussion began with Yost's story, about how Brooklyn College basically turned its women's program into a complete underclass in every way possible. The resulting lawsuit was a slamdunk win for the women - except that the school decided to drop all athletics as a response.

Brooklyn College was at that time in the East Coast Conference, a league that then included Rider. TB covered a few Rider-Brooklyn College games and never once suspected anything was up Title IX-wise, or, for that matter, would have thought to consider it.

Maybe it's because he saw some of it first-hand and definitely because it wasn't that long ago, but when TB listened to Yost, he couldn't help but be amazed at what was going on.

As TB has often said here, the idea that Princeton would in this day and age engage in an institutional decision to favor men's teams over women's teams in areas like practice times, scheduling, athletic communications, athletic medicine, strength and conditioning, facilities or any of it is unimaginable. It's just not even conceivable that someone in the administration here would suggest doing so in the first place.

It's easy for an audience like the one at the CAANJ event yesterday - which featured many young men and women who are just starting out in careers in college athletics - to forget that women like Yost as recently as 20 years ago had to put up with situations like the one at Brooklyn College.

Of course, for the ones who think that it's okay to go back to those days, there is Buzuvis, who spoke about current issues still related to Title IX compliance - such as double-counting of women athletes on multiple rosters, sports that don't fit the true definition of an NCAA competition and even sexual assault on campus.

And she does more than just talk about. She is actively involved nationally in the legal issues that continue to arise these days.

As for Hendershot, her story was one of a girl who grew up exposed to any number of athletic opportunities and eventually pursued rowing, in part because of the expanding number of college opportunities for women in the sport.

She spoke about her experiences at Princeton, how she made it up through the national team ladder all the way to two world championships in fours (one with the U23 team, one with the full national team) and ultimately to the London Olympics, where she finished fourth in pairs, 0.2 seconds away from a medal. She also pointed out that American women won more medals than American men and that, for the first time ever, there were 1) women competing in every sport that men competed in, with the addition of women's boxing, and 2) more American women Olympians than men.

She talked about rededicating herself in college when she thought she wasn't giving her best, and she talked about wanting to get back to the Olympics in 2016, how the Olympic experience was beyond her wildest dreams. She spoke about coming back from a broken rib that almost kept her from the Olympics, how she and her teammates struggle to make ends meet while committing full-time to training, how she's lived in the houses of strangers (through a program that U.S. Rowing created) because she had no money to be anywhere else.

It's hard to imagine someone making a better impression on a room full of people than Hendershot did. In fact, when the discussion was opened up to Q&A, the first one for her was if she'd ever considered motivational speaking as a career path.

After that, it was time for the awards luncheon.

Princeton again won the CAANJ Cup as the top Division I/II athletic program in New Jersey.

The ridiculously impressive Manny Sardinha was honored as the Division I/II student-athlete of the year, for his performance with the men's soccer team and his very long list of off-the-field academic and service accomplishments. He spoke about having been given the opportunity to pursue those accomplishments and not just being an athlete during his college career.

There were six student-athlete winners, a male and female from the junior college and Division III ranks, as well as the Division I/II. If you're keeping score, the junior college Cup went to Gloucester Community College, and the Division III one went to Stevens Institute of Technology.

In all there are 44 colleges in New Jersey, and five conference offices are also based in the state. Each year, TigerBlog marvels at the different stories the athletes tell about their experiences, the different backgrounds they come from - the men's junior college winner came to this country with his mother from Russia - and the different challenges that each of the schools face.

Ultimately, he leaves again remembering how lucky he is to work at Princeton, at a place that every day challenges those who come here to either work or study and demands excellence from them. It's a University that is very clear about about its values, and it doesn't compromise them for anyone.

At the same time, it's also a school with a huge endowment and with advantages that many of the schools at the CAANJ event could never imagine. As such, there is a responsibility among those like TB to appreciate what they have here and to never take it for granted.

For TB, though, it's always, always about the people here, and the last two days have been a reminder of that and also a reminder to never take that end of it for granted.

How can he, when he works at a place that includes people like Bob Callahan, whose Hall of Fame induction TB was at Wednesday night, and Sara Hendershot and Manny Sardinha, whom TB was left to marvel at yesterday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your election. May the one on November 6 go as well for the country.