Friday, May 30, 2014

A Night At The Grad College

There's really only one place to start to talk about last night's Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet.

And that's with Luis Nicolao's butt.

There it was, Luis' butt, on display for all at the Grad College to see. Well, sort of.

At an event where the men wore suits and ties and the women wore dresses, Luis, the men's and women's water polo coach, wore, what else?, a Speedo.

TigerBlog isn't sure why. He thinks Luis promised Ford Family Director of Athletics Gary Walters that he would wear it to the banquet, and so he did.

And this wasn't just any Speedo. This was one with Gary's picture and the words "Education Through Athletics" displayed on the, well, rear.

This was during the cocktail hour - 90 minutes, actually - of the event. It's a time for mixing and mingling, seeing some of the familiar faces that have been part of the landscape and fabric of Princeton Athletics for the last four years, a group of young people whose athletic journey at Princeton has come and gone in the blink of an eye and who now stand a few days away from graduation.

One of the first athletes that TigerBlog saw when he arrived was men's lacrosse player Jack Strabo, and TB was instantly taken back to his first interaction with the soon-to-be alum.

TB wanted to take head shots of the incoming freshman lacrosse players. Email Jack Strabo, head coach Chris Bates said. He'll arrange the whole thing.

And so he did. And Strabo did in fact set up all of those head shots. When the allotted time came, there were all of Princeton's freshmen men's lacrosse players. It was the first time TB ever talked to Tom Schreiber, and he remembers saying something about how he'd heard Schreiber was supposed to be pretty good.

That was back in September of 2010. That's a long time ago. To TB it seems like not that long ago at all. To the members of the Princeton Athletics Class of 2014, it must seem like yesterday.

Strabo wasn't as highly recruited as Schreiber. When he was arranging the head shots, he probably had no sense of what his road at Princeton would be like. It might never have dawned on him that he would become a four-year starter at shortstick defensive midfield, that he'd become one of the best to play that position at Princeton, that he'd also earn some other honors, like being named a team captain, Academic All-Ivy League and ultimately a USILA Scholar All-America.

They all took their own paths from September 2010 to last night. Some exceeded expectations. Others didn't.

Chris Clement thought he was going to be the starting point guard for four years and lead the Tigers in points, assists and steals each year, just as he had in high school. Ultimately, he would start only a handful of games in his career.

 How does TB know this? Clement said it in his keynote address, one of two given each year, one by a male athlete and the other by a female, Gabby Guzman of the women's soccer team in this case. It's always fascinating to hear what direction a senior athlete will take that speech, and in the case of Clement and Guzman, they spoke about their own experiences in the larger context of the experience of an entire class - and what ultimately they were able to learn about themselves during that experience.

The banquet included a warm welcome and ovation for Mollie Marcoux, after Gary introduced his successor. There was also the presentation of the annual awards.

Richard Stengel (longtime editor at Time magazine and now a member of the Obama Administration) and Roger Gordon (longtime, well, good guy who was always doing things for this group or that group and only years later did TigerBlog find out that he was also a judge in Philadelphia) shared the Citizen-Athlete Award for contribution to sport and society.

Neil Pomphrey, the assistant men's squash coach, was given the Bressler Award for his support for the University's athletes. His speech included a tribute to one of the greatest movies he'd ever seen on the squash bus, "The Big Lebowski," which sounded even funnier when he said it with his Scottish accent.

There were five winners of the Art Lane Award, sort of the Citizen-Athlete Award for the seniors: Jack Berger from men's hockey, Sarah Lloyd from women's lacrosse, Christina Maida from field hockey, Diane Metcalf-Leggette from women's soccer and Schreiber, from men's lacrosse. TigerBlog writes the first draft of Gary's script each year, and each year he marvels at what these students are able to do, all in addition to being students and athletes at Princeton.

A pair of divers - Rachel Zambrowicz and Randi Brown - shared the Class of 1916 Cup for having the highest GPA among the senior athletes. That's a lot of GPA one one diving board.

There were five Roper Trophy winners and five von Kienbusch Award winners for the outstanding senior male and female athletes. The Roper winners were Schreiber, football player Caraun Reid, track and field athletes Damon McLean and Tom Hopkins and baseball player Alec Keller. The von Kienbusch winners were field hockey's Julia Reinprecht and Michelle Cesan, fencing's Susannah Scanlan, golfer Kelly Shon and swimmer Lisa Boyce.

And then there was one other award, and it was for TigerBlog the highlight of the night. It was the Lorin Maurer Award, named for the former Friends' Group coordinator at Princeton who was killed in a plane crash more than five years ago and given to honor a member of the Department of Athletics.

When Clement was finished with his speech, he called up Frank Sowinski, the former men's basketball player and head of the PVC board. He then introduced the 2014 winner of the Lorin Maurer Award, Gary Walters himself.

Lorin's parents Scott and Terry Maurer were there, and Scott said a few words about what Gary had meant to his family, how appreciative he and his wife were of the fact that Lorin had the opportunity to work at Princeton in the first place and how touched they were that Gary had made that phone call back when ... well. He never finished the sentence. He didn't have to. Everyone knew what phone call he meant.

Earlier in the night, at the cocktail hour, Scott and Terry had spoken to TigerBlog about Lorin. They thanked TB for writing about her each year on the anniversary of her death, and TB tried to explain that he does so to keep her memory alive, as fewer and fewer people who worked with her still work at Princeton.

He found himself not finishing sentences either, because really some of those sentences are hard to finish. It's why he understood perfectly why Scott Maurer wasn't finishing his sentence, and why he didn't have to, because everyone understood.

Gary was touched by the moment, of course. He spoke briefly about Lorin and said what was so true, that the person being honored wasn't Gary but was really Lorin. From the perspective of someone who knew her and worked with her, TigerBlog knew it was a wonderful moment.

The night, as always, leads up to the senior athlete video, which used to be a TigerBlog project but which this year was taken over by John Bullis, Princeton's first full-time video creator. When TB showed Bullis, a professional filmmaker, his video of last year and asked for a grade from 1-10, Bullis said it was "a solid six."

The best part of the video is always the picture-by-picture tribute to each graduation senior, each with an action shot, each being cheered on by teammates and friends. Each year TB marvels at just how many athletes compete in each class at Princeton.

And now they're former Princeton athletes, except for the handful who are still competing and couldn't be there last night. Now it's time for Reunions, for all of the fun that goes along with it, and then graduation.

And then it's time to move forward from this University.

As Gary said: "Most of you will go on to careers and lives that will take you far from where we are currently gathered. Whatever path you take, I'm pretty confident that you too will remember Princeton University the way I do, as a place that challenged you every day, improved you every day, made you work as hard as you could to achieve and ultimately left you very much changed from the person you were when you arrived here."

Last night was to celebrate that path, the one that this class took together from back in late summer 2010 to last night, a chilly night at the Grad College.

Good luck to them all.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TB, I would like to order one men's large and one women's medium Gary Walters "Education Through Athletics" Speedo. Please advise on how to remit payment. Thank you.