Thursday, August 20, 2015

Challenge Accepted

Mary Sutton is leaving for college today.

Mary, the daughter of Princeton's longtime ticket manager Stephanie Sutton, is off to Loyola, the one in Baltimore. She will run cross country and track and field there, as well as presumably go to classes and such.

TigerBlog wishes her well. She's three days older than TigerBlog Jr., and she was born two rooms over from where TBJ was, in the old hospital that used to be on Witherspoon Street. Because they were so close in age, they reached pretty much every milestone at the same time, including now going to college, something Mary will have beaten TBJ to by nine days.

TB wishes Mary the best as she heads to school. Like TBJ, she spent a lot of her youth on this campus, and like TBJ, Mary long ago lost track of just how athletic events she's seen here.

Mary won 12 varsity letters at Princeton High School, four each in cross country, basketball and track and field. Only one women's athlete in Princeton University history has ever won 12 letters - TigerBlog will give you a few paragraphs to name her.

In the meantime, TigerBlog stumbled onto an article yesterday that asked 11 Huffington Post (okay, it was forwarded to TB) employees about their experiences as college athletes.

Of the 11, nine had glowingly positive things to say about their experiences. Two - including a former Harvard football player whose career was derailed by three straight years of torn ACLs - didn't have the same memories of their time playing in college.

Interestingly, none of the athletes said "I was a star and the team won championships" and that was why they had a good experience. No, they all talked about the things that are always talked about at Princeton Athletics - teammates, the educational value of athletics, the overall experience, the way it prepared them for life. 

The first of TigerBlog Jr.'s friends to leave for school is his best bud, Matthew Anderson, who heads to Chestnut Hill tomorrow. When Matthew went to orientation, the president of CHC told the incoming freshmen how excited the school is to be fielding a sprint football team and that its first game ever will be against Princeton. 

Matthew and TBJ first played lacrosse together in fourth grade, which was actually TBJ's third year of playing.

Back then, playing lacrosse meant Lower Bucks Lacrosse, a local youth organization for players in grades 1-8. At the time, there was a pretty good in-house competition and a few games against some of the other local organizations.

TigerBlog ran the first- and second-grade league  - that's what happens when you wear "Princeton Lacrosse" gear to registration, which back then was at the municipal building and not yet online - and coached a team starting in third grade. He remembers getting destroyed in the first outside game in third game and wondering just how far down the lacrosse food chain LBL was.

As it turned out, it wasn't very far down at all. It turned out that TB and his son had stumbled onto some of the best youth lacrosse in the country. 

In all, TBJ played high school, youth or club lacrosse with 29 kids/men who will be playing in college beginning in the next few days, ranging from the highest levels of Division I through DII and DIII. Two of his other teammates will be playing football instead of lacrosse. One will be playing soccer. 

And they're all heading out soon to get started.

Of that group of 29, six will be playing against Princeton this year: Connor Howell (Stony Brook), Jack Auteri (Dartmouth), Zach Drake (Lehigh), Matt Brown and Grant Toller (NJIT - secret's out, Princeton opens with NJIT this year) and Curtis Zappala (Maryland). TigerBlog will state for the record that of all the players TBJ played with, Curtis was the best one.

Oh, and speaking of Princeton, the answer to the trivia question is Emily Goodfellow, who lettered four times each in field hockey, squash and lacrosse.

Meanwhile, will all 29 have good experiences? No chance. For that matter will all 29 still be on rosters when they're seniors? Highly unlikely.

But still, right now, they're all off to find out what is in store for them.

As for TBJ, he leaves a week from Saturday for Sacred Heart University. His arm is still in a sling, six weeks after surgery to repair a labrum tear in his shoulder.

This makes move-in something of a challenge. The doctor and his physical therapist have told him he can start to wean himself from the sling but that he needs to be really careful about lifting his arm up and about carrying anything heavy.

So can he go move into college with no sling on his arm and not carry anything while his parents do all the work? He'll look like a spoiled jerky kid/man that nobody will like.

On the other hand, his definition of "wean yourself from sling" is "take sling off and burn it."

For all of the 29, the opportunity and desire to play college varsity lacrosse impacted - and in fact drove - the choice of school. This doesn't mean that this was the only factor or that academics played no role. That wouldn't be true.

But for serious and skilled athletes, there's nothing wrong with having that be a huge part of the college experience.

It's a grueling world to be a college athlete, that's for sure.

TigerBlog has tried to get TBJ to understand this. His dream has always been to play Division I lacrosse, and now he gets to live out his dream - but he has to understand what he's signed up for.

He's going to need to be able to balance the needs of academics with those of athletics (and in his case, rehab). It won't be easy. TB has said this a million time, but between school, sports and fun, he'll only have time for two. The ones who get in trouble will be the ones who choose the sports and fun piece above school.

On the other hand, athletes are by definition forced to learn to handle more than non-athletes, and they are forced to develop good habits or they have no chance of being successful.

TigerBlog has been contacting the incoming freshmen for the men's lacrosse team about bios and such. They're in the same place as the 29 kids TBJ played with, only they're coming here.

Like TBJ, they have no idea what to expect when they get here. There's no way to know it until you go through it, TigerBlog supposes.

And like TBJ, they're finishing up their summers with their old friends, getting ready to pack and head to school and wondering what their immediate futures hold.

Being a college athlete isn't easy. It takes a lot of time and physical and mental determination.

They all do it because they love it.

They all love the idea of being able to play their sport at the next level, whether it's Mary Sutton and running or all these lacrosse kids or the rest of the athletes coming here to play 38 different sports.

They're accepting the challenge. It's not for everyone. 

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