Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Senior Day

TigerBlog Jr.'s car needs to be inspected in April in Pennsylvania.

The only problem is that the car is in Connecticut, at Sacred Heart University, which isn't anywhere near where it needs to be inspected. TigerBlog, out of the goodness of his heart, said he would take TBJ's car back from Sacred Heart's game against St. Joe's Saturday to get it inspected and leave TBJ his car, on two conditions: 1) TBJ's car be cleaned out and 2) TB's car needs to be in the exact condition he left it with his son when he returns it.

TigerBlog should have included two other things on that list: 3) it needs to not be almost completely out of gas and 4) perhaps make sure the "low tire pressure" light isn't on.

Anyway, that's what happened when TB took the car Saturday. It was clean. It had no gas. And the front passenger side tire needed air.

Oh well.

TigerBlog was at SHU Saturday because it was Senior Day for the men's lacrosse team, of which TBJ is a four-year member. TB wrestled long and hard with the decision of whether to go to Senior Day or to go to Dartmouth for the Princeton men's lacrosse game before deciding the right thing to do would be to go to Sacred Heart.

Actually, he asked the men's lacrosse coaches last week before the game at Stony Brook what they thought, and they unanimously said he had to go to Senior Day.

As he considered it, TigerBlog never really considered what Senior Day meant, mostly because of what his own experience has been with it through the years here at Princeton across any number of sports. Senior Day has always been, well, a pain, since he's often had to write a script, or read the names on the PA, or both.

Senior Day has always been something that's messed with the timeline for starting the game. From a logistical standpoint, it's been an inconvenience.

That was before he was actually part of one from the other side, as a senior parent, the way he was Saturday. Now his whole view of it has changed.

The Senior Day at Sacred Heart was the same as the ones he's seen at Princeton. Before the game began, the seniors and their parents lined up alphabetically, captains at the end, and then they walked out to the middle of the field to be greeted by the coaching staff. Nothing special, right?

Well, not exactly.

For TigerBlog, it was a reminder of what college athletics - his profession for the last 30 years - is about. It's about educating young people while they compete in the sport they love to play, and the extraordinary life lessons that they learn while they're doing it.

It was a reminder that each athlete has a unique experience, with different levels of success or failure, with different outcomes.

Look at TBJ. He was SHU's starting goalie as a freshman, when he was named a member of the Northeast Conference All-Rookie Team. He was a backup as a sophomore who got thrown into a game late in the year when the starting goalie was injured, and he responded with a performance that earned him NEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

But he's a goalie, and, like a quarterback, only one usually plays. All the time. And so for TigerBlog Jr., he's spent a lot of time on the bench his last two years.

Hey, that's how life is some times. You have to work through it and be ready if your time comes, and you have to understand that it might not ever come again. And you have to do whatever you can to make your team better, which in the case of the backup goalie means seeing a lot of shots in practice.

Not everyone wants to tough it out. TBJ did, and he will draw on that experience often as his life unfolds.

And there he was at Senior Day Saturday, as much a part of the team and his class as anyone. And he did get in on Senior Day though. He made a save and didn't allow a goal and played the final five minutes of his team's 19-4 win over St. Joe's.  

Afterwards there was a dinner for the seniors and their parents. And a reminder of what it means to be part of a team and what college athletics can do for young people.

It came from Jake Wilson, a senior who hasn't played much in a career shortened by injuries. He was asked to say a few words during the dinner, and he took about 30 seconds to sum it up all so perfectly.

He talked about how they came from all over to be part of Sacred Heart lacrosse. And then he said this:

"When we look back at our four years here, we're all going to wish we could do it all over again."

It was so true. And, as TB said, so perfect.

They would all do it all over again.

So would all of the athletes who have competed here at Princeton all these years. And for all of those who made it to Senior Day, TigerBlog apologizes for viewing it as an inconvenience, or something that messed up the timeline.

It's so much more than that.

It's emotional. It's rewarding. It's stunning, as everyone always says the same thing - those four years went fast.

And more than anything else, it's a reaffirmation of what that team, and whatever group of athletes who are in that particular class, mean to each other. 

TigerBlog never really considered any of that before. 

He'll never look at Senior Day the same way again. 

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