Friday, December 19, 2014

The Family Reunion

If you walk into the business office in Jadwin Gym, you'll see a bunch of collages on the wall. If you close the door, you'll see a bunch of holiday cards through the years.

Both of them were originally the work of Phyllis Chase, who used to be the Princeton athletics team travel coordinator.

Phyllis used to take pictures at all of the holiday parties and then get prints made, from which she would deliver one to the person in the picture and then cut up another to turn into that year's collage. Back when Phyllis used to do this, getting two-for-one prints at a photo store was pretty standard.

Phyllis was there last night at the Shea Rowing Center, for the 2014 version of the holiday party. She was there without a camera. Phyllis, TigerBlog believes, finally went to a digital camera, though she still doesn't take pictures with her phone like the rest of the world.

Where was the camera, she was asked? Her response was that she had retired from picture taking duties.

That left the responsibility to Dee Vertucci, who works in the ticket office and at the Jadwin front desk. TigerBlog got into one picture, with men's lacrosse coach Chris Bates and his OAC colleague Craig Sachson.

The collages in the business office always grab TB's attention each time he walks in. Maybe it's because of how many people have come and gone in the years since each one was first put on the wall. Maybe it's because of the changes in appearance - some subtle, some dramatic - of those who are still here.

No two years will ever be exactly the same around here, as there is always turnover. For some, it's a first or second holiday party. For others, they've been going for decades.

As TigerBlog surveyed the scene at the boathouse last night, he had some pretty obvious thoughts. First, he couldn't believe another year had flown by and that it was time for yet another holiday party. He will have the same thought in another blink of an eye, when he's standing at the end-of-year awards banquet, which is now known as the Gary Walters ’67 PVC Awards Banquet.

Second, and more importantly, it doesn't have the feel as much as a work event as it does a family reunion of sorts.

Maybe that's because Princeton's athletic offices are spread throughout the campus, so there are many co-workers those who work, say, in Jadwin, don't see on an everyday basis. And there are also some who come from outside of athletics. And some who come back from their days in athletics.

TigerBlog also can't help but notice that there are several different generations represented at this family party.

All it takes is a quick glance around the room to see people in their 20s - and in their 70s and 80s. There are single people. The newly engaged, as in Jess Guerriero, who is now works in the busines office at the desk at which Phyllis used to sit. Married people. Grandparents.

There are lots of little kids, some of whom are still babies, others of whom are sprinting around the room as their parents either try to keep up or are forced to stop out of exhaustion.

TigerBlog wrote this last year, and it still applies, so he'll copy and paste for a few paragraphs:

As Santa Clauses go, you can't do much better than Princeton water polo coach Luis Nicolao.

In fact, TigerBlog thinks there's a chance that Nicolao is the actual real Santa.

There he was last night, at the Princeton Athletics Christmas party, ho-ho-ho-ing his way into the back of the room at the Shea Rowing Center with his bag of toys for the assembled children. Clearly he was a huge hit for the under-six crowd.

TigerBlog loves the whole little kid-Santa dynamic.

On the one hand, kids will ask all kinds of skeptical questions about the whole Santa experience, or they'll tell each other that the one at the mall - or at the Christmas party - isn't the "real" Santa.

Clearly it makes little sense when viewed with the lens of reality. One man, riding a sleigh driven by eight reindeer, flies all over the world in a 24-hour window, delivering presents to every single child on Earth who makes the "nice" list. Yeah, not too practical.

And yet children want to believe so strongly that they suspend any sense of reality in the name of Santa. Hey, starting in September really, parents of young children can get them to do almost anything they don't want to do simply by saying three words: "Santa is watching."

The fact that children are so willing to believe in a Santa is so refreshingly innocent that TB can't help but smile at the thought of it. And the sight of Nicolao in his best red-and-white outfit last night, surrounded by the kids? It was wonderful.

Hey, TB will be able to past that again next year, he's pretty sure.

One kid whose motivation to say on the "nice" list was really, really strong when he was younger is Keegan Shackford, who would stop doing something "naughty" on a dime with those three simple words that "Santa is watching." The party last night doubled as a going-away event for former women's soccer coach Julie Shackford, and Keegan was there with his mother to celebrate.

Keegan has been a regular at Princeton sporting events since he can remember. He is a 12-year-old ball of energy who inherited his mother's competitiveness and who has been a great soccer player from Day 1.

He was there last night with his buddy Nick Bates, son of Chris Bates. The two appeared to find a place somewhere in the boathouse to play football.

Keegs, as TB always called him, has an incredible, innate ability to look mischievous and charming at the same time. One flash of his smile is really all it takes, and all it has taken through the years, to charm basically every member of the Princeton Athletics family.

Before he left last night, TigerBlog made sure he connected with Keegs one more time, before Keegs and the rest of his family moves to Virginia next week to start the next chapter of their lives.

TigerBlog will surely miss him, and he will always remember all the laughs the two of them had through the years. And that's what TB told him last night. 

But that's how it works in families. Sometimes they move away. Sometimes new members come in.

The Princeton Athletics family continues to be a close-knit one, and it's why Princeton Athletics continues to be, year after year, such a great thing to be a part of and a great place to work. 

Last night was another really nice reminder of that.

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