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Wildcat at heart

By Todd Eckstein
On September 26, 2012

            As I am writing this perspective, I am sitting in the golf team van en route to our second tournament of the fall in Nashville. We are about four hours into the drive, filled up with some Five Guys for dinner, with about three hours left to go on our journey. I looked around the van a few minutes ago after waking up from a nap, checking in on what my teammates were up to. It was at that exact moment when I realized why Davidson College athletics are different than the experience of every other student athlete in the country.


            There have been a number of things that have made my career special thus far at Davidson, and make me, as Randy Carey would say, ruthlessly proud to be a Wildcat. Much of the joy I find in playing golf for Davidson is found in the time I get to spend with my teammates and coach. Not to make this sound like a mushy open note to the guys, but I have played on baseball, basketball, and golf teams since middle school, and never have I experienced the camaraderie I have with our group this year. Our facilities are also incredible; the support we receive from the members at River Run has helped our program improve on a daily basis. The competition we face on a week-to-week basis is exciting, knowing that I'll be playing against some of the best amateur golfers in the world on beautiful courses.


            While these have all made my time at Davidson special, friends playing different sports at other schools boast of the same benefits of which I have spoken.


            As I look around our van, I see one teammate writing a computer program for an economics course, one working on a political science paper, and another taking pictures of the gorgeous sunset over the Appalachian mountains for a future art project. Now before you put words in my mouth, I am not about to say that we at Davidson champion the cliched adage that "student" comes first in the label of "student-athlete." That would belittle what lies before a recruit when they accept a spot on a Davidson athletic team. What we do as student-athletes at Davidson, more so than any other group of student-athletes in the country, is embrace challenge.


            When I received my National Letter of Intent to sign in the fall of 2010, there was no disclaimer stating,


            "We, the administration and athletic department of Davidson College, expect you to succeed and win at the Division I level and thrive in the classroom, where we have the toughest workload manageability in the country."


            But this is what every Davidson student-athlete before, during, and after my time here is asked to do. It is an encouragement to me to look at our collective athletic past and see that there has been a great deal of success, both in the classroom and in competition. Many of us know of the basketball Elite Eight run in 2008, but there have been many wins, conference champions, academic All-Americans, great test grades, high GPA's and other accolades achieved by our former athletes. And, before I start to sound too romantic about this idea, there have been failures as well. I will be the first to say that I have already had my fair share of poor play on the course and shoddy test grades. But I wouldn't have it any other way, and neither would many of the student-athletes currently on our campus.


            I have heard many, both in passing and in serious conversation, question the place of athletics in a community like Davidson, one that so values the holistic development of the mind. I believe Davidson truly strives to, as said in the College statement of purpose, "emphasize those studies, disciplines, and activities that are mentally, spiritually, and physically liberating." In my own humble opinion, the operation of a Division I athletics program is an absolutely essential component of achieving this liberation. For the men and women representing our school in competition, developing the mind extends beyond the everyday, though extraordinary, challenge of Davidson's academic rigor. Athletes especially must learn to be balanced and disciplined while maintaining an intense desire to win in order to achieve all those unwritten expectations.


            Davidson is a place where one is being challenged constantly, especially by contesting thoughts or contrasting ideals. We are always told that counter-arguments must be addressed in arguments, even if we completely disagree with the logic they follow. The counter-argument Davidson student-athletes constantly hear is full of, "It would be easier if..." statements. Some schools have eliminated these thoughts, giving their athletes the path of least resistance from an athletic point of view. Our administration and student body values the development of the person as a whole to the point where there is no such thing as a path of least resistance for our student-athletes. Such a path is the only way to train and foster athletes who desire "disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service."


            So to the athletic department and supporters, thank you for all you do in order to create such a unique opportunity to develop the athlete's mind and body. I hope that the standards put forth for Davidson student-athletes are never lowered, for we should expect less than balanced success.


            To my fellow students, thank you for supporting Davidson athletics so passionately. I hope that the closeness of our student body continues to strengthen as we support those who take the field wearing red and black.


            And to my fellow student-athletes, let me exhort you to fully embrace the task that lies before you. There are very few people who have the courage to accept the challenge you are facing. There's a reason you're a Davidson athlete; you came to Davidson not only to face that challenge, but to conquer it. When there's a struggle, remember that struggle is a privilege earned, since you are one of the few who can overcome it. You are a Wildcat at heart; continue to face the challenge head-on, and never lose appreciation for this incredible opportunity.

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