Why is it that the media freaked out about Trevor May, a UNC basketball player who was present in class between March Madness games? Many Davidson students have heard a similar story at one point or another about a basketball star that had similar success in the NCAA tournament. Steph Curry and the 2008 Davidson men’s basketball team were all seen doing their reading and catching up on problem sets on a red-eye flight back from their Elite 8 loss against Kansas. It seems unlikely that the Xavier team, who was similarly knocked out in that same Elite 8, was going to class that next morning – let alone prepared. And yet, we just shrug at this story. It is something that athletes just do here.
Is it fair that we hold our athletes to a different academic standard than our athletically competitive counterparts? Sure, we can pride ourselves on the work ethic that this will produce and the character that this will show in the real world outside of college. But when we step on the fields, courts, tracks, pools, and mats across the country, our competitive conference counterparts could care less about late night study groups followed by 8:15 classes.
And yet we are competitive on a week-to-week, match-to-match basis. This largely comes from “The Davidson Chip” that our athletes carry around on their shoulders. This additional swagger is what allows us to play up to our competition despite the relative status of our school in the Atlantic 10. Volleyball senior Kelly Friers puts it, “We are where we belong in the A-10. The conference provides us with strong competition across the different sports, but wins and championships are never completely out of reach. In most sports, it would take an excellent, almost perfect, team to get there, but our baseball team proved to us that anything is possible for us.”
The “chip” is directly related to the fact that we don’t fit the typical mold of an A-10 school. The average school size within our conference is about 15,000 and four of those schools have public funding. Men’s soccer senior and recent selection to the Atlantic 10 All-Academic team Cort Coxhead notes that, “From a soccer perspective, we seem to play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder in competitions. I’m not sure what exactly fuels that motivation: could be the fact that we’re the newest team to the A-10 and feel we need to prove ourselves, or that we are one of the smallest school but feel we can still compete.”
It is hard to overstate the incredible feat of Davidson athletics in terms of overcoming our lack of athletic scholarships. Most Davidson teams face the challenge of not being fully funded. As Coxhead puts it, “A lot of A-10 soccer teams have rosters that are heavily international whereas Davidson does not.” He adds that a lot of this comes from the school size and available scholarships. By and large, this causes many teams to approach competition with, as Friers puts it, “a small but mighty attitude about training and competition.”
This additional motivation also comes from the high expectations our athletes. Friers notes that some schools in our conference, “care so much more about their away matches than they do classes, that they will leave for a Friday match on Wednesday morning, missing 3 days of class that week to be able to practice more than once in the gym they are playing in.” Meanwhile, Davidson student-athletes have limits on the number of classes they can miss for athletic travel with which teams must comply. Both Coxhead and Friers state that they are aware that Davidson is both more “academically challenging” and of higher “academic rigor” than many A-10 counterparts.
By and large, “The Davidson Chip” worn on the shoulders of athletes puts themselves in positions to be successful. As Coxhead points out, “ A lot of times the results didn’t go our way, but we out worked many of our competitors.” This was true across all teams this fall, and will likely be the case in the winter and spring seasons because it is part of the Wildcat identity to push for every small victory in competition. “There’s something to be said about the about the athletic department here, and how hard we have to (and do) fight for every possession, point or score,” adds Friers. By doing this, we can successfully, “prove to our competition that they should not be overlooking us.”
Our situation at Davidson is incredibly unique. Nowhere else in the country can you find our level of prestige in the academic and athletic arenas. It is something on which we can pride ourselves, but with which we should never be satisfied. Our position in the A-10 is young and our successes are growing. Our athletic departments will continue to develop and continue to carry this extra chip on its shoulder as successes become more frequent and our prestigious reputation will grow, and that is why each and every day is a great day to be a Wildcat.
Sam Thomas ‘20 is a Political Science and Computer Science Double Major, as well as an athlete on the Cross Country and Track Teams.