The glory of Division III athletics
Welcome to Division III sports. It is here that Washington University lays its allegiance, and despite the stellar athletic programs the University boasts, you won’t see thousands of fans storming the Washington University Field House any time soon. Nor will you see a number of Bears athletes moving onto professional leagues following graduation. And there’s no chance in hell that you’ll see more fans at the basketball game than at your weekly Beirut tournament, that’s for sure. But this is all we have, and beggars can’t be choosers.
Division III Sports: Don’t Knock It ‘Til You’ve Tried It
Let’s face it-Division III sports teams don’t hold a candle to your favorite NCAA sports team you go crazy for during March Madness. But that’s not to say that rooting for your Washington University Bears and attending games like you did for your high school football team should automatically be discounted because they’re Division III. Though the level of play may not be up to par with future NBA players, and the biggest rivalry you’ll see in the Bears’ conference-the University Athletic Association (UAA), a.k.a. “The Smart School Conference”-is probably with Emory University or Brandeis University, there are some unique features of Division III play that you won’t get anywhere else.
First, all D-III athletes must be students before athletes. No varsity athlete can have an athletic scholarship and, at least at Washington University, all athletes must first be accepted to the school through the same process and requirements that all other students go through. So what you see from our athletes proudly wearing the Red and Green is first and foremost a group of people who actually attend class, something you won’t see from the likes of most top NBA draft picks. In Division III, if a player’s GPA drops below a minimum requirement, he is suspended from athletic activities until he can bring his GPA back, regardless of who he is.
The ironic thing about this policy, however, is that for the overwhelming majority of these student-athletes at the University, keeping the GPA up is never a problem. The average GPAs of all the varsity athletes was significantly higher than the average GPAs of the rest of the student body last year, so it seems like these talented people have the Superman-like powers to balance a year-round athletic career with the demanding rigors of Wash. U. academia.
Being a varsity athlete is no walk in the park. A typical day can involve waking up at 5-6 a.m. to lift weights and train for a couple of hours, followed by five hours of intense class like organic chemistry lab, grabbing a quick bite to eat before a biology exam, then heading straight to a grueling afternoon practice. After that is a stop for dinner, then it’s straight to the library for a couple hours of well-managed and focused studying. Next: bedtime.
You really have to admire what a varsity athlete goes through during the year-an athlete’s social life during the season is basically reduced to nothing. Every day is an arduous battle just to get through it all, and yet if you ask just about any athlete, not one of them would give it up for anything. Though many fans might not seem to give a hoot, every athlete bleeds Red and Green through and through.
Bear Sports: “These Guys Ain’t Too F-ing Bad!”
So here’s a group of Division III athletes who do better than most University students in the classroom while also taking on the full responsibilities of a varsity athlete-clearly the Bears have too much going on to win games, right?
Wrong. Year after year we have teams competing for national championships and winning conference titles, and we have players pitching no-hitters and winning spots on All-American teams. Believe it or not, Washington University athletics are actually very successful across the board. When you have your volleyball team winning the National Championship what seems to be every year, or your softball team being the No. 1 ranked team in the nation before falling to the defending national champion in the Regional Finals, or when just about every other University team wins the UAA Conference Title every year, it proves that not only are these excellent students, but gifted athletes as well.
Division III athletics may not be the most glamorous thing in the world, but it can definitely be something that will surprise you if given the chance. And even if you’re not that much into Bear sports, going to home games and events are a great way to get free food. Red Alert is a student group that works to attract fans to go to home games by giving them all the free Dominos pizza they can eat. Add that to the potential prizes that can be won through raffles, and you just might have a great reason to show up.
Despite its relatively small size, Washington University athletics can be very exciting and worthwhile, and you would be doing a disservice to both yourself and your Bear athletes who put so much into representing the Red and Green by missing out.
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