ATLANTA, GEORGIA - It’s the most wonderful time of the year! College sports are so close, you can almost taste it. And with that, we take a look at just why they are so important not just to football stars and big names, or to the culture at large, but your typical everyman and woman on the campus.
The sun rises between the giant neon BILTMORE letters in the east, somewhere between Ponce City Market and the Clermont Lounge on the horizon. It’s dark on west campus. Somewhere in the gloom, a swimmer scurries from Maulding into the back of the McAuley Aquatic Center. It’s time to get to work.
I noticed this as I walked into church this morning, North Avenue Presbyterian, a stately grey stone building on the corner of Peachtree and North in Midtown, to be exact, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking of the middle of August as the true new year. Whether it’s the hot August sun of high school marching band camps, the first youth swimming or hockey or soccer practices of the year, or, [Hootie and the Blowfish], the lights of a random Thursday night NFL preseason game, this is the time all things seem new. The home stretch of baseball turns a leaf from lazy summer days into the electric final chase towards the playoffs. Or perhaps a certain gameday is coming to your city. The good readers of From the Rumble Seat know this feeling well.
Surprise, it’s dread. Go get your syllabi and weep for the four midterms on one cruel Thursday in October.
They most often say hope springs eternal on that first bright, sunny March day. It’s famously a baseball term, and brings back certain visions of bricks and ivy, hot dogs and cubbie blue sadness, but it really comes from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man, his noted take on John Milton’s inaugural premise in his epic Paradise Lost. Pope take on the natural order God has set out for man was satirized by Voltaire in Candide, most famous as a Leonard Bernstein operetta, which I mention simply because I’m fond of Bernstein’s show. But Pope’s point, that since men do not know the ways God has set out, whatever is, is correct, is helpful for when we think about a lot in life. Perhaps you can see where I’m going here.
It’s a stormy morning. Time ticks from hour to hour as a sleepy lecture drones on. No one expressly wants to be sitting in that lecture hall in that class with that lecturer, per se, save for a uniting drive to attain a degree and get out into whatever grand thing comes next. There’s a certain dull, midweek feeling that is pervasive, hard to shake, yet so comforting. It’s sameness. Routine.
There aren’t 55,000 seats in Mewborn Field, or live television coverage of tennis. Club sports get little attention, barring the occasional shoutout in the Daily Digest or, if I happen to find something out, in this space. Yet there’s kids who run headlong into the culture of sport on campus. The vast majority of them, from the football scout team, to the basketball walk-ons, to the kid in the bow of the boat at a crew regatta toil in obscurity. Speaking from personal experience, there’s not a lot of glory in being a club swimming distance freestyler. There’s probably not much more in being a backup punter, or kicker, or graduate assistant. No one writes articles about club tennis. But, whether it’s for love of sport or community or opportunity to contribute, everywhere from the Stamps Fieldsto Peters’ Parking Deck are kids honing a craft. The weight room is a quiet place at 6:00 in the morning. But it’s not empty.
The three o’clock rays are brutal and blinding, the Atlanta humidity thick enough to congeal and run like soup down hills, but it’s time for a run. Hard work might bring another chance at a freezing cold race in a place like Madison, Wisconsin.
It’s shamefully easy to roll your eyes at marketing speak. A lot of outsiders hear a “Total Person Program” or the “Fifth Street Bridge” idea and roll their eyes. Okay, sure. It’s sports. But is it?
To some, it’s the chance their father or mother never got. But now it’s theirs. To stand on the shoulders of the family who came before you, to be held up with the outstretched arm of tuition, room and board, or just plain hope.
To a lot, it’s life lessons. From coaches, mentors, role models, or peers. Inside and outside the explicit context of sport.
To others, it’s a craft. Something to have pride in. Something to call your own.
To many, it’s health or mental well-being.
To very, very few, it’s fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams.
To nearly all, it’s friends. Family. Feeling like you belong. Being a part of something bigger than yourself.
I won’t hear it that non-revenue sports garner little attention and therefore little value. I won’t hear it that club athletes are inferior. I won’t hear it that bench players don’t matter. Those are lies. Every day can’t be Saturday. There’s a reason it isn’t. Sure the lights are brightest and the stories the wildest when toe meets leather on the Flats. Heaven knows I’m a Tech football fan through and through. But the devil lies in the details. What about Juanyeh Thomas rising before the sun for a morning workout? What about the hours Lucas Johnson spends rehabbing his Achilles? If ever day were Saturday, would Saturday - you know what I mean, college football saturday - really have the same luster? The reason the Ramblin’ Reck leading several dozen young men onto a field seven times a year is special not just for the car or the players, but, really, because it only happens seven times a year. We can’t bottle that feeling. In the winter, we wait for it to come again, much like one who visits Southern California once a year must await his rare return to eat an In-and-Out burger. If every day was Saturday, what would Saturday be?
The same holds true for athletes and sports. Not everything is football. Not everything should be football. If everyone was famous and everything on television commended every second of our attention every day, that would be utterly exhausting. There is no vacation from that. And yet, that’s kind of what the sports that find their quiet home here are. I can’t believe this is the two year anniversary of the birth of this column.
Not everyone is Tobias Oliver. Not every athlete can be Jose Alvarado. But just because a casual Tech fan wouldn’t know your name or stop you on the street doesn’t make you worth nothing. Or even guess that you were an athlete.
The setting sun is a finale. It can no longer make our garden grow. And though that might predate the laying down of a pencil, closing of a laptop, leaving a batting cage, or taking off a swim cap or skates, it goes and rises right again in the morning.
There’s going to be a lot that happens this year that you won’t like. Be it on the football field, the basketball court, baseball diamond, or maybe somewhere else, you’re going to see something and not like it. Whatever is, is right, as Pope would argue. But right now, hope springs eternal.
And that’s true for every sport. For the ones who will be famous, or are already. For the sailor and the lacrosse brother. For rugby and golf, cheerleaders and water polo. There’s a wide world of sports out there between Northside Drive and West Peachtree. Every one of those athletes wakes up and goes to class. They work hard, they refine their craft.
Some become All-Americans, like Caio Pumputis, or a bevy of track and field standouts.
Some make it big, like Joey Bart and Harrison Butker.
Some of the become national champions, like swim club or club women’s basketball, or come close like men’s lacrosse.
Every one graduates with a Georgia Tech degree, four years of hard work, and skills and memories that will last them a lifetime.
I am positive I could have asked anyone on the staff to write something like this. Whether or not you play varsity athletics, club sports, or are a fan, everyone from managers to commenters, writers to readers - maybe even those random bots that scour Google for information - shares a passion for sports. We are united in our love for Georgia Tech sports. We love what we do - reading, writing, watching, and working.
And it’s time for another year. Another year of hard work, of heartbreak and success, of failure and triumph. [Herbie Hancock], Andy Ogletree has already won the U.S Amateur since I started writing this. That’s crazy!
Come what may, hard work pays off. Sometimes in ways not yet even imaginable. Whatever happens, happens.
The hay is in the barn. The hammer is down. The garden will grow.
Whatever is, is right.
For golf and basketball coverage:
check out lil’ Jake in the Technical Tidbits
This Week on the Flats:
BOLD for home, REGULAR for away, ITALIC for time and location
Volleyball at Auburn (preseason exhibition)
5:00 PM, Auburn, AL