Good sportsmanship has always been integral to an SLC education. Since the arrival of the Campbell Sports Center in 1998, the number of students involved in phys ed class and athletic teams has steadily increased; 1,000 students actively use the Sports Center over the course of a semester. How can a school famed for its non-competitive academic life and individual accomplishment foster what it takes to make a good team? “Our specially designed program lets athletes maintain their academic excellence,” says Mary LeVine, who has directed phys ed and athletics since 1985. The College fields teams in basketball, crew, equestrian, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and, soon, club softball. The Sarah Lawrence athletic seasons are shorter, with fewer practice hours than in other schools, and teams compete in the Hudson Valley athletic conference.
“School and family come first,” says SLC’s coach Joe Iannotti; it’s true that sports here is something on the side—but it’s a good “on the side.” Our teams play because we love it. Our athletic program lets us follow dreams, have an outlet for anxiety caused by mind-crushing conference papers, and belong to a community where our joys and losses are equally shared.
“‘Put me in! I can play! I’ll make them pay!’ That’s the passion talking, and that’s what we need.”
I’m one of the volleyball co-captains, so the team looks to me for guidance, but, God knows, I’m really learning from them. In our most recent game, during the last point, I watched from the back row as a teammate who had not played much volleyball—and never at a competitive college level — repeatedly slammed the ball back into our opponents’ faces. Her left and right arms were swinging back and forth, back and forth, as if saying Take that! Get this, you suckers! I stood in complete awe. Her energy so inspired us that we dug harder and hit harder. I thought, Look, here’s this girl who’s never even done this before. And if she can be brave, so can I!
Sometimes, in the midst of an intense game, I feel myself breaking down. Suddenly the balls start shanking off my arms, and I make mistakes with little or no provocation. Often I will scream in my head to have the coach take me out, but I know that she really can’t afford to do that. So I pretend that I have been taken out, and then been put back in. I have played for so many years that I know, when you’re on the court, it’s very easy to lose perspective: All you see is your opponents, and things start getting you down.
Sitting on the bench, however, is a completely different experience. You can see the game and the movements of your teammates. You can see outside of yourself and can take a breather. This is vital, because soon you’ll be itching to be put back in. That’s the passion talking. When you’re on the edge of your seat and begging the coach, Put me in! I can play! I’ll make them pay!—that’s the passion talking, and that’s what we need. We are not there for any other reason than that we love the sport and, yes, we crave competition.
You are standing on the court and the score is tied and you have sweat dripping into your eyes, and you need to push just a little bit harder because you can see it in your teammate’s faces—the grim determination but also the weariness because it has been a long day and they can’t take much more. And you’re searching inside yourself for some words of inspiration, some words of hope, because you just need to finish this, and then you can all go home and take a nice hot shower; but first you must win the last two points, and that is when you realize that you understand the meaning of the word perseverance and what it means to be strong. You missed your very last serve and screwed up the hit, but you can’t show your disappointment and the anguish on your face because your teammates need you to be strong. You need to believe you can win this, and they will, too.
And this is the point where you learn to be a team.
Carmen Frances Fong ’05 is co-captain and outside hitter on the women’s volleyball team, as well as a fitness assistant in the Whitney Fitness Center and a representative on the Student Athletic Advisory Council.