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Love of the Game

  David Lee Hartlage  

Unique learning experience

“Every time we step onto the floor, class is in session,” declares the NCAA home page. Athletics provides a worthwhile learning experience in the broader context of a Cornell education. Student-athletes learn valuable life skills, including self-discipline, teamwork, self-knowledge, resilience, persistence, sportsmanship, and integrity.

“Traditionally, athletics has been viewed as giving students the opportunity to compete, develop physical skills, achieve goals (which depends on positive coaching), test and learn ‘life lessons,’ handle adversity, and learn to work with others,” says Bill Dressel ’63, a former judge and now president of the National Judicial College. “I believe athletics—especially at the Division III level—can be a challenging and rewarding experience for both the student and school. It adds to the richness of an academic experience.”

Missy Moravits

The role of athletics, he says, is to provide the opportunity “to compete, achieve, fail, examine one’s inner self, but in the end have a good time. My athletic competition was an important part of my life and helped me in my life after college, but I found the same to be true for some of my children and others who found their resources in music, foreign language, or extracurricular science projects.”

Many alumni say their athletic experience was a highlight of their Cornell education. One of those is Bob Miller ’62.

“My athletic experience at Cornell was every bit as important to me as my academic experience,” says Miller. “What athletics teaches, which easily transfers to being a successful trial lawyer, is hard work, discipline, dedication, teamwork, and perseverance. Football at Cornell taught me all of the above as well as when you get knocked down you just need to get up and try again harder. All of this has served me extremely well as Colorado’s youngest district attorney, seven years as Colorado U.S. Attorney, my run for Colorado Attorney General, and heading up litigation at one of the nation’s largest law firms. Not only has this philosophy been my guidepost professionally, it has served me well in my private life trying to solve the challenges of each day. In sum, athletics mirrors life.”

Jamie Wallace, a sophomore pre-med student who has competed in volleyball and softball, says athletics adds value to a Cornell education. “Cornell athletics are an irreplaceable aspect of the education and development of student- athletes into well-rounded citizens,” she says. “Academics have always had precedence at Cornell, but along with music, drama, and other activities, athletics enhances the overall educational experience and pride in our college in a unique way. The great things I learn in the classroom I’ll carry in my head forever. The things I’ve learned in athletics I’ll carry in my heart.”

In 1997 Cornell moved to the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The change was made for a number of reasons, including reducing travel time away from campus. The result is that Cornell competes in an athletic conference that is, for athletics, comparable to what the Associated Colleges of the Midwest is for academics. The level of play has risen since then and is more reflective of the quality of a Cornell education. Last year Cornell had 29 academic all-Iowa Conference athletes, 17 athletes-of-the-week, two coaches of the year (Fred Burke ’70 and Steve Miller ’65), and several teams in playoff contention. In 2001 the women’s tennis team won a conference championship. Cornell’s Iowa presence has been affirmed and there has been a positive effect on student recruitment.

In 2002 the college made a commitment to hire a full-time athletics director. Students, coaches, and the college community have benefited from that decision.

Athletics brings balance to life

In The Republic, Plato argued that physical exercise is as important as culture in bringing balance to life. Dr. John Koch ’50 says that “the gymnasium and academia have been associated from early times and the terms have been interchanged. Each activity should be supportive of the other; physical activity plus education yields a long, fruitful life."

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