NICK JEBSEN, OPINIONS EDITOR | SEPTEMBER 8, 2016
Bard’s athletic department has grown considerably in the past five years. 91 students, nearly twenty percent of the freshmen who matriculated this 2016-2017 school year, were recruited to play on sports teams. At dorms such as Cruger and Keene, it is common to encounter Bardians jauntily heading off to practice with Lacrosse sticks or soccer balls in hand, an ironic sight at a college that is notoriously uninterested in athletics.
“No one wins or cares or has school spirit,” said Alexis Landis, a member of the women’s cross country team. A lack of enthusiasm for sports teams seems pervasive. Even Leon Botstein has admitted he has had a low opinion of college athletics in the past. In her article “Portrait Of An Institution,” journalist and Bard alumna Alice Gregory included a quote from Botstein regarding his feelings towards college sports: “It is an embarrassment that so much time, effort, emotion, and money are expended on gladiatorial exhibitions.”
Gregory later posited that the expansion of Bard’s athletic program, which peaked in 2014, was primarily motivated by a desire to expand alumni support. She did not cite any Bard staff to back this assertion, basing her argument on a quote from Noah Drezner, an associate professor at Columbia University. According to Drezner, “Studies have shown that former student athletes, even just those who participated in organized college sports, are more likely to give, and give at higher rates.”
Director of Athletics Kristen Hall strongly disputes that this was the primary motive of athletic expansion.
“It was really to give students more opportunities to be active,” she said. “Alumni support has been a byproduct.” She pointed out that many students were walk ons.
Many new Bardians reported their surprise by the prevalence of student athletes. Often times the non-athlete response to the existence of their athlete peers skews negative.
“It was a little overwhelming and unexpected,” freshman Djimon Gibson said of the athlete presence at Bard.
According to many students, the integration of athletes has not been seamless. Many say that athletes primarily associate with one another. “They do totally different things on the weekend, eat together after practice, etc,” Gibson said.
“I hate the soccer brats,” first year Brittany Fleming said. “They are very unfriendly.”
“I definitely do see a divide between the athletes and the non-athletes,” Kate Williams, a member of the women’s cross-country team, said. “It’s probably because they feel they can’t relate to a lot of students here and just stick with what they know.”
Kyle Luzzi Dundon and John Michael Knoetgen, (known to his peers as JM) are roommates. Dundon likes to draw, is interested in philosophy, and enjoys a good game of frisbee. JM studies economics, but he is also an accomplished bass guitarist and is looking to start a band, which he hopes will play at SMOG. Both are typical Bard students in most ways save one: they are members of the Men’s Lacrosse team.
Dundon said it is clear to him that many Bardians have preconceived notions about student athletes.
“During L&T, if someone found out I played Lacrosse, their faces glazed over,” he said. “They don’t realize that Bard athletes are not like athletes in other places.”
“People think of Lacrosse players as obnoxious and oppressive,” Dundon said.
“–and many of them are,” Knoetgen interjected.
Both Dundon and Knoetgen say that they feel their peers overestimate the influence sports have on their identities. “I’m not a LAX bro,” Dundon said. “I don’t want to be.”
The primary plea these two players had for their fellow students was touching in its simplicity.
“Come to the games,” Dundon said, a hint of sadness in his voice. He spoke of feeling disappointed by the small turnout for a soccer game he attended. He said there were more parents from the other team in attendance than there were students from Bard.
He expressed feelings of isolation from the Bard community coupled with pride in their institution.
“You may find the athletes here have the most school spirit,” Dundon said. “They fit in the least but they are the most proud to be here.”
Photo courtesy of Bard Athletics.
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