College students obviously operate with another framework in mind: the school year. So it's proper to look back at the (nine-month) year that was. It's usually pretty easy for sports fans to identify time with major sports events. January = the NFL playoffs and eventually the mega-commercial Super Bowl. February welcomes Major League Baseball's spring training and its smiling images of players stretching on sun-bathed diamonds. March heralds the perennial madness of the NCAA basketball tournament. April has been home to golf's venerable Masters Tournament for several decades.
I could go on and on through each month. There's always some overhyped event featured on the front page of your favorite sports website, or the cover of your favorite sports magazine or on the front page of the local and national sports sections.
Despite all this media attention on select events, the momentary heroes and goats of a year are those who truly capture the sporting audience's attention. Ten years down the road, when you're sitting in a General Mills cubicle (God forbid) swapping sports trivia with a co-worker, you may not remember the 2004 American League Most Valuable Player (Vladimir Guerrero), but you'll probably remember that Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore starred in a bad romantic comedy/sports movie about the Boston Red Sox entitled "Fever Pitch."
Trivia allows fans to mine the depths of each other's emotional memory, to search for what matters to fans. Perhaps this explains how two people can entertain themselves with simple sports questions for a solid six hours while moving dirt.
Many St. Olaf sports conversations look regionally to Minnesota teams or to favorite franchises from longed-for homes. But even though St. Olaf's football stadium, Manitou Field, may pale in magnitude to your high school's complex, and even though one of the college's most successful programs -- the swimming and diving team -- toils in relative obscurity, elite athletes with their trivia-worthy records walk the same corridors, wait in the same Caf water lines and endure the same interminable winters as the rest of us.
This year has featured several historic performances and milestones for St. Olaf athletics. An artcle on the preceding page describes the accomplishments of swimmer Nelson Westby '09, who recently added a U.S. Olympic Trials appearance to his litany of aquatic achievements. He's only a junior. However, Westby isn't just a flash in the pan for the swimming and diving program, headed by the father-son duo of Dave and Bob Hauck '87. Dave Hauck helped coach the men's team to 20 consecutive MIAC titles from 1980-1999. The women won 11 straight titles from 1987-1997. That's an accomplishment that not even the Boston Celtics or the New York Yankees could match in their respective dynastic primes.
An article on the preceding page features the also long-successful St. Olaf baseball program, coached by Matt McDonald '87 (I guess 1987 was a good year for Ole athletics). McDonald followed his college coach, Jim Dimick, into the coaching ranks, and stands as one of the baseball program's two coaches in the last 41 years, during which Dimick and McDonald's teams have racked up 943 wins as of Tuesday. On the heels of two straight NCAA Regional appearances, the Oles take a 12-game win streak into this weekend's MIAC Tournament.
If you've paid any attention to the St. Olaf website recently, you'll note that the St. Olaf football program has established a sudden and strong connection with the NFL's Washington Redskins. First, former head coach Chris Meidt left to join the team's coaching staff as an offensive assistant in February. Meidt compiled a 40-20 record and left after three consecutive 8-2 seasons. Just a couple weeks ago, in the aftermath of the NFL Draft, wide receiver Horace Gant '08 signed a free agent contract with the same Redskins.
Meidt's hiring and Gant's signing form a Division III-NFL connection unheard of in St. Olaf's history, and for almost any college of similar size. Though Meidt and Gant have yet to coach or play in any games for the franchise, another wide receiver from the Class of 2008, Andrew Schmiesing, is playing baseball in the Minnesota Twins farm system after being drafted in the 11th round of last year's draft.
These accomplishments, and the athletes, deserve celebration. In doing so, we should celebrate the team spirit and accomplishments of all St. Olaf teams. For instance, look at the Ole softball team, which compiled its first.500 record since 1998. Numerous returning players promise an even brighter future. And that's just one example.
After a spring full of cancellations, and with the imminent completion of the Minnesota Twins' new outdoor stadium, perhaps we should all just celebrate the chance to play, compete and sweat outside. Congratulate your schoolmates, learn how to cheer in new languages while watching the Beijing Olympics and prepare to make your summer one of joyful activity.