After she received her letter of acceptance to Yale, Chelsea Janes ’12 e-mailed softball coach Barbara Reinalda in hopes that the team could use an eager new player. The coach invited her to walk on, and since entering Yale in September, Janes has been privy to an interesting perspective on the sports dynamic at Yale. So far, she says, the experience has been phenomenal.
QUsually, varsity athletes are recruited by the school and enter college with a secure spot on the team. When did you first decide to try out for the softball team, and in having to try out after being accepted by Yale, how did that affect your experience as part of the team?
AI decided right away — it was always my plan, if I had the opportunity — to play softball in college or at least try. I just e-mailed the coach after I got in. I wanted to know what the options were because I definitely wanted to go somewhere where I could at least try. She was extremely open to the idea.
And that made Yale even more my choice. I was really lucky in that when I came here the coach gave me the option to try out and I made it. I’m so lucky I got the chance to play. It’s awesome.
When I came, Coach treated me like any of the other players. She said I had the fall to tryout. It’s been great. I’m so lucky I don’t even believe it sometimes. I’m very excited about it.
QWhen did you first start playing softball? What resume did you hand the coach?
AI actually played baseball with the boys until high school and I wasn’t allowed anymore. Our in-town softball program wasn’t completely developed when I was younger. By the time I got into baseball, I was a big fan — I loved it, so I stuck with it. I played varsity softball for 4 years in high school and tournament softball in the summer. And I played all the time. If I could play softball, I found some way to play. I loved it.
QWhat is your position?
AHere I’m playing outfield — it doesn’t matter where I was before. I’m playing wherever I help my team.
QHave the other athletes welcomed you as a walk-on? Is there any acceptance gap between the recruits and walk-ons?
AWhen I came and was given the chance to do this, I was really apprehensive about how that would work out. Inevitably, they’re recruited — they have every right to look down and say, “Who are you to be here, you who are taking my reps in practice.” Or at least treat me like a lower life-form.
There was never any of that. Hopefully my experience is indicative of other people walking on at Yale, but I can’t say enough about how well they’ve treated me. I’ve never felt like a walk-on. I’m so impressed with that. I’ve never noticed a difference.
There is a little bit of an inferiority complex because you know you’re not recruited. You constantly feel people may have lower expectations. You don’t want to step on any toes, assuming that you have a bigger role than you do. But I’ve been made to feel so comfortable here — they’re family to me.
QWe were talking about the great Yale sports debate about the perceived achievement gap between athletes and non-athletes. As both a member of the softball team and a DS-er, do you have anything to say about it?
AYeah, I do. I was thinking about it. Being a walk-on, being not recruited, being in DS, I feel like I see the whole Yale range. It’s interesting — I think that the debate is one that is understandable because people get in for sports. It’s such a struggle to get in here. People get in for sports, and people see that spots are taken.
The point is that there is definitely a perception of athletes from an outspoken few members of the Yale population that doesn’t play sports where its like they don’t try, they don’t go to class, they’re rowdy, they don’t belong here. That may be true for a very, very small percentage of them. Having dealt with a lot of athletes and having met my team, I can honestly say I spend more time in the library with my team than I do on the field. They take school just as seriously as anyone else here. They have the same academic expectations. Their lives — they take just as seriously as anyone else. Whether they would have gotten in without sports or not, I think a much higher percentage would have gotten in than people think. Like, if I’d been a little better I might have gotten in for sports, but I got in without them. I think there are a lot of people like that.
At the same time I understand the perception of those who don’t play sports who think that athletes get special treatment in certain situations, that they take easy classes. I guess there’s no way I think both parties are guilty of judgments that are snap judgments — everyone judges each other too quickly on both sides.
QHave you found that people judge you personally because you are a member of a varsity team?
AI think that there is definitely a bias. I noticed at first people thinking I had different expectations — that’s the best way to put it — because I was on the softball team. Coming from high school that was weird. You’re just not used to that.
It’s odd. It’s just weird — people feel that you are less than you are. There are different expectations for athletes, and I don’t think that’s fair. A very high percentage of athletes can disprove them if people saw which classes they take, how their grades are, how they conduct themselves. People put academics above [extracurriculars] — athletes too. There are plenty of athletes in the library.
QWhat is an athletes’s life like at Yale? Do you think that lifestyle contributes to the misunderstanding between some athletes and non-athletes?
AI don’t think you could say an athlete’s life is more demanding than anyone else’s — physically maybe. Everyone here is busy. Everyone is exhausted. It’s definitely demanding, but no more than anyone else’s here. I have a lot of respect for my team. They work very hard. I like the lifts, I like being pushed — it’s a common Yale thing to like to be pushed. As much as you like to gripe and moan about how hard lift was, how hard practice is, how much it stinks to get up for 6 or 5 a.m. for early practices, in the end you really like it. I enjoy it.
QAny final statements?
AThis is just a manifestation of how much I love softball. I can’t stop talking about how well I’ve been treated here.