JANES: Bouncing Back

Well, that was a rough week.

Frustrating losses on the field and on the ice coupled with off-field tragedy made this Thanksgiving break a particularly difficult one for the Yale community, particularly sports fans.

But if there’s one thing Yale athletes and their supporters tend to have, it’s perspective. Which means if there’s one thing Yale athletes and their supporters do well, it’s bounce back.

Last Saturday’s tragedy forced everyone to step back from what are, ultimately, just games. As devastating as big losses on the football field to Harvard or last-second defeats on the ice are to Yale sports fans, there’s always another game, another year. In real life, too often, there’s not.

Unfortunately, that perspective is often borne only of tragedy, and we must take advantage of the perspective we just gained to look beyond games and stats. While we’re all horrified by what happened off the field last weekend (and, less importantly, frustrated by what happened on it), we’ll bounce back if we keep that perspective in mind.

Much of Yale athletics’ resilience stems from the awareness of the community’s unique ability to organize and mobilize to help others. To be sure, outreach and community awareness at Yale are not limited to those involved in athletics. But as we try to move forward as fans, it’s helpful to see just how much Yale athletes are doing off the field, regardless of their results on it.

The Bulldog Buddies program, headed by Yale gymnast Talis Trevino ’12, sends a group of Yale student-athletes to a local elementary school once a week to help students with homework. Men’s lacrosse captain Michael Pratt ’12 leads Eli’s Friends, a student-run program which sends student-athletes to visit and interact with patients at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

Many Yale teams also participate in holiday gift-giving. They donate money to buy gifts for children who would not otherwise receive them. Big Brothers, Big Sisters is another popular program, and it often results in comical pairings of a massive Yale linemen with a tiny, eager New Havene who has a new Bulldog hero.

Teams collaborate to give back as well. In the fall, Yale’s volleyball, field hockey and soccer teams sponsor a Pink Zone day to benefit breast cancer research. The softball team staffs volleyball’s “Dig Pink” event as a part of that day, and then holds its own breast cancer awareness event at a game in the spring, staffed by volleyball players.

The heavyweight crew team raised over $10,000 for breast cancer research with its “Pull for a Cure” initiative earlier this year, and the pink shoelaces of many varsity athletes’ training shoes are products of a women’s crew initiative for the same cause. Men’s lacrosse dons special pink gear once a season for breast cancer awareness, and the women’s basketball team dedicates its entire Ivy League season to raising awareness and funds for the cause.

Some teams choose causes with specific players in mind. Field hockey rallied around one of its own to give back, starting the Get a Grip initiative for Myotonic Dystrophy research in support of goalkeeper Ona McConnell ’13, who was diagnosed with the rare disease during her freshman year. One of the team’s main fundraisers for the cause is its “Goal-a-thon,” which asks donors to pledge for each goal the team scores that season. For a team that set the school’s all-time single-season scoring record in 2011, that combination of sport and support proved highly successful.

Then there’s women’s hockey. When center Mandi Schwartz was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, the team began various bone marrow drives that have added over 2,500 potential donors to the national bone marrow donor base. Last year, the Bulldogs held “White Out for Mandi,” a night at the Whale in which donors pledged by the spectator: each person through the doors earned more money to support #17 and her cause. When Mandi lost her fight with leukemia earlier this year, the Bulldogs rallied, helping to start a foundation in her honor — the Mandi Schwartz Foundation. That foundation will be the beneficiary of proceeds from this Friday’s “White Out for Mandi,” which aims to pack Ingalls, breaking the all-time women’s attendance record (1,539), raise money to honor a fallen teammate and help a team bounce back from tragedy.

If I retained anything from high school physics, it’s that in the real world, even the bounciest of balls doesn’t bounce back to where it started after it falls. But if elastic enough, it can get close. Last week was tough, but there is plenty of good to help us get back where we belong. Yale athletes have the in-game rebound covered, whether it be with a win against Harvard next year or revenge against Boston College in the NCAA Tournament. But as we’ve gained perspective beyond wins and losses this week, it’s obvious that we will bounce highest if we aim to win off the field. Those are the wins we all can support (starting with White Out Friday), and, when you step back and get perspective, those are the wins that matter.

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