JANES: Four Years in Yale Athletics

(Preface: I’m always a bit unsure of exactly what my readership for these columns is, but I operate on the assumption that the only devout weekly readers of my columns are the YDN editors, my grandparents and whichever one of my mother and father drew the short straw that week. For those of you outside that esteemed group, I’ll sum up my message of the past few weeks in three quick words: “Save Yale athletics.”)

I’ve talked about the tradition, the divide created by current policies and the place of Yale athletics in the community, all with the (admittedly optimistic and so-far disappointed) hope of changing a mind or two in Woodbridge Hall. But with a new month came the realization that I’ve only got a few more weeks here. Maybe it’s some senior sentimentality getting the best of me, but I think it’s time to explain why I care so much in the first place.

Over the past four years, I’ve worked at hundreds of Yale sporting events on the staff of the Yale Sports Publicity office and for the Yale Daily News, and have been a part of countless more in playing four seasons of varsity softball. I’ve seen fencing to football, balance beam to basketball, history and heartbreak. With that painful exception of a win against Harvard in The Game, I’ve seen it all.

I’ll always remember the women’s basketball team’s huge upset win against Florida State in December 2010, or the DJ playing the other version of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” for Harvard fans after men’s basketball’s epic senior day upset last season. I’ll never forget Chad Ziegler’s ’12 miraculous game-winning, overtime goal in the NCAA regional against Air Force in 2011, nor how the crowd at Brady Squash Center grew as this year’s match against Trinity went on, and how I, standing out of sight of the final match, still knew exactly what had happened when John Roberts ’12 closed it out. I’ll remember men’s soccer and men’s swimming’s inspiring turnarounds this season, and Yale field hockey finally getting an Ivy title after coming agonizingly close previously.

But I could get four years of wins and losses anywhere. The magic of Yale athletics, for me, lies in the experiences you can’t see from Woodbridge Hall … or even from the stands. The magic is walking up the stairs to the weight room in Payne Whitney Gym, passing memorials and lists of Olympic medalists that took a similar walk decades before. The magic is in heated training room discussions distracting from painful treatment, hours spent listening to the dialogue between coaches in the Ray Tompkins house, in days in the weight room being pushed to your limit (and then beyond) with teammates around you doing the same. The common denominator? The people, past and present, and their enduring determination for success.

One of those people is Director of Athletics Tom Beckett. Always publicly composed and stoic, Mr. Beckett’s Yale athletics fandom could best be described as powerful but professional — far from the rabid fandom I’ve fallen into on occasion. But with the Bulldogs down against Dartmouth at Ingalls earlier this winter, Kenny Agostino ’14 found the net with a miraculous, game-tying goal with 30 seconds to go. I jumped, yelled, fist pumped and turned … only to see Mr. Beckett doing the same. Sports here are not something clinically administrated from afar in Ray Tomkins House. They’re a constant battle against the odds that requires emotional investment, concerted commitment and mental toughness from all in the face of adversity, created by the very institution these sports seek to honor. When any Yale team wins that battle in spite of the odds facing this athletics department, everyone in the building jumps with pride.

I love Yale athletics because I see what can’t be seen from the outside: I see that joy after grueling hours of work put in the weight room, painful hours in the training room and late nights in the library after long practices, pay off with a win. When all that work for the “Yale” on the front of a jersey is justified in one or two memorable moments that tie this generation to those who came before, those who are battling now and those who will come after. While outsiders and Yale administrators see that we, like any athletic department, have our share of bumps and bruises, they don’t see how much goes in to patching them up. For that reason, they will never understand the agony of a loss that is, for them, nothing more than a game. Nor will they ever feel the importance of a win that, to them, is evidence that what they are doing is not hindering our program at all.

I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad and the inspiring of Yale athletics. From this experience, I’ve become sure of two things: one — that no one outside of Yale athletics will ever be able to understand just how valuable sports here are and what people in the department put into them. And two — that for all the struggles and difficulties that come with being a Yale athlete, there’s something magical about putting on that Yale jersey and being a part of the tradition. From its people, to its places, to its past, this program has a mystique that can’t be allowed to fade.

Sure, you can get memorable wins and losses anywhere. But here, you get people as invested in an increasingly futile battle as anyone anywhere. Here, everyone must work harder; here, mental toughness grows from an unwillingness to make excuses despite the administration’s creating them. I care about Yale athletics because being a part of Yale athletics requires an emotional investment unlike many others, and yet every single person in a Yale jersey makes it. Their efforts are all the evidence I’ll ever need that there’s value in athletics: if that many people through the years here have put so much of their heart and soul into them, it’s nearly impossible to think there’s not something important there. No, Yale’s administration will never completely understand. But if they take advice from experts on other administrative decisions in areas where they lack experience, I hope they’ll take some advice on this one: speaking as someone who would know, who’s experienced the very bad as well as the triumphantly good, I can say for certain that Yale athletics are something special, something to be supported and something to be admired. Yale athletics and all they entail embody everything this school should hope to be, and their calculated demise, everything it should not.


  • BK70

    Thank you, Chelsea, for a well-articulated case. FYI, there are alumni who read you, too, and who think much more highly of your insights, and appreciate your passion, than they do of the spiritless wonks who creep about Woodbridge Hall. Tho you didn’t mention them, I hope that, in your time here, you have watched the sport that has brought the most national and Olympic championships to Yale – crew. And that record of excellence continues – as many as five Yale alumns (four of them women!) may be rowing in this summer’s Games in London. Let a trip to Derby be part of your bright college years.

  • Boogs

    You only need to spend a bit of time around current students to see that Levin and his ilk are sucking the life out of Yale. Demoralization abounds, but the endowment looks good on paper (of course, I for one don’t think it is marked to market). It is all about the money. The sad thing is, the administration will do a song and dance during the Yale reunions about how grand things are. I hope the alumni begin to use their critical thinking skills and ask tougher questions.

    • ldffly

      Finally, somebody hit the mark. With the private equity portion having grown so much, booking to market is one tricky business. Who knows the market value of some of these assets?

  • eli1

    As a former athlete I have greatly enjoyed reading your columns. Finally, someone willing to point out what the vast majority of athletic alums are thinking. Unfortunately, Levin will probably never change. He will continue to drain the school of whatever tradition and school spirit we have left. Please continue to bring these issues to the forefront. I, for one, will be sad to see you go.

  • JayHold

    Keep your voice loud and clear as you journey forward. You are a bright, compassionate and insightful young woman. No one man, not even President Levin, is around for that long. Yale will survive and see many more Presidents and hopefully a leadership that respects and values all young people no matter their talents or chosen area of extracurriculars.

    Yale is not his personal playground. But, everyone lives in fear of him and there are no professors or other administrators or board members willing to risk challenging his authoritarian rule. In the end, he is just a man doing what he thinks is right and collecting a hefty millionaire’s salary the past twenty years doing so. Who would walk away from that?

    That being said, Levin has done well in many areas but falls short in his insular, bigoted view of athletes. So be it. He will move on one day and Yale will continue to prosper. Yale athletics will one day rebound and thrive. Good luck to you Chelsea Janes!

  • kokoro

    I honestly wouldn’t care if Yale athletics disappeared entirely.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Yeah, but then Handsome Dan XVII would be out of a job.

  • tictictic

    Dear Ms. Janes,

    I assure you that your readership is wider than you know. Your columns on this topic have been widely disseminated and followed by alums, descendants of Yale athletes, parents of current Yale student-athletes, parents of student-athletes who headed to Ivies other than Yale (for many of the reasons you’ve given) et al. We admire your passion and your prose. We applaud your intellect and your athleticism. We feel that you will go far… and that Levin will become a dusty footnote in Yale’s annals. Bravo! You spoke up.

  • Yalemama

    This is a wonderful column, Chelsea and the other posters’ comments, especially those of tictictic are absolutely true. I hope that all current Yale athletes read what you have have so well articulated, and reflect on their own experiences as athletes at this storied institution. When people find out that our child is a Yale athlete, the uniform reaction is serious admiration. Beyond that, it is becoming clear as our student is interviewing for jobs post-grad, that the training, discipline, teamwork, and rigor of being a Yale athlete has provided a distinct and deserved competitive advantage. I hope that the administration can come around to appreciating anew that the “real world” is looking for smart people who can communicate, collaborate and are multidimensional and that college athletics, especially at a place like Yale, produces this in spades.

  • An_Observer

    After graduation, Ms. Janes should be put in charge of recruiting for all Yale sports.