To the prefrosh: Yale will change what you think you know about sports.
You’ll discover sports you never knew existed and you’ll watch sports that you thought disappeared in the Middle Ages.
But if you’re like me and you’re from the South, you’ll also wonder why football is no longer a religion. You’ll get frustrated by people who don’t realize that Sunday afternoons are reserved for the NFL. You’ll be exasperated by your friends who would rather sleep in than go tailgate for the Yale football team. And when your friends from home are going crazy about a possible BCS bid or a deep March Madness run, all you’ll have to entertain them with are riveting stories about beating Lehigh and Marist.
But even though Yale is nowhere near a national powerhouse in any of the Big Three college sports, there’s no doubt in my mind that athletics here offer a better blend of competition, integration and exploration than any other school in the country.
Take me, for example. Before coming to Yale, I thought crew and squash referred to bad haircuts and gross vegetables. I had never seen fencing that didn’t involve Lindsay Lohan and “The Parent Trap.” I thought inner tube water polo was a punch line to a bad joke involving drowning horses.
But after three years of Yale, I know more about these sports than any self-respecting Texan ever would. I know the unbelievable amount of self-control it takes for rowers to make weight during season. I know how strategic and intellectual squash can be. I know how technology has fundamentally changed fencing in the past few decades. I know how inner tube water polo plus New Haven winter invariably leads to frozen hair and short tempers.
No one thinks about sports when talking about the intellectual opportunities that Yale offers, and that’s a shame. The past three years have shown me that there’s so much more to learn outside of extracurriculars and the classroom, including the fact that the world of sports doesn’t begin and end with ESPN. Because of my experiences here and the friendships I’ve made, I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to squash (thanks, Rusty), a deep appreciation for rowing (thanks, Adam) and a love for heckling during fencing matches (thanks, Diego).
And I’m not the only Yalie with such experiences. In any given year, more than half of the students participate in intramural sports, and nearly a quarter compete in intercollegiate sports of some kind. And that doesn’t even include all the games of pickup basketball or soccer or ultimate frisbee that take place every day.
In fact, the intramural secretaries recorded more than 12,000 total participants last year. With an undergraduate student body of 5,200, that’s approximately two IM games per person. And many of these students are trying out new sports for the first time.
Another advantage: Varsity athletes at Yale are entirely integrated into the student body. When your suitemates are waking up at 5 a.m. for practice and leaving for entire weekends for road games, you’ll learn about their sport through osmosis. You’ll also get a valuable glimpse at how difficult it is to balance Division I athletics with the academic rigor of a university like Yale. Plus, there’s nothing that will make you feel guiltier for not working out than having a varsity athlete for a suitemate.
So for all the prefrosh diehard sports fans: Don’t assume that you’re giving up on real college sports by coming to Yale. Instead, just think of it as another opportunity.
And if all else fails, you can always write a sports column.
Karan Arakotaram is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.