Anathasia Shilov, Illustrations Editor

I’ll admit it: I‘ve never really felt like I fit in at Yale. (Yes, this is a Sports column. Please bear with me.)

My high school friends and I were always attached at the hip, and most of the time I think we shared a collective consciousness — we felt like we were probably the only people in the world who understood each other. Once I set foot on Old Campus years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that I probably wouldn’t ever be around a group of people like that ever again. My roommate didn’t know who Lil Uzi Vert was, my suitemate moved in while wearing a full tuxedo and the girls across the hall disapproved of my love for “If You Had My Love” by Jennifer Lopez. Who invented the residential college system anyway? I felt trapped.

Some of my peers have even told me that I’m almost unapproachable, and this was articulated in an Opinion piece from 2017 by my dear friend and former Opinion editor Katherine Hu ’21. Admittedly, I took it as free press at the time. After sticking Post-it Notes with my Instagram “@czillo” around the walls of the Lawrance Hall stairwells, I’d parade my phone screen around and ask, “Did you know someone wrote an article about me?” Now I read it and reflect. I guess a “tough guy” facade was my downfall. Did I scare people off? Did I miss my chance at significant friendships?

It’s taken me until now — the last few weeks of my undergraduate college career — to realize that my people have been with me the entire time. To the Sports Desk and to Yale Athletics as a whole, this one’s for you. I wouldn’t trade you for the world.

There are many, many instances where sports at Yale made me feel like I belonged, but I’ll keep it short.

I remember going to a men’s basketball game during winter break with my parents. It was the same year I was covering the team, and Payne Whitney was a ghost town. We sat at the front of the bleachers, shaking our heads at the sight of the sea of empty seats. I knew this team was good, and they definitely deserved better.

In strode President Peter Salovey with his wife Marta Moret SPH ’84. They plopped themselves down in the cushioned seats of the front row — right in front of us and separated only by the blue guardrail.

One by one the players came over to greet me, reaching over the president and first lady to shake my hand before tip-off. The VIPs turned to look at me in astonishment.

“Are you on the team?” they asked. I laughed. “No, I cover them for the YDN.”

Minutes later my parents and I were escorted by security to the exclusive front row to take in the game next to them. Salovey, his wife, my parents and I smiled, cheered and laughed as the Bulldogs handed the Iona Gaels a beatdown. Maybe it was I who was really the VIP.

From planning pickup basketball games with former quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 and talking music with former Yale men’s basketball guard Miye Oni, my time covering teams for the News has provided me with that coveted desire to belong. Everyone I’ve interacted with made me feel like I was someone — even though I’m anything but an athlete. And for that I am really, really grateful.

And as for the desk itself, I had found my people all along. They offered an escape — a place I could be myself, talk sports and produce writing that I was proud of. I miss that escape. I miss my people.

You don’t need another reminder that COVID-19 has taken a lot away from us: lives, plans and experiences. I feel an overwhelming sense of dread as I sit at my desk and write this piece — my last piece for the YDN and my beloved desk. It’s been so long since we’ve experienced a “normal” Yale. It’s even odd to think that we walked to class — I can’t count how many times I had to conquer Science Hill just to sit down in a lecture hall and struggle to understand what my organic chemistry professor was saying.

And it’s sad to think that the Yale community is more fragmented than ever. We’re separated by screens and isolated in our rooms from an invisible menace that’s taken away countless lives. Students, especially seniors, who’ve taken time off may find themselves lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces when they return to their scholastic endeavors. But as I look out my window and see the setting sun reflected in the thin, towering windows of Payne Whitney Gymnasium, I’m reminded that this pandemic might soon be over. The place we once knew is peeking over the horizon.

Yale is a place of togetherness. It is, irrefutably, one of the most welcoming and inclusive places we will ever experience. It has its flaws — many, many flaws — but it has felt like home to me and to many of you, too. But when have we felt the most together? When we don the Blue and White for large Yale sporting events — when it’s us versus them. We can stitch the fabric of this community back together through sports.

So, here it is. Here’s my plea. (I know you’ve been waiting for it.)

When masks are gone and the doors to venues like the John J. Lee Amphitheater and the Yale Bowl are open, fill those seats like your life depends on it. Chase that feeling of togetherness and unity through sports by supporting our student-athletes. Instead of pushing them away, the work these students put into their craft while taking the same classes as everyone else in the college should be celebrated. I want to make it clear that I’m not glorifying student-athletes. I’m advocating for them.

I mean, who wears the Blue and White the most on this campus? You already know the answer.

Go to games. Wear blue (or white). Come together. Share excitement. Cheer a little. Support each other. Make Yale feel whole again. You won’t regret it. I promise.