As spring rolls around, my heart fills with anticipation for my favorite time of the year here at Swarthmore. I sleep far less than I should, my allergies from this blossoming floral arboretum peak, and the weather rapidly fluctuates between too hot or too cold in true Mid-Atlantic fashion. You might be thinking: am I reading the blog post of a closeted masochist or is Swarthmore really that miserable? Thankfully, the answer is no to both. I am just another dramatic teenage blog writer, hyperbolizing for effect. But nevertheless, spring is still my favorite time of the year, because the somewhat glowing sun and beautiful pollen-rich blades of grass finally signifies that it is baseball season.
I have the privilege of playing for the baseball team here at Swarthmore, competing in the Centennial Conference at the Division III level. As a competitive and high-achieving Swarthmore student, this truly serves as the culmination of my individual experience here. For a brief time each day, I get to switch off my brain, work out, let loose, have fun, and compete. My time with the team each day hones my personal discipline, leadership abilities, teamwork skills, and intent, all while allowing me to compete and enjoy myself playing baseball, a lifelong passion.
Each student-athlete I have encountered thoroughly enjoys what they do in this way, and loves that they get to compete at a high level in the NCAA. Despite the negative connotation associated with DIII athletes as less talented, most Swarthmore student-athletes, myself included, received coveted Division I interest as well. So, why did these Swatties choose the Division III lifestyle over the more “respected” Division I competition?
When varsity student-athletes first commit to Swarthmore, they each must fill out a brief survey about their background, identity, and a few survey questions, including “Why Swarthmore?” The resounding answer in almost every single survey is that Swarthmore was one of the few places that uniquely combines athletics and academics at a high level. And it is true.
The Division III athletic lifestyle varies greatly from the Division I, II, or NAIA schools in the prioritization of different attributes of student-athletes. At other levels of competition, money and the desire to win dominate the scene, leading to a neglect of the students’ best interests in many cases. That is not to say that these things do not occur at the DIII level or that DIII athletic programs do not strive to win either, but simply that DIII programs emphasize the success of the individual student-athlete as a student, an athlete, and a teammate more so than other institutions. Thus, many student-athletes appreciate the emphasis on ethics, the ability to focus on academics, and the lesser time commitment of the DIII athletic lifestyle. Students always attend classes, can major in what they truly want to do, never receive more help than other students, but have access to all that they need to succeed.
Another major draw of the Division III lifestyle is the ability to play more in a competitive, but laid back environment. Without this money and high level of commitment on the line, each athlete still plays to their fullest potential, but without the stress and external influences of the Division I competition. On top of this, most athletes find it easier to contribute to a Division III program earlier on in their careers that at their Division I counterparts. In my freshmen season on the baseball team, I started multiple games as a pitcher, before settling into my current role as the set-up man out of the bullpen. This appeals to many students who desire academic vigor simultaneous to an emphasis on athletic success, competition, and character development.
One unique manifestation of this Division III lifestyle occurs every spring break with each spring team’s trip. For baseball, we travelled to the Pacific Northwest this year, while the golf team went to Florida, the women’s lacrosse team to South Carolina, etc. The intent of these trips is to bring the team together for the sake of competitive success and for bonding as individuals and teammates. Across the board, teams take great pride in these trips, raising funds to partially finance them, creating fun activities along the way, and wearing the Swarthmore S with pride across the U.S. Our baseball trip this season not only went particularly well, leading to our opening 9-5 record, but also brought the team closer together. We went indoor skydiving, explored the Pacific Northwest’s stunning mountains, and even got ice cream at a local dairy factory, all while emphasizing baseball and life lessons. This unique experience has proved invaluable to my Swarthmore experience, and creates memories I will never forget.
In this experience on a team, I have also formed friendships that will last a lifetime both through baseball and the athletics department in general. One of my roommates is another pitcher on the baseball team, one is a golf player, and the last plays club basketball with us all of the time. My brothers in Delta Upsilon play for all kinds of different teams, and I have friends across campus that I have met in the Matchbox, playing basketball, eating dinner with the team, or in the classroom. The athletes are non-exclusionary at Swarthmore, but definitely form a tightly-knit community that can particularly help when you first arrive on campus.
On top of this, the athletics department does a great job of providing resources to varsity student-athletes and regular students alike. Many people participate in the club sports program, even more use the Matchbox and other athletic facilities daily, and the athletics department consistently promotes healthy lifestyle choices and programs for all students. For varsity student-athletes in particular, the athletics department provides laundry services, professional programs, and a constant support for everyone.
In your time at Swarthmore, you must pass a swim test and participate in some Physical Education classes, so you will definitely interact with this amazing resource on campus at some point. All of these opportunities make up an integral part of the Swarthmore experience and are important to take advantage of in some capacity.