The NCAA has designated April 9-15 the inaugural Division III week. The week celebrates the unique Division III student-athlete experience, which offers a highly competitive athletics environment, a commitment to academic excellence and time to pursue other interests.
We will look at the Division III experience from three different perspectives this week in The MuhlBox. The first comes from Michael Huber, an associate professor in Muhlenberg’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Sometimes it appears that the two groups (sports fan and faculty member) are not compatible, but in reality, the intersection of the two groups is the set of students we have.
Before I arrived at Muhlenberg, I taught for nine years at the United States Military Academy. I was also an Officer Representative to the Army baseball team. An “OR” is a fancy term for a faculty member who was part of the administrative group supporting a specific team. Our mission was to be at every game in the dugout, to support the team as a role model, but never to coach. To root for the guys on the squad but also to assist them academically (and it seemed that some Army baseball players always needed help with mathematics). I got to know the players really well, as I was usually in the dugout or in the stands for most of those games, including spring break trips to Florida and away trips to other Patriot League schools.
Now, at Muhlenberg, I am the faculty liaison for our volleyball team. We created the faculty liaison program a few years ago to connect faculty members with specific sports programs. Some of my math colleagues are faculty liaisons to our women’s basketball team. Again, my role is to be a fan. I attend many home games, but I have also traveled to away trips, including a five-day trip to Texas, but usually to Centennial Conference opponents. I have given exams to students in the hotel conference room when the players missed a biology or calculus exam back in Allentown. Academics is a priority for our sports programs.
The Division III athletes we have at Muhlenberg are just as competitive as the D-I athletes at West Point, in that they are passionate about their sports, practice hard, try to successfully balance academics with intercollegiate sports, and have an unwavering loyalty to their coach and teammates.
The level of competition might be different between the two divisions, but the drive to succeed is just as fierce.
I was fortunate to get to know several Army players who were selected in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft each June. These young men were able to play professional baseball before serving our country as leaders in the U.S. Army.
At Muhlenberg, I have also been fortunate to know several young women who, as the NCAA commercial tells us, “will go pro in something other than sports.” These ladies are leaders on and off the court. They are peer tutors for the Academic Resource Center, earning secondary education certificates in addition to their majors, studying abroad to enrich their lifelong learning, and receiving accolades for being on the Dean’s List. I see them around campus all the time. Although they will probably not be professional or Olympic volleyball stars, they will still be successful after graduation.
Students want us to get involved. I honestly believe that they appreciate seeing us in the stands or mentioning their names in connection with being on the ‘Berg webpage when they come to class. I like to take copies of our school newspaper and give it to my students who adorn the back page of the Sports section. I usually tell them to “send it home to Grandma,” but it means a great deal to them to be recognized, not only by the school, but by a teacher in class. Further, the Athletic Department at Muhlenberg tracks each student-athlete and is in communication with the faculty, to ensure that academics remains a priority for all students.
As a parent, I tried to attend as many of my daughter’s high school lacrosse or volleyball games as possible; most parents do as well. As students go away to colleges that are not close to home, their folks are not always able to be in the stands. That’s where faculty members can play crucial roles. Go to a game or match to cheer for students in your class. Yell out a player’s name when she blocks a shot or hits a winner down the line. Wear your “Go Berg” spirit gear to class before Homecoming.
At Muhlenberg, we have a Guest Coach program, where players ask coaches to invite their teachers to be on the bench during a match or game. I was the guest coach for a softball game three years ago when our pitcher no-hit Gettysburg College’s softball team. I was as excited as the Mule players, and my enthusiasm for their performance showed my genuine support for them.
I try to attend as many athletic events as possible, and I encourage other members of the faculty to support our players. Go Mules!