With the conclusion of March Madness and the renewed media scrutiny on college athletic programs a lot of people question the value of NCAA sports and their role in American universities. These people have not met Ms. Donna.
Last June I toured ten North Carolina colleges with a group of counselors. North Carolina State was a stop on our tour. I didn’t know much about the university beyond the admissions numbers and I’ll admit to more than a little skepticism when I heard the football stadium was one of the highlights of our visit. I was about to get a lesson from Ms. Donna.
Ms. Donna works in the NC State athletic center, but her job title could be team mom. She showed us around the first class facilities all the while telling us about “her players” and the great tradition of Wolf Pack football. Ms. Donna beamed with pride as she discussed the players with academic honors and those who had gone on to earn graduate degrees. She shared stories of students who struggled academically, yet who, by choice or study hall requirement, had finally pulled through. It became clear that all the students affiliated with the team were so much more than just athletes to Ms. Donna.
You can imagine in a group of counselors there were a lot of questions about academics. Ms. Donna admitted that she saw all types of students come through the program, but they all came. She said some came from better backgrounds, academically and economically, and some may never have made it through high school or ever attended college were it not for sports.
But it wasn’t just the players who benefited from the NC State football program. Ms. Donna had a lifetime of stories highlighting how athletics and the North Carolina football rivalries brought people together, strengthened alumni ties to the university, and promoted a sense of school spirit which on game days raised college football to something equivalent to a religious experience.
Ms. Donna spoke with regret about the one away game she missed years ago because a high fever and dizziness kept her from making the drive to the game. She talked about people who wept, or cursed, when she called them with news of season ticket changes. I began to understand that football was just one of many traditions that held alumni, students, and players together.
I left the football facilities humbled. I had been ready to look down my nose at the non-academic side of this tour, yet I walked out with so much more. Ms. Donna reminded me that the debate of academics versus athletics is never simple and there is so much more to college than books. What a great way to represent the university; thank you, Ms. Donna!
Congratulations to Texas A&M women’s basketball team for winning the national championship! Sydney Colson, you make WHS proud! Whoop!