This past weekend, I traveled to Buffalo, New York, to watch the women’s swim team compete in the A-10 Championships. “Buffalo in February?” a friend asked. “Are you crazy?”
Arriving at the team’s hotel, the swimmers’ families immediately and generously drew me in, shuttling me to and from the event facility, patiently explaining the language and rituals of college swimming, and describing, one after another, how much their daughter loves the University of Richmond.
Over two days, I witnessed Coach Matt Barany in action. Kneeling by the pool or standing behind his team, Matt whispered, whistled, and yelled his encouragement to the swimmers as they triumphed in event after event. From overhead stands where we watched the competition, parents praised Matt’s holistic approach to their daughters’ education, one in which knowledge derives from connections between classroom and competitive sport and from relationships with one another. One father boomed, “he should be called Professor Barany!”
It was the women, however, who impressed me most. Westhampton College’s core mission is to strengthen students personally and intellectually. As smart and caring women, these swimmers live our mission. The pressures they face as Division 1 student-athletes at a small liberal arts university are extraordinary; the week before midterms finds them competing for championships while grabbing snippets of time to read an anthropology text or write a history outline. And yet, on the team whose fellow Spiders recognize as having the most rigorous practice schedule, more than three-fourths of the students have above-3.0 grade point averages. Their passion for swimming is obvious, but even more important is taking care of one another. And this is why, late Saturday night, they captured their 10th A-10 Conference championship.
Buffalo in February? If this is what crazy means, call me crazy.