Sunday, September 25, 2011

True Believers: How the Desert Mountain Game Changed NDP

   It was perfect, was it not? A clear night, perfect for football. A homecoming game that was ours to spoil. A rival school that had been heaping piles of trash talk on us all week long. Notre Dame had never seen anything like what it saw the evening of September 23rd. The stage was set for something incredible, and when the smoke from those ironically-inappropriate fireworks cleared, Notre Dame emerged from the football game against Desert Mountain an entirely new kind of beast.
   I will be honest, until this year I never took the Dog Pound too seriously. Come on, all the student-fans could put together was a little end section at the far side of the bleachers? What is up with that? But this year, the leaders of the ever-growing fan base have taken things to a whole new level, and at Desert Mountain, anyone could see that. It was not only the biggest, loudest road crowd I had seen at a NDP football game, but the best road crowd I had seen at any game.
   It is no secret what brought the crowd together, and whether you call him Coach, Len, or Mr. Bemis, the man somehow found a way to make an impact on our school without even being there.
   Even looking outside of sports, it is apparent what he has done for our school. I still remember his class from freshman year: one Rhett Johnston spending half an hour wandering campus as he looked to deliver a pass to Room 208, a young Jordan Gehrke asking who in God’s name Joey Schmagmire is, and the constant bombardments of “Dazz Money, your sister gotcha again on that last test. Now what are you going to do about it? Let’s go, gotta make a play kid!” B Period physical science was just one example of how Mr. Scot Bemis affects those around him. Geez, even my freaking parents still talk about how much they liked his class, and they were not even in there!
   Someone like that deserves the kind of game that Desert Mountain brought. It was one that showed the resilience of a team that was looking for a way to prove to everyone that they could handle the big boys in the new division. But it did more than that. It showed that Notre Dame was a school that could unify in its search for respect. We could show everyone that we were anything but the goody-good Catholic school that had everyone genuflect before each class.
   This is what the Dog Pound has been about all along, and finally, we have caught on.
   There is no point in saying that NDP has not struggled with school spirit for the past few years. It simply has not been there. But whether you are a fan of uniforms or not, whether you support student mass or not, and whether you agree that those darn juniors deserve a surprise day or not, you know that the game last night was a defining moment in NDP history. Because for the first time, everyone was able to forget about all of the things they may disagree with about old Notre Dame and cheer on the Saints.
   In supporting Coach Bemis, you supported Notre Dame. I think that everyone knew that going into the game, and the best part is, I do not think anyone cared. This marks a turning point in Notre Dame spirit, because on the night of the Desert Mountain homecoming, we came together as a school and as a student body. We were our own kind of team, and that is something that would have made one straw-hat-wearing fellow very proud indeed.
   When Gehrke found Andrew Thomas in the back of the end zone with just under three minutes to go, it did so much more than put the Saints up 27-24 and cap off an incredible comeback win. It went beyond a football game; it went beyond beating a rival. When the Dog Pound saw the touchdown, the place went absolutely insane. Football junkies were screaming, and football rookies were screaming. Hockey players had something in common with pommies, and the BAM club had something in common with the hiking club. Seniors could relate to freshman, and AP Foreign Language students found common ground with our friends in Study Skills. For the first time, we were all saints. And we were all proud to be saints.
     September 23rd was the night our school became one. It was something unforgettable; it was something special. We believed we would win, and at the end of the night, we had won a lot more than a rivalry.
   Just be sure to thank Desert Mountain for those fireworks.

A successful hunt? You bet it was.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cinderella Story: How Sports Have Helped us Through 9/11

   I remember where I was when I found out about the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2011, but I do not remember as well as I would like. I can recall coming out into the kitchen to see on the little TV-radio a blonde reporter standing in front of a sheer wall of dark smoke. I saw it, but I did not understand it. Something was wrong. My mother looked devastated. I wished my father was home.
   I was on the bus when the towers fell.
   Maybe this is why for me, 9/11 becomes more difficult each year. Because each year, the gravity of that day hits a little deeper, like my mind wants to make up for the incomprehension I felt 10 years ago. I read more about it. I watch the footage. I try to remember.
   What I do remember, better than anything, is the national reaction. I remember how a country that had been horribly divided by politics found a way to throw down their differences in an attempt to show the world that through the worst of tragedies, America could stand strong. To me, the thing that made this unity so obvious was something that even a seven-year old could understand. It was something that somehow put everything into perspective in a way that the news could not. It was sports.
   One of the more famous stories is the first New York Mets game at Shea Stadium since the attacks. If you are unfamiliar with the outcome of the game, Mike Piazza hit a homerun in the eighth inning to lead the Mets in a come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Braves. The place went insane, and a city raised a resilient fist in victory. They were joined by a nation. Through sports, America had begun to bandage its wounds.
   A month later, then-President George Bush threw out the first pitch at Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Derek Jeter claims to have said before heading to home plate to catch for Bush, “Don’t bounce it. They’ll boo you.” Now, most people take the first pitch a few feet in front of the mound, to ensure they have a good throw that will not result in embarrassment. Bush had other plans.
   The Commander in Chief walked out to the mound, stood on the rubber, and stopped. He gazed out at the crowd that numbered more than 50,000 strong. He saw New Yorkers who knew victims of the attacks. He saw a city whose heart was shattered. He saw the eyes of a nation that was looking for answers, looking for hope, looking for a leader. President Bush saw the pain, saw the fear, and saw the suffering.
   The most powerful man in the world looked out on all of this, raised his right hand high into the air, and smiling, gave the Yankee-crowd a thumbs up.
   Without saying anything, Bush said everything. The United States has often been compared to a phoenix since 9/11, one that rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers. On that night, that phoenix was born. In the midst of a national fear unlike anything any of us had ever experienced, our leader told us one thing: we would be alright, we would push through the struggle. We shall overcome.
   And when that same man dug into the mound and tossed Derek Jeter a perfect strike, it seemed as if America had, just for a moment, found its stride again. For a moment, our fears were abated. For an instant, the future looked like it would work itself out. For a second, things on the horizon were no longer fogged by the black smoke that had filled that same New York sky just a few weeks earlier.
   The sound of the crowd at Yankee stadium may have sounded like a bunch of die-hards to the casual ear, but after Bush threw his strike, the sound took on a different tone. These were not just Yankee fans and D-Backs fans; these were Americans. The only allegiance that mattered was the one we had to the stars and stripes. Somehow, one of sports’ biggest and most coveted competitions had resulted in a unity that our country desperately needed.
   Once again, sports served as America’s scar tissue. And that is what it is: scar tissue. We cannot expect ourselves to forget, and we should not try to forget. This country needs to remember what happened, because we need to remember what it felt like to come together in all aspects of life. Whether you were cheering for the Mets or Braves, Yankees or D-Backs, you were an American. At the end of it all, that is what mattered, and sports helped us realize it.
   Everyone was an American then, including the athletes that we now so idolize. Kevin Durant remembers hearing the third plane strike the Pentagon on his way to Jr. High School. Ray Rice, then a freshman in high school, remembers standing on the roof of his Baltimore home and seeing the cloud of smoke in the distance. John Smoltz, who was a pitcher on that Braves team that gave up the homer to Piazza at Shea, remembers having the chance to visit Ground Zero during that series, but never going because he did not believe he could control his anger. Tony Gwynn remembers feeling like winning and losing was no longer important.
   Everyone has a story, and when we discover that the people we see on TV every night went through the same tragedy we did, it only reinforces that unity we had searched for. America had even found a way to create a bridge between its blue-collar folks, its white-collar folks, and its superstars. In our grief, we finally had become “one nation.”
   Ten years later, the impact of 9/11 is the same. You and I both have our memories of that day. Kevin Durant has his too. So does George W. Bush. And while these memories may vary in their degree of clarity, the emotions that we felt and the reverence our country shared for those we lost will never ever be forgotten.
   I realized that it did not matter how vividly I can picture the events of that Tuesday morning, because what really matters is now. We need to remember how we stood together during a time when we all needed each other. We need to remember how we put aside our differences and faced an enemy that everyone was afraid of and nobody knew. We need to remember the role sports played in all of this.
   People on ESPN are saying right now that sports can help us heal. I say that they already have.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The College Quest--Part V: How Davidson Honors the Code

   I think Davidson was out to be that college from the beginning, because they made the confounding decision to start their visits with the tour instead of the info-sesh. That way, instead of giving all the late folks the chance to sneak in quietly through a door and into a chair, they are blessed with the opportunity to look like an idiot as they run to catch up to everybody.
   I was late. Of course.
   After I transformed myself into a sweaty mess during the muggy jog up to my much more punctual peers (I recognized one guy from my Wake Forest visit that morning, who was apparently trying to show me up at two different places. Plus, he looked like Michael Cera, and maybe that gives you more points in the admissions process), I had my first impression of the tour guide and my first stop. The guide seemed alright, he was a skinny dude with a Jew-fro and an obvious love for the theater (seriously, you will never ever find a tour guide who plays sports, it is incredible). He seemed to be like any other tour guide we had had so far, just in male form, but he was enthusiastic and peppy, and after the walking corpse we traipsed after at Wake, anyone would have been just fine.
   What was somewhat odd about this tour in comparison to the others we had been on was that a lot of the information the guide had for us was info-sesh material. For example, as we walked through the science building, we heard the typical student-faculty ratio, average class size numbers crunch. However, Davidson was the kind of place whose vibe spoke for itself. In a word, Davison was classy.
   The architecture on campus was similar to what we had seen from the other Southern plantation schools—the good ol’ tried-and-true red brick. Vast lawns and tons of trees added to the small-town southern feel. So if you are looking for a place that will satisfy probably each and every go-on-down-to-the-tasty-freeze cliché, Davidson and its surrounding community are quaint, convenient, and more than happy to support each other (by the way, Davidson is located within the town of Davidson; my dad almost stopped the car when I asked him where the college was, felt like an idiot). Davidson (the town) has everything from ice cream to student stores to your old mom-and-pop shop, and apparently the residents are regulars at the college hoops games.
   Sports at Davidson are much more competitive than one would think. You may not have the tip-top conference experience like you would find in the Big 12 or ACC, but they deserve their Division I status by no stretch at all, and they are a force to be reckoned with in the Southern Conference. If you are a mere mortal like I am and are looking more toward club or intramural sports, you can rest easy there as well, because Davidson has one of the nicest gymnasiums I have seen anywhere, despite the lack of a “big conference” presence. Our guide being a theater kind of guy, my dad and I had to sneak into the basketball stadium ourselves to have a good look, and it was worth the cautionary look we got from Captain Jew-fro. The rest of their athletic facilities, with the pool standing out in particular, were top-notch as well. They made me want to play more sports.
   Remember when I said before that the word I would use to describe Davidson is classy? Well, there are many reasons why. If you have taken a tour of any school, you probably have heard them tell you about some sort of honor code that they have in place. Davidson did it first. And they have done it best. The authenticity is clear, because while some schools might have a paper-thin honor code that feels confined to the classroom, Davidson’s code is a distinct part of its culture. Everything from the ethics of the students to the rules on campus revolves around the honor code. There was a famous story going around that someone who had found a 20-dollar bill left a note taped to the ground where the bill had been picked up. The note explained that the money had been found, and included an email address where the finder could be reached. To make a long story short, the right person had their money back within 24 hours. No one even made a false claim to 20 bucks.
   One of the coolest aspects of the honor code at Davidson, and one of the coolest aspects of any school I have seen anywhere, are the self-scheduled semester exams. It means exactly what you think it means. Forgot to read that Steinbeck novel for English class? Well read it, and take your exam later in the week. Psychology come easy to you? You can walk right in on day one of exam week and fly through that sucker like the psych-boss that you are. It trusts that no student takes an exam and then goes off to their BFFs and spills the answers. And believe me, no student will.
   Aside from the Michael Cera look-alike and the infiltration of the gym, the tour ended without much of a hitch. I had not even seen a good kiss-ass candidate yet, after all. Never you fear, though, because the info-sesh would give plenty of candidates.  
   The guy who was leading the info-sesh was a character to say the least. It was like the movie voiceover guy and Dr. Phil had some sort of weird love-child 60 years ago. He was one of those people who liked to put emphasis in his voice not by shouting, but by giving you the I-think-I-can-see-into-your-soul-but-I-am-not-really-sure-so-I-will-try-to-stare-harder look. He was very soft-spoken and very direct and very firm. The clearest thing about him was that he freaking loved Davidson. If he was not so stone-cold serious, I would have thought he was funny. My dad looked like he was trying hard not to roll his eyes every single time the guy finished . . .  a sentence . . . like . . . this.
   The guy was really adamant about the class of Davidson, and he pointed to the honor code whenever he had the chance. Not to say that he did not have a point, because what he was saying could easily be seen throughout our tour and the visit in general. Davidson definitely has a sense of character that is hard to find elsewhere. These people want kids who are going to fit well with the rest of the students and maintain a good relationship with the town around the school. Part of the reason the honor code is followed so closely is because they choose kids who they believe will adhere to it in the first place. In your app, character is going to be something they look for and take into account above most everything else.

What Jumped Out at Davidson (aside from the lack of a good abbreviation, somehow “Dave” seemed a little too informal):
   It seems like a tough gig to be accepted into Davidson. After all, their student body is barely double NDP’s at a mere 1900. Most Arizona public schools are larger than that. But while the admissions process is very competitive, you are going to have a laid-back environment once you hear the good news. This was nice, because it grows pretty wearing to see all of these bigger schools herd you into some kind of gladiator arena where everyone is out to beat everyone else.
   Of course, there is the sense of character here. I know a lot of these tours will fluff up a lot of this kind of thing, but at Davidson, honor is something that they take extremely seriously. It is active within student life, within academics, within athletics, and within the admissions process. They want good kids, period.
   The non-academic aspects were impressive as well. The athletics seemed fun to watch, and they looked like they were popular without being an absolutely dominant force on the social scene. There is something for everyone here, and the theatrical and musical aspects of recreation both seem like they received a very decent amount of attention. The town of Davidson is something that is raved about by the students, and the tight-knit relationship is something that is lauded by the administration. The townsfolk love the students, and the students love the townsfolk. It is a very cooperative, very united environment.
   But one of the things that both students and parents can appreciate is the fact that Davidson’s financial aid is entirely gift-based. They do not hand out loans here. Any money you receive, you keep. No “by-the-ways”, and no strings attached. Other schools are starting to follow this same road, but like they were with the honor code, Davidson was the first.
   My one concern with Davidson is actually its size. 1900 kids equates to a student-body that is beat out by many a public high school here in Arizona. I would prefer somewhere a little large; that is all. Even with a campus that creates a more expansive feel, a place that finds a balance between large and small is more to my liking than the small-town style Davidson.
   But in any case, what you have with Davidson is arguably the best small college in the entire country. It is right there with the caliber of a Pomona, a Williams, or an Amherst. Anyone who can be slotted next to, if not above, any of these places has the word “prestige” written all over them. This place is downright impressive, and a smaller student body than normal can do very little to detract from that.
   Plus, they do your own laundry for you. Money. In. The. Bank.

   I came away from Davidson with a lot more to think about other than that basketball run they made. These guys mean business about being a tip-top place, and while that run was something that gave them national attention, they want to be known for much more than a couple buzzer-beaters. Unfortunately, some of my tour-mates failed to pick up on this. During the info-sesh we all had to go around and explain why we had decided to come and visit the campus. Some bro down the row decided he would come out because he was “a big Steph Curry fan”. What a freaking kiss-ass. Stephen Curry was the basketball star who had led Davidson to the Elite Eight a while back. I am sure that if “Steph” knew some brat junior in high school was throwing out his old nickname, he would not be too thrilled to call such a suck-up a fan of his.
   I almost gave that dude the kiss-ass award, but I had to hand it to the info-sesh leader. The guy was like an angel sent from Davidson heaven, who came down to tell us every great thing about this place. Everything from his heave-ho Wildcat pride to his heavy tone screamed kiss-ass. We have ourselves a winner winner chicken dinner. Let’s hope at Duke, there would be a student that could reclaim the prize. Something told me they would not be hard to find.

There’s your town of Davidson. Everyone loves the Wildcats here.

A lot of the nicer buildings show up as you move away from the street and more toward the center of campus.

Here’s the pool. It’s attached to the rest of their gym, including the basketball stadium.
 You like yourself some b-ball? This isn’t half the seating. Additional courts on either side of the seats you see are covered with extendable stands during games. Try to find them on TV sometime and you will see what I mean.
Well isn’t that just the cutest little town you’ve ever seen? Still feel dumb I didn’t know it was called Davidson.

Questions or additional comments about Davidson? Share them in the comment section! I’m sitting on everything from hard numbers to more detailed information, so feel free.