No one would ever accuse Carleton of being an athletically focused school. There are no free rides for quarterbacks here, no separate dining halls and dorms, and no special “tutors” for the physically exceptional among us. Ask Average Carl when the last time he went to a football game was and he’ll probably tell you never, although he may know our starting tight end from organic chemistry. We are the Division III to the core and we like it that way. Even our most outstanding performers are student-athletes, in that order. Unassuming as our athletes are, however, Carleton still provides for a few varsity perks. All expenses paid training trips to Oregon, Florida and everywhere in between, free meals, gear, and (get this) free athletic laundry, Carleton athletes get a pretty sweet deal.
And why shouldn’t we? The folks who play for Carleton are hard-working, talented, modest, and lucky enough to go to a school with a sizable athletic budget. We train all year, represent our school around the country and, on occasion, win big. It’s just that sometimes, in the long months of early morning practices and weekend competitions in Iowa, it’s easy to lose sight of what it means to be an athlete at a place like this. Competition is a big deal, but it’s important to keep in touch with what we really value as students here. As a certain Carleton coach has a habit of saying, “We aren’t just good athletes, we’re good people”. It’s a sentiment I think everyone in the Carleton athletic world would agree with, and I think our teams ought to make more of an effort to show that they mean it.
That’s why I propose that all Carleton teams be required to pitch in an annual day of community service, either around Northfield or up in the Twin Cities. Projects could be coordinated between coaches and local charities, and teams could take a Sunday, either during preseason or an off-season, to go help out some people who haven’t been quite as lucky as us. Not that Carleton athletes don’t contribute a lot already. Carleton athletes (and students in general) are grounded, generous and selfless individuals. Left to their own devices, most teams do end up doing community service in some form or another, because that’s just the type of people they are. The Ted Mullin Hour of Power, an annual swim-a-thon that raises money to fight sarcoma is a great example. I’m suggesting we institutionalize that generosity, and send the message to new recruits, community members, alumni, and ourselves, that being a Carleton athlete is about more than just training and competing.
The Carleton Student Athletic Advisory Committee, a group of athletes that meets to discuss and decide on issues related to athletics at the college, conference, and national level states as a goal the “Increase[d] involvement and awareness of athletic programs on campus and in the community through community service projects and volunteerism”. A number of initiatives already exist towards this end, but we can always do more. There are 379 people who play for Carleton sports teams. Multiply that by 8 hours of service per athlete, and you’ve got over 3000 hours of service that we could be contributing each year. That’s a lot of good to do at a minimal cost to the athletics department.
Plus think of the pictures! Glossy shots of smiling pole vaulters swinging hammers, bulky linemen boxing helping out at a senior center—admissions loves this stuff. Sending our athletes out into the community would be a great way to show off our intelligent, quirky students and lend a bit of polish to Carleton’s image.
Setting up a whole day of volunteering for each team would benefit our community, demonstrate that Carleton cares as an institution, and would probably be a ton of fun for everyone involved. Carleton athletes are great people who truly care about the places we compete. Let’s be even better.