Every year, Division III schools from across the nation unite to recognize the impact of athletes on their respective campuses and surrounding communities. Appropriately dubbed “Division III Week,” this period is dedicated to integrating student-athletes into campus culture as much as possible while acknowledging the advantages of participating in Division III sports.
This year, Division III Week was held from April 3-9, with myriad student-athletes throughout the country’s 43 conferences coming together to advocate for DIII sports among their communities.
St. Olaf, embracing and embodying those beliefs and philosophies while representing the MIAC conference, sent several student-athletes to Bridgewater Elementary School to lead service activities with kids during their gym classes, teaching them about the advantages of DIII athletics.
Emily Carr ’19, who is currently enjoying a breakout season with the resurgent St. Olaf softball team, was one such student, leading the kids through several activities demonstrating the well-rounded experience provided to students at DIII schools.
“There were a bunch of us from softball, hockey, soccer and track that went to Bridgewater Elementary School and read books with kids in their classes, and [we] also played badminton with the kids in their gym classes,” Carr said. “I was with the group who played badminton, and it was a really great experience ... just seeing them have fun being active and smiling while we got to play sports with them was great. It makes us feel really good that we are able to have a positive impact on these kids’ lives, even if it is just for a few hours.”
While describing how DIII athletics have impacted her personally, Carr emphasized that the culture, which focuses on versatility, allows her to continue the sport she loves without forgetting about academics and other extracurricular activities.
“We aren’t here for the scholarships or time on national TV or publicity, we’re here because we want four more years of playing the sports we love,” Carr said. “I also think the cool part, especially here at St. Olaf, is the emphasis on academics. That’s a really common theme to hear with DIII athletes, but it’s so true. None of us came here to be professional athletes, so we all know that no matter how important our sport is to us, at the end of the day we need to graduate with a good GPA and a degree.”
The opportunity to balance athletics, arts and academics is a trait unique to a DIII environment, one that keeps student athletes well-rounded in preparation for life after graduation without having to sacrifice the sports that they love in the process. For athletes like Carr, this blend of diverse areas of interest is nearly invaluable for maintaining all their hobbies for as long as possible, an exciting prospect that they hope the students at Bridgewater Elementary embrace later in life when selecting colleges and thinking about their individual career paths.
Some MIAC universities, like St. Thomas and St. Benedict, celebrated Division III Week with news stories and blog posts featuring different athletes across campus, while others like Gustavus held creative contests, such as window painting among their athletic teams, awarding prizes for most creative, best effort, most inspiring and others. St. Olaf’s decision to give back to the community emphasizes how DIII helps to form great people on and off the field.
“Our student athletes at St. Olaf are extremely well-rounded,” Athletic Director Ryan Bowles said. “They attend St. Olaf to receive a high quality education, to continue to compete in the sport they love and to give back and serve the community. Citizenship and responsibility are Division III attributes; our student-athletes giving back enhances the comprehensive learning component of Division III, and provides a venue for passion and service.”
DIII athletes might not receive financial compensation for their athletic participation, but, as exemplified by the Oles and other MIAC schools during Division III Week, that hardly dissuades them from their love for athletics and their drive for versatility in their education. A pure love for sport surrounds additional desire for strong academics, arts and extracurriculars, helping DIII athletes to a strong, well-rounded lifestyle that promotes giving back to communities. With their visit to Bridgewater Elementary, St. Olaf exemplified the virtues of this philosophy, increasing awareness as well as any school during the week of recognition.
In an interview with St. Mary’s University’s Macy Kelly discussing the benefits of DIII athletics, St. Olaf women’s hockey veteran and conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Chair Megan Skelly ’17 eloquently summed up the advantage of DIII for student-athletes like herself who possess an unbridled love for the games they’ve been playing since childhood.
“The love of the game is so present in DIII athletics,” Skelly told Kelly during the interview. “The pressure to perform is still at an extremely high level in competition, but motivation solely stems from enjoyment and a competitive spirit.”