Right off the bat you should note that I’m biased against athletics. I don’t watch sports and I don’t play sports. I believe, as a proud non-athlete, that the whole concept of a preseason isn’t fair to new students.
I can see why it’s a nice idea: kids with similar interests come together, teams can get some practice time in, and new athletes have a few more days to adjust before they truly begin their lives at Deerfield. It sounds great, it really does.
But look at it from the perspective of a freshman who doesn’t play sports.
You arrive on campus, and you’re nervous because you don’t know anyone, but that’s expected when you’re new. You pass by the hall common room and are surprised to see a group of girls laughing together about some inside joke you don’t understand.
You’re confused. How are they already so comfortable here? How are they already friends? Did you miss something?
It doesn’t take long before you realize that the reason for their camaraderie is that they’ve already been on campus for half a week. These freshman athletes had a three-day head start, and the most awkward part of their introduction to Deerfield is over,
while yours is only beginning.
For the next two days, while you unpack your boxes, they’re in the Greer socializing, and while you shyly wait in your room for your Green Key, they’re chatting with teammates.
I realize that this scenario is a bit of an oversimplification. There are many people who go to preseason and still feel out of place when the first official day rolls around, and three days don’t actually make or break anyone’s experience at Deerfield.
But the first couple of people you bond with when you’re in that vulnerable-new-kid-looking-for-a-friend phase are significant. These connections often develop into friendships. And more significantly, once that window of vulnerability is closed, it’s hard to re-establish the same desperate need to be outgoing and to bond with new people.
I have been a new kid six major times in my life, and I can say that when you’re new, it is deeply comforting to find someone else who is as clueless as you.
This is why it was so unsettling for me when I found out that I was even newer than some of my fellow “newbies.”
The school puts so much effort into making the beginning of the school year as easy as possible for new students, with Green Keys, sit-down breakfasts, and Dorm Olympics. However, preseason undermines those efforts and separates the school into cliques before most students have even arrived. We establish the “Jocks” from the “non- Jocks” without giving everyone a fair chance.
And all of this for what? For a few extra days of practice? Does that benefit sports teams as much as it hurts the majority of new students?
I can’t imagine it does.
My friend Shelbi said to me, “Caitlin, you’re being ridiculous. We had six hours of practice last Wednesday. That’s equivalent to an entire week’s running. We can’t give that practice time up.”
I am not ignorant of this. I understand why coaches would want that extra time. I just don’t think that new kids should be asked to participate.
I do not blame the students who go to preseason, because it is not their fault.
But the more I think about it, the more the message behind it seems to say: there is a VIP group on campus that many students don’t belong to. Most new kids will not even know it exists until after their arrival.
They were not asked to be part of this group, because they aren’t good enough, and their exclusion from this group will leave them feeling alienated from the community before classes have even begun.