Dylan Johnson loves sports. A student leader who came to Emory & Henry College to play football, he brought with him a love of competition and winning. When he graduates this weekend, however, he will leave College with a love of sports that stems from reasons different from those he had when he entered.
A few years back, Dylan watched a televised Division I basketball contest, during which a head coach went into a rage over an official’s call and was thrown from the game. The event created a minor media whirlwind and left Dylan with many important questions about the emphasis on winning and the true value of college athletics.
In fact, his interest led to a research project that fascinated not only his professors and classmates, but also officials with the Appalachian College Association, who honored him with the ACA’s reputable Ledford Research Scholarship.
Dylan, through his research, went on to explore the ethics of coaching and the implications of the profession on the education process. What he learned through interviews was that coaches at the college level who engage personally with players score an immense, yet largely unrecognized success through the powerful life impact they have on student athletes.
I would add that this positive impact is especially prevalent at the Division III athletic level where coaches are usually a part of a team of professors, staff members and friends who commit themselves to the life fulfillment of each athlete.
Too often these days, sports fans forget the meaning of the word “college” when it is applied to athletics. They forget that the young men and women entertaining them with their athleticism are, or should be, students first, individuals who have embarked on academic and intellectual pursuits, fueled by a fit body, that will serve a complete life.
In recent years I have had the honor of knowing Kyle Boden, a former standout quarterback for the Emory & Henry football team, who, before he graduated in 2014, was named a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. This young intellectual was indeed an outstanding athlete. But what was most impressive about Kyle was his love of science, his desire to serve others through a career in medicine and his admiration for the team of coaches, professors, alumni, college friends and other college employees who helped shape his future.
Nothing, not any championship or thrilling sports victory, can add up to the gratification of experiencing the development of such a whole individual, one who gathers opportunities and support on and off the field for his or her own benefit and applies those advantages to the benefit of others.
The joy of such a powerful transformation is that many of those dedicated to the work of higher education, particularly those at small liberal arts colleges where personal engagement with students is a priority, are witness daily to it. The disappointment is that this is an athletic victory that few others beyond the academy have the opportunity—or perhaps even the desire—to celebrate.