No sign of any signs at Conn
New London — Even the most ardent academician would grudgingly acknowledge the purpose and perch of athletics on a college campus. Athletic programs given disproportionate attention may arouse some resentment, but they’re still identified as an institution’s “front porch,” not the most important room in the house, but the most visible.
Ah, yes. There’s that word. Visible. Or in the case of Connecticut College: invisible. Indeed, a stroll around campus produces nary a sign, symbol or suggestion that the men’s soccer program won the school’s first national championship 10 months ago.
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, as the old song lyric goes. Except none on or around Silfen Field, the turfed lawn where the champions throttled Rhode Island College 4-0 Tuesday afternoon. None on or around Harkness Green, the verdant, mid-campus oasis, deftly tucked between the academic buildings.
Makes you wonder: How could the soccer Camels pull off an abject miracle and remain in witness protection on their own campus? A national championship, as that sage Ron Burgundy once said, is kind of a big deal.
“(Signage) is in the planning stages,” athletic director Mo White said, “but as the field is on the college green, it’s a little more challenging.”
Translation: The wheels grind slowly. This seems to be the Conn Way, based on conversations with a number of loyalists. But why do I get the feeling this wouldn’t be an issue if such a championship happened at Amherst or Williams?
Sorry. This is not to suggest that nobody cares about athletics at Conn. But this is to beg for some urgency. The natty happened 10 months ago.
Lest we forget that no other wing of Conn College — or any other college or university — generates enrollment and creates more visibility than athletics. No other wing of any institution makes the endeavor of higher education resonate better with alumni, parents, prospective students and members of the community.
Remember, too, that all over the country it’s the Homecoming Football Game or the Homecoming Soccer game. Not the Homecoming Biology Lab.
And that’s why some signage on Harkness Green would enhance the reputation of the entire institution. I’d also argue there ought to be a sign for the women’s soccer team’s 2014 NESCAC title. NESCAC is easier to win than a national title, sure. Just not by much.
“I think both programs inspire each other,” said Norm Riker, the women’s soccer coach, who has taken his program to four NCAA tournaments. “Not having American football here, we are the focus for the fall. When you play on the green in the middle of campus, we are the two sports that get a lot of attention. There’s an incredible potential for both men’s and women’s soccer. Basically, we’ve taken turns having that kind of step forward and showing how things are really possible here.”
They are possible. Riker and men’s coach Reuben Burk have been there and done that. But how would visitors, prospective students, prospective parents and prospective recruits know it?
I asked Burk and senior goalie Sam Maidenberg following Tuesday’s game if the lack of signage annoyed them. Put it this way: If you think they’re good at soccer, just wait till you read their Churchill-like levels of diplomacy.
“I think they're working on it,” Burk said. “And I know Mo has talked to me about putting a sign on (Interstate) 95 (much like UConn’s signs on I-84 near the campus exit). I'm sure that takes a while. Maybe this is the coach in me, but if you see too much of the national champion thing, you become goal-focused instead of process-focused.”
Maidenberg, also the editor-in-chief of the College Voice, the school newspaper: “Something we're focusing on a lot as a team is moving on. Winning the championship was great and I’m sure it will be enshrined in the school's Hall of Fame. But the biggest pride we took was winning it for each other. Those memories are what’s really important. Way more so than a sign. We won the championship without glitz and the glamour. Some other schools may have us facility wise, but we want to be the best soccer playing team.”
Which they are, until further notice.
But then, if you could read facial expressions, you could see a bit of bemusement. After all, we’re not talking about building a new dorm here. It’s a sign.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro