Coming to Bethel had a lot of implications for me. For starters, it meant that I would be two state lines away from home. It meant that I would have to fight my own battles without the reliance of my parents. It meant I would have to be responsible. *gasp*
It also meant that I would be accomplishing a lifelong dream, and as far as I was concerned, this dream was the reason for my existence. I got the opportunity to play college basketball.
Aside from my jersey and lack of face paint not much differentiated me during my first two years from the guys in student section spectating and longing to be on court. This season, however, I was in a significant position to contribute. I started nearly every game, averaged a healthy 8 points a game, scored career highs, and was generally an integral part of the team.
Every Thursday and Saturday night fans (sometimes) showed up to the gym and I got to entertain them on the hardwood that was my stage. Though some nights my gangly, white frame fumbled awkwardly around the court with minimal reward, other nights, with the same awkward maneuvering as a wounded albatross flying up wind, were more successful and yielded points, high-fives, and butt slaps.
Yet despite the successes on the court, both collective and individual, there was something unsatisfying about it all. The work I put in from high school and my two prior years had finally paid off. I should have been ecstatic (though I was thankful for the opportunity), not indifferent. As a college freshman two years ago, I would have given anything to be in the position I was in this season. Something had changed.
Of the myriad factors and influences that affected me this season, I'll only address one. Yes there are others, not the least of which was the interpersonal/hierarchical dimensions of this particular team and the length of the season and the missed opportunities in other areas at Bethel. However, the issue I'll address is more personal than all of those.
Athletes today, from the time they are able to hold a bat, bounce a ball, or catch a pass, are bombarded with images and ideas that stress the importance of winning, being the best, and the ultimate importance of sports. Pro athletes and overzealous dads breed a culture that lives on the importance of sports.
I'm not trying to deny the positive influence that sports can have. I believe the power of sports to teach life lessons is invaluable. I am however going to de-emphasize sports' importance.
I've always known that life is bigger than sports or being a collegiate athlete Being at Bethel has done nothing but reaffirm that notion. The chances and opportunities that abound are too great and too numerous to continue to pass up because of a 7 month long basketball season. There were things that my professors were encouraging me to take advantage of that I simply could not because there are only 24 hours in a day. There would be days when 16 of them were dedicated to basketball.
See, after this season ended, I ended my basketball career with one year of eligibility left. Walked away, like a romantic comedy before the guy speeds across town causing multiple car wrecks, double parks outside the airport, bypasses apathetic security and grabs the girl's hand before she boards for Paris.
College basketball boarded that flight, unfriended me on Facebook, and doesn't call to see how I'm doing.
I've found that there are more significant ways I can be involved at a campus that has comforted me while I'm on the rebound (that was simply a relationship cliché, not a basketball pun).
I'm graduating next year. I've got things to do. Run a newspaper, help awkward freshmen adjust to residence life without playing WoW all day, write a seminar (I don't even know what that means), and find a job... maybe.
I would be amiss if I didn't admit that it was a difficult and sad decision. However, Bethel is a place that fills the void left by college basketball. It doesn't attempt to console me like a gallon of Ben & Jerry's does a high school girl who doesn't get asked to prom. Instead, it provides real, genuine, and honestly, better alternatives.
I came to Bethel for basketball. I'm staying because of the people and opportunities... and because transferring after your junior year is really hard.