College sports: It’s more than just games

Every soon-to-be college graduate has a list of people they’d like to thank for helping them do what can seem impossible — actually earn a diploma.

For some, that list includes their mother for unknowingly funding their daytime trips to Frog & Firkin to complete their beer card and earn that coveted T-shirt or mug.

Or maybe it’s their father for not realizing that books don’t cost $2,000, and their little boy or girl is draining their bursar’s account to buy iPads or Clinique makeup.

The rest may be thanking their resident assistant for not noticing the potent smell coming from their dorm room, that police officer for his inability to hop that fence behind you and hand out an MIP, that teacher for failing to notice the cheat sheet taped to your forearm during finals week, or that employee at Mama’s Hawaiian BBQ for always cooking chicken katsu to perfection, even at 3 a.m.

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As I enter my final descent into the dreaded reality of the world outside college, I’m thankful for my family, my friends, my professors, my co-workers, my cab drivers and everyone else that made my college experience the best four years of my life. But more than anything, I’m thankful for sports, because without athletics, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I love at the Daily Wildcat for the last three years.

For most people, sports are about the highlight dunks, 80-yard touchdown runs, walk-off home runs and championship rings. I used to share that train of thought.

I was fixated on the box score and only knew a player by his signature crossover or fluid jump shot. But after working my way into sports media and gaining more and more experience, sports took on a whole new element that each and every person should be able to appreciate.

By writing feature after feature I learned about the human behind the athlete. I was enlightened about the role of sports as therapy to some people who had nothing else.

The use of sports to overcome life’s obstacles intrigued me, and I became driven to make sure the general public felt the same admiration as I did for what these athletes had conquered.

The best moments of my sports writing career didn’t come from covering a bowl game or a postseason tournament. Through my work at ValleyoftheSuns.com, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview greats like Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and Alvin Gentry, among others.

I’ve been in a playoff environment, covering Suns practices during the Western Conference Finals. I’ve been a floor below the Phoenix Suns draft room in US Airways Center to cover the NBA Draft.

Yet, despite these amazing experiences, my best memories are hearing the stories of the UA’s collegiate athletes and watching the emotion they carry with them into battle.

Because of the power of sports, I saw former UA interim football coach Tim Kish, who played at West Point, begin to cry during his last weekly press conference as head honcho.

Thanks to sports, I witnessed former UA receiver Gino Crump pour out tears of joy in the media room after the Wildcats stunned ASU in Tempe, Ariz., last season.

On the flip side, I witnessed the pain of defeat, as Kyle Fogg sat with his head in his jersey without moving an inch for 30 minutes after Colorado defeated Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship.

Because of collegiate competition, I was able to hear the story and struggles of deaf former UA swimmer Marcus Titus. I had the pleasure of hearing the life of once-homeless linebacker Dame Ndiaye. I was let in on the life of Tevin Hood, whose work in the classroom defied all athlete stereotypes.

If I were to speak at graduation, I’d thank sports and all of the athletes who allowed me to hear their stories and share them with the public.

Sports are more than just a game, they’re a metaphor to life. It’s therapy for those who could use it, and it’s an outlet for those looking to escape.

Thank you sports for not only helping me rake in underwhelming pay checks for three years — yes I’m talking to you Daily Wildcat and the dying paper industry — but also for providing me with amazing experiences, introducing me to remarkable people, and giving me a new perspective on athletics. I’m forever grateful.

Now, if I could only find a job.

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @Mike_Schmitz .


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