For the love of the game, and everything else: The D3 difference

Duncan MacLean • Apr 6, 2019 at 1:04 AM

S.T.E.M. majors, arts majors, music ensembles, theater productions, study abroad, Greek life, intramurals, foreign language clubs, undergrad research, ROTC, part-time employment, formula racing, residential life, Dance Marathon, Relay for Life …



During my time as a member of the Hope College swim and dive team, I witnessed my teammates achieve extraordinary feats of stamina, wit and will, and it wasn’t all in the pool.

This week was NCAA D3-Week; a chance to celebrate all the budding journalists, dedicated dance majors and engineering prodigies capitalizing on the wholly unique opportunity offered by Division III athletics.

My dad likes to put college in perspective, saying that we’ve decided as a society to allow our young people to spend the four most productive, vital years of their lives steeped in higher education — putting off work in favor of growth. The world of D3 athletics fosters that growth by motivating academic achievement, encouraging further exploration of self and intrigue, and demanding the dedication necessary to excel on the playing field.

Despite six hours of training a day during the season, rarely, if ever, did I see teammates sacrificing their passions, hobbies or, least of all, academic integrity to keep up with the demands of the others.

Division III is about more than being a student-athlete. Swimming D3, I think, earned us a third hyphen. It is about being the most you can be.

I competed alongside student-athlete-builders, pursuing degrees in engineering and spending their non-training hours tinkering with Formula SAE cars.

I trained with student-athlete-artists who spent their class time in studios between morning lifts and evening swims.

I knew student-athlete-teachers who took their lessons in education, banged out a three-hour swim practice and went to the library to tutor fellow students.

I befriended student-athlete-dancer-linguists, who chased their morning swim workout with a two-hour tap class, followed by Spanish literary debate and a jazz session before jumping right back in the pool.

I even knew student-athlete-athletes, who traded in their goggles for track spikes as winter turned to spring.

It’s not just opportunity that allows students to fully extend beyond the boundaries of their playing field. Caring professors and dedicated coaches have to cooperate, too.

Acing a computer engineering degree while performing with the chapel choir and leading the backstroke lane in practice wouldn’t be possible without the support and cooperation of the swim coach, choir director and engineering professors.

Anchoring a weekly student-produced broadcast news show, producing livestreams of varsity basketball games and leading Lane 6 through distance workouts would drive a student-athlete crazy if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of faculty advisors.

Packing three dance rehearsals around two swim workouts in just one day would kill even the most well-conditioned athletes if it weren’t for the careful attention of trainers and coaches.

Division III is about more than the athletes. It’s about cooperation and relationships, all coming together to motivate achievement.

I found my way into writing because I was allowed to explore during my time as an NCAA athlete. All I knew when I got to school was that I was beyond excited to be a member of the Hope swim team.

I thought I might be a computer science major, or that I could take on English or even physics. I had an interest in French which I dreamed may lead to some postgrad globetrotting. The beauty of D3 is that no one told me no. There was never a club advisor who said, "We don’t take athletes," and when I was asked to be a part of putting together a student newscast, on top of my position with the newspaper and livestreaming crews, my coach was thrilled. "It sounds like you found a passion." He said.

I had, and because it was Division III, I was able to just add it to the list.

I haven’t been fully submerged in a pool since my senior year league championship meet, but I’ve written plenty of words. These stick out: DIII changed my life, and it could change yours. All you have to do is choose to participate.

Oh, and D3 respect.

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