In a matter of hours Sunday, Ohio State held its winter commencement at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, St. John Arena played host to the NCAA Fencing Championships and back at the Schott the men’s basketball team awaited the verdict on a possible bid to the “Big Dance,” the NCAA tournament.
The day was a microcosm of all the experiences that go into being a collegiate student-athlete. It served as a snow-globe look into what goes beyond the typical blood, sweat and tears often pointed to by outsiders.
Those three settings housed a variance of emotions; from smiles, hugs and reminiscing conversation at graduation to an elated Buckeye fencing squad hoisting the NCAA trophy to a concerned pair of men’s basketball seniors unsure of their future as the team awaited news on consolation postseason play.
Graduation, the ultimate culmination of collegiate life, is always a captivating scene. The vast array of expressions painted on the faces of the soon-to-be grads portrays an entertaining, yet complex spectacle. It offered a perfect setting for study of several graduating student-athletes and their paths to this day and beyond.
Todd Boeckman and Steve Rehring, football teammates who have three Big Ten championship rings to their credit, found each other in the sea of black caps and gowns and joked with members of the college of human ecology to pass the time. The Buckeye quarterback and his trusty lineman visited with television crews prior to graduation and spoke about how much they look forward to next season and enjoying their final football campaign as wise, old graduates.
Tyler Whaley, also a former football player, and Stephanie Blanton, a three-time Big Ten champ of her own with women’s basketball, met with the TV crew as well. Whaley came to play at Ohio State as a walk-on from the small factory town of Ironton, Ohio, and his underdog success story is unmatched by few. After switching positions, he gained the ultimate compliment from his 2007 teammates, being voted the most inspirational player for a Buckeye squad that played for a second-consecutive national championship. Whaley also gained recognition by the National Football Foundation for his academic success.
Whaley aspires to give the National Football League a shot and also mentioned a possible pro opportunity in the Arena Football League. Much like he faced during his five seasons with the Buckeyes, he’ll encounter his doubters, but Whaley’s character has demonstrated his skeptics tend to skate on thin ice.
Blanton, from nearby Lancaster, Ohio, was reluctant to do the TV spot but complied only if she could include her roommate, Briana McCarthy of the women’s volleyball team. Both were multiple Academic All-Big Ten selections and are remaining active as mentors on their respective courts.
Blanton currently is a student assistant coach for the Buckeyes. She helped guide Ohio State to its fourth Big Ten title in a row earlier this month. McCarthy coaches a youth volleyball team at night at St. John with fellow senior teammate Danielle Meyer. Both mentioned how sad it was that Sunday morning possibly would be the last time they would fight over the bathroom mirror before leaving their apartment.
Shortly after the beginning of commencement, St. John was the scene of a frenzied celebration, as the fencing team claimed its third national title in their home city.
Junior Jason Pryor’s 5-3 win in epee just before noon sealed the title for the Buckeyes, who had to wait three hours to celebrate. It was apparent they had plenty of time to boil as the festivities carried on to table tops and into the St. John stands.
At the same time, an alternate form of anxiety was brewing for the men’s basketball Buckeyes as they sat on the edge of their seats awaiting their postseason fate. The television selection show was drawn out over 60 minutes and the team agonizingly had to wait until the final pairing was revealed to find out they were left out of the field.
It was a hard pill to swallow for seniors Jamar Butler and Matt Terwillger. Not only were they one game from claiming their own NCAA title a season ago, but the pair makes up the winningest class in Ohio State history. They celebrated senior day last week with career victory No. 100 in comeback fashion over Michigan State. “Twig,” as Terwilliger is known by his teammates, made his first career start vs. the Spartans, while Butler led the rally with a furious second half performance. That day was an “up.”
Although it was probably the last thing the two wanted to do, the seniors found themselves surrounded by media, answering questions about the disappointment of the NCAA draw. Their long faces and low, monotone responses illustrated their mood. Sunday was a “low.”
The three contrasting settings of reflection, jubilation and dismay truly exemplified what athletics provide to our future leaders; the successes of winning championships, the failures of not always reaching your goals and facing the ensuing music, and the coronation that is the moment when one can rejoice upon his or her accomplishments and remarkable experiences with the closest of teammates, friends and family with diploma in hand.
by Pat Kindig, OhioStateBuckeyes.com