September 24, 2004

Oldies But Goodies

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Think junior wide receiver Brian Romney is old? At 23, the transfer student from Snow Junior College in Utah is clearly the oldest member of the Cornell football team — not to mention the only one already married.

But even Romney, the Red’s senior citizen, looks like a spring chicken when compared to some of the other players in Division I football this season. Somewhere out there, there are players who are the true embodiment of the term “mature student.” One of them is South Carolina walk-on Tom Frisby.

Frisby, 39, was received his NCAA clearance yesterday, and he will suit up for the Gamecocks tomorrow night when they play host to Troy.

Like Romney, who spent two years on a Mormon mission in Romania, Frisby has a fascinating story to tell. “Pops,” as his younger teammates call him, recently retired from the United States Army, where he was a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne unit. He served in Desert Storm as well as the Kosovo conflict. He is also the father of six children, who range in age from 16 to six months.

“Tim is not the typical student-athlete and his circumstances are certainly unique,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice-president for membership services, in announcing that Frisby would be eligible to play this year. “That was a key factor for us in making this decision and granting him eligibility.”

The NCAA’s decision has delighted legendary South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, as it should. Because in an era of escalating professionalism in college athletics, stories like those of Frisby and Romney are refreshing to see.

Both of these student-athletes are the real deal. They are students who are athletes, not the other way around.

Romney devoted the two years before he stepped on the Cornell campus this fall in Romania. He logged 16-hour days teaching English and volunteering in small villages. Not bad for a Division I wide receiver.

Frisby, on the other hand, was a career Army man. After graduating from Allentown Catholic High School in Pennsylvania in 1983, he felt he needed a bit more maturity before entering college, so he chose to join the Army. His maturation experience lasted a full 20 years.

In addition to his studies in broadcast journalism and hours of work with the Gamecocks, Frisby has other responsibilities — that of a father.

Quite a far cry from the extracurricular affairs of your typical college football player.

But that’s what makes Frisby’s story so unique. He’s not your typical college football player. He’s not even your typical college student. But what he brings to the table is the experience that helps make a college education so unique. Frisby exposes his classmates and teammates to a world outside of the University of South Carolina, a world outside of the youthful indescrestions we all take for granted.

Over the past several years, the ideal of the student-athlete has steadily slipped away.

Players now leave early, forego college altogether in favor of professional contracts, and take simplified, lollipop courses when they actually do attend class.

But that’s not what the college athletics experience is supposed to be about. College athletics is supposed to be about students who play sports for the love of the game. It’s what we see here at Cornell, and it’s the type of ideal that people like Tom Frisby give so much meaning.

Owen Bochner is the Sun Sports Editor. He can be contacted at sportsed@cornelldailysun.com. In The O-Zone will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Owen Bochner