December 1, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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When I asked senior football player Kevin Rex about it, he lit up like, well, a Christmas tree.

“Christmas is the happiest time of the year. You get to dress up, you get to wear Santa Claus hats all the time, you eat candy canes. – No matter what house you go to, there’s candy.”

Wrestling coach Rob Koll had a relatively different initial reaction to my query.

“Ah – give me a break. You make me want to throw up,” the scrooge said to me.

As almost everyone is, or will be, working hard in the semester’s final weeks, it’s tough to remember the holiday festivities, which greet us right after the chaos ends. Me? Yes, I do have tests and papers, but as I was walking up a big hill today, I thought sourly about the fact that I didn’t get power wheels that one year not so long ago.

OK, it was 13 years ago, but for a person who does not have a driver’s license and gets made fun of on a consistent basis by certain individuals in my life, driving a golf cart or pushing a shopping cart is a thrill for me.

And for many Cornell athletes, Christmas is a bigger spectacle and thrill than just the exchange of presents. Take Rex – a Californian who hangs out on the beach before and after the big day – as an example. Rex lives in THAT house – you know, the one all the kids and their parents drive slowly by to look at the elaborate lights and decorations. Rex and his family pull out all of the stops – everything from reindeers on the lawn to Santa on the chimney. On Christmas morning, the Rex’s have a rule that the whole family must wait at the top of the stairs and not look at what’s under the tree, before walking down together.

“The best presents are the misshaped ones – you have no idea what they are. The square ones are probably clothes or boring things, but the ones where you’re like, ‘what the heck is that?’ You always either open them first or you open them last,” Rex said.

Another athlete from a warmer climate, senior basketball player Brittani Rettig, goes to her “madear’s” (grandmother’s) house with her large family of a number of uncles and aunts in Texas. As a family, they eat together, sing from a Christmas book of songs which makes fun of everyone else in the family, reminisce about past times, and light candles, singing Silent Night in a circle. Every year, her madear traditionally gives the kids a brown paper bag with an apple, orange and two-dollar bill inside.

For volleyball player Joanna Weiss, whose family now lives in Brewster, Mass., Christmas is a smaller affair. She is excited because this year, she is traveling to London for four days to see her grandmother. Her family is spread out all over the world, so seeing her extended family is rare, and something she cherishes.

While most students are at their homes drinking too much eggnog, others like hockey captain Matt Moulson and senior wrestler Mike Mormile have short vacations, coming back for games and meets after less than a week away from Cornell. Mormile said as a freshman, returning to the frozen and empty tundra of Ithaca, N.Y., is tough.

“Getting to go home, seeing the family, brings that comfort level back and it makes you realize you’re actually a real human being,” he said.

For the winter sport athletes including Mormile, Moulson and Rettig however, they said that coming back is relaxing and fun in itself.

“We get a break to go home and see our family and my parents and family probably get sick of me anyway, but it’s fun getting back together with the guys and just hanging out,” Moulson said. “It gets a little lonely around the campus, but it’s always fun getting back to hockey.”

“You look at [my] guys [on the team], they’re not the best looking crew anyway, they don’t have girlfriends back home, it’s not like they have that to look forward to,” Koll said. “This is their home.”

But, of course, there’s always the presents. Rettig fondly remembers when she was six and was obsessed with Michael Jackson, her parents bought her one of his trademark red leather jackets at a concert, equipped with all of the zippers – she never took it off for years to come. When he was 10, Rex was full of glee and fist pumps when he got a snowboard for Christmas, even though his parents told him that they weren’t going to get it for him.

And in terms of what these athletes want in their stockings this year, some have more sports-oriented goals in mind.

“Two wins [against Princeton and Quinnipiac this weekend],” Moulson said.

“To be an All American,” Mormile said.

“To win against UTA (University of Texas-Arlington) and TCU [in front of my family],” Rettig said.

Others have different wishes.

“I’d really like a plane ticket to go visit some of my friends,” said Weiss, who also added that her whole team would like the complete DVD set to Sex and the City.

Rex said that he wants a new dartboard for his place to replace the old one wrecked from the constant competition between him and his teammates, Ryan Kuhn and John Bazzo. He already got tickets to a Keith Urban concert over break from his parents.

And what about for a coach who still practices with the team?

“I would like to wake up every morning and not feel the practice I had the day before,” Koll said. “I’d like a shoe named after me before [two-time NCAA champion] Travis [Lee ’05] gets a shoe named after him. – [Or] if someone would discover a device that cleans up the giant hairballs which collect in between our mats.”

And for me? I’d like to think I’m older and wiser as I enter my last semester of college. But to be honest with you, hopefully my parents will finally get around to buying me those power wheels. And yes, I am serious.

On a side note, I want to wish my readers and everyone else a happy and fun holiday (whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, or just plain, old free time) and luck in their final few weeks of school.

Brian Tsao is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Life of Brain has appeared every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Brian Tsao