October 31, 2021

DERY | Sports for the Dorks

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Standing atop the seats at Lynah Rink and yelling about a penalty call I know nothing about is when I feel most like a Cornell student. Not even witnessing  profound campus monuments or the beauty of the Hill as the leaves change is a more quintessential “Cornell moment” for me. I feel the history of the University echoing off the walls of Lynah Rink as the crowd roars, a sensation I haven’t quite experienced anywhere else on campus. As a student who chose Cornell for its academics, and hadn’t watched a single hockey game before coming to Ithaca, the budding hockey culture  has helped me feel part of something bigger than myself. 

When I see the six players in red and white on the ice, I see my fellow Cornellians, past and present, known and unknown to me, with whom I’ve shared the Cornell tradition. College sports are mechanisms to uplift the campus community, and unite its students — who otherwise diverge into a wide spread of interests — behind one common goal. For those of us primarily immersed in Cornell’s academics,  sports are a healthy outlet to engage with our community. In its attempt to build a more academically inclined, intellectual campus, Cornell should look to invest more in its sports programs. 

The mutualism between a school’s academics and sports culture has long been undervalued, especially at Cornell. Classes can quickly become overwhelming and the student body is always looking for distractions away from the blackboard. A budding sports culture ensures a competitive game is always around the corner, where students not only re-energize and forget about work, but also feel united with their peers in the process. When students have to wait days, weeks or even an entire season for a competitive Cornell team of interest, campus sports are no longer a dependable, campus culture-building outlet.

I observed first-hand the benefits of successful sports on campus culture when I visited The University of Notre Dame several weekends ago. There, gameday meant that students and alumni could put their busy lives on hold for an afternoon to unite behind the game, and in turn, their school. Moments like these give students exciting, campus-wide events to look forward to, even in the most stressful of times. Although we may study out of the same textbooks and take part in activities also found in other schools, the “us vs. them” mentality cultivated in sporting events distinguishes each school’s campus experience. The intangible atmosphere that rises from the excitement of a weekend sports game has been quantified in studies, showing that fansmanship can increase self-esteem and a sense of fulfillment. 

Here at Cornell, more often than we’d like to admit, an underperforming sports team risks becoming a laughing stock among the students. It becomes something we quickly mention, then dismiss. Games fail to draw large crowds, and those who do attend lack the confidence in the team necessary to make college sporting events memorable. Students simply cannot see a flailing program as a culture-builder. 

The onus is on Cornell to invest more resources and improve our sports teams’ performance. Investing in other initiatives to increase campus awareness of sports can only go so far; ultimately, winning teams increase awareness and draw crowds on their own. It’s not reasonable to expect Cornell to become an athletic powerhouse anytime soon, but stepping up recruitment efforts — though at first seemingly counterintuitive to bolstering academics — can help instill a healthier campus for all students down the road. Perhaps it’s even time for the Ivy League to lift its ban on athletic scholarships. 

Either way, and in the meantime, I encourage all Cornellians to make their best effort to attend campus sports. The more we isolate ourselves in our own studies and career pursuits, the easier it is to forget that we are Cornellians first, and engaging in school traditions on game days refuels our love for this campus and offers our students breaks from our busy lives in a productive and uniting way. So embrace hockey season. Go out to a game. Even on a nerdier campus like Cornell, it’s time we return sports to the dorks. 

Roei Dery is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Monday this semester.