PARTING SHOT: Not Just the Numbers

Harvard is all about the numbers. Number one school in the country with 6,400 undergrads, 3,500 courses, three million volumes in Widener, 12 undergraduate houses, and 41 Division I sports teams. One basketball NCAA tournament run, two Winklevii, three women’s soccer Ivy League championships in the past four years, and a handful of 2012 Olympians.

But despite what the College emphasizes, Harvard and Harvard athletics are more than just numbers.

There are two moments that have defined my experience at Harvard—one as an athlete and one as a member of the Crimson sports board.

Last year at this time, I sat where I’m sitting now, on the dock at Red Top in New London, Conn., preparing for the Harvard-Yale regatta, the oldest intercollegiate competition in the United States. I was coxing the combination eight, a mix of third varsity and second freshman guys, for the second year in a row, and we were excited to face a respectable Yale boat. But as has become the norm for Harvard combis, we managed to come back from an eight-seat deficit, beating the Elis by 12 seconds. While it was an amazing feeling to pass the infamous “H” painted boulder at the finish line well ahead of Yale, what felt even better was the support our teammates showed. Even though we weren’t the top boat, and even though our win meant little in the big scheme of things, to win with those eight guys was by far the greatest experience because they were all-around great guys who earned the chance to sit in the spotlight for a moment.

This year began with my 21st birthday, which I celebrated at The Crimson. Every season, The Crimson produces a supplement dedicated to one of the major sports at Harvard. This fall, the basketball supplement fell on my birthday of legality. While I wasn’t ridiculously giddy to celebrate my 21st in a room full of grammatically correct individuals, it turned out to be a blast. People I didn’t even know wished me happy birthday, and after being kidnapped by friends to get my first legal drink, my Crimson brethren surprised me by eating all of my crab rangoons. And by letting me joyfully sleep throughout the entire production process. And by potentially letting me win in Super Smash Bros. The night was my Harvard career in a nutshell: chaotic and exciting, with lots of work and a hell of a lot of fun and friends.

During both of these experiences I came to realize that I will not in fact remember how many books Harvard owns, or even the papers that I wrote in class. What I will remember are my teammates, housemates, and the writers at The Crimson. It’s the people here that make being an athlete and all-around student at Harvard so much fun, and what makes covering Harvard athletics an honor.

Harvard is Harvard because of those who walk in its hallowed halls—or at least on its linoleum floors. It’s not just the nationally-recognized piano player in your house but also the walk-on skier from Montana sitting across from you in the dining hall that matters. And the prestige, exemplary performance, positive attitude, creativity (shout out to baseball), and dose of humility that the University holds so dear are just amplified in Harvard athletics.

Take for instance Jenna Gregoire. In one year, she has won two Ivy League championships on two different Division I squads: first with the swimming team before turning her attention to rowing and winning Radcliffe’s first Ivy League title since 2003. But when you meet Jenna, you wouldn’t know it.

She is just one of a handful of athletes and students that I have had the chance to meet and who I will remember after I graduate. While I have neither the space nor time to honor them all, there are some who have requested and/or deserve a shoutout:

To the rowers of all genders and sizes, congratulations on four years of great racing and sometimes great skits. For all of the old men 3v, including my match12 wannabe crush David Paresky, thank you for some very interesting and amusing times. Catdaddy forever. To the savages of the senior class, you are all legends. I will truly miss you all, including you...Sam.

To my Crimson friends, I’m going to miss falling asleep on the couch, the Sportstalk thread, and Scott Sherman’s always pleasant and loving remarks. To my co-seniors Dennis, Campos, and C, thank you for four years of amusement and for all of your hard work. You guys were the real reason why a Sports section showed up in The Crimson everyday. Particularly to Campos, my partner in crime for two sports beats and five quality stories, Sopos will be missed.

But most importantly, I want to thank the 41 Harvard sports teams. Thank you to the women’s basketball, women’s water polo, men’s squash, softball, and swimming/diving teams for being good sports as I covered your wins and losses over the last four seasons. Special shout out to the women’s soccer team and Coach Ray Leone. Now that I no longer have to be unbiased, it’s been a pleasure covering your Ivy League championships. Coach, I apologize on behalf of Campos and myself for trying to impress you with our ball skills after every. single. game. We still think you should have put us in.

Ending my Crimson career with 89 stories and having watched almost every team go through the sweat and work that defines Division I athletics, I graduate not only with a Harvard degree but with a million memories and friends as well. And those are the numbers that really matter.

—Staff writer Alex Sopko can be reached at sopko@post.harvard.edu.

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