Editor's Note: Melanie Lippert is a fall-season senior athlete.
Becoming a Division I student-athlete requires a lot of sacrifice.
Most varsity athletes that play a fall sport have the unique opportunity of getting to spend one semester of their four years — the spring of their senior year — as “typical” students.
“It feels like something is leaving me,” Nealy Henderson, a senior forward on the field hockey team, said about her season coming to an end. Henderson has been playing field hockey for 12 years and said it would remain a part of her life forever, regardless of her season ending.
The University of Richmond has 17 Division I sports, but only four of those are fall sports – cross country, soccer, football and field hockey. Student-athletes are no longer eligible to compete with their team once their season is over when they have exhausted their eligibility per NCAA rules, Lauren Wicklund, associate director of athletics for leadership development, stated in an email.
The NCAA gives each Division I athlete five years to complete four seasons of competition, with the five years starting when an athlete enters college as a first-year, according to the official website of the NCAA. Most fall athletes are no longer eligible to work with their team once their fourth season ends in the fall of their senior year.
Some athletes may get a redshirt or medical waiver, which allows them to stay another year to compete after their senior season if they have lost one of their four seasons of competition because of something such as an injury.
But for the seniors who have competed in all four of their fall seasons at Richmond, they now face the transition from being with their team every single day to having full control of their time.
“It’s been essentially my entire life since I’ve been here,” Emily Braunewell, a senior goalkeeper on the field hockey team, said about her sport.
Justin Rubin, a senior linebacker on the football team, agreed, adding that being with his coaches, teammates and the other members of the athletic staff for four years had completely shaped the culture here for him at UR.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve been playing football,” he said. “I think it’s really a way of life.”
For most of these athletes, the majority of their days, whether it be meals, meetings or practices, were spent with their teammates. Thus, not only can it feel as if they are letting go of a sport that has been a part of their life forever, but they will also see less of their team, which has become like a family.
“It’s just been the best thing that could’ve happened,” Braunewell said about field hockey. “I’ve met my closest friends through field hockey. I got to be at this school because of field hockey, so it’s just been a huge, huge chunk of my life.”
Henderson said she would not only miss spending so much time with her teammates, but she would also miss having them there to push her and hold her accountable.
“I just love working for other people,” she said. “I think that’s part of the reason that I want to go into medicine.”
Many athletes noted that being on a team forced them to use their free time efficiently and taught them the importance of time-management. But they said they hoped they could continue to use their free time wisely even when they no longer had their sport each day.
“It’s going to be an adjustment period for sure,” Braunewell said. “Having to reorganize my time management, making sure that I’m not letting myself kind of be lazy, finding ways to stay occupied and fit and making sure I’m keeping up with all of my teammates.”
“I’ll miss the structure,” Kolby Williams, a senior offensive lineman on the football team, agreed. He said he did not know what to actually do with his free time yet.
However, with more control over their schedules, the fall student-athletes can now take the time to focus on things that they may not have been able to before.
“As student athletes, we lose focus of what we need,” Rubin said. “We’re always focused on what others need and the expectations that others have for us.”
By taking a semester to be just students, former athletes now have more control over leading lives that most suit their own personal needs, whether that be in terms of searching for jobs, focusing on schoolwork or spending more time with friends and family.
“Finally having that control over your time, that’s what I’m looking forward to and doing what I need to do to get better as a person,” Rubin added.
“It will be a big relief,” Williams said about having the time to focus on jobs and his classes now.
Henderson added that she was excited to pursue other passions that she had to put on hold, such as exploring the pre-med field and doing research at Richmond.
All of the athletes agreed that they would continue to stay healthy and stay active now that they had more time.
“I’m also excited to be able to mix up my [workout] schedule and give it a fresh new take on a healthy lifestyle that’s not forced upon me,” Henderson said.
Just because these athletes may be leaving their teams, it does not mean that they lose the skills and values that their sports have taught them for the past four years.
“It’s embedded in us that we’re time-oriented and we're task-setters, and we like to have a plan,” Rubin said about athletes.
As a student-athlete, you are able to develop the skills needed for teamwork and you learn how to depend on others. These are skills you need in the work world because you really are always on a team one way or another, he said.
“I think it’s [field hockey] made me the person that is able to be successful in new areas of my life,” Henderson agreed.
Now that these former athletes are just students, they will be able to use what they have gained from playing on a Division I team to help them pursue their other passions and goals in the future.
“Looking back on it [being an athlete], I wouldn’t change anything in the world, and I’m thankful that I came here and met all the people that I did," Rubin said. "Being a student-athlete laid a great foundation for me to live the rest of my life."
Contact co-features editor Melanie Lippert at email@example.com.