The Unity Bowl: Readdressing the balance between athletes and non-athletes

On Friday, March 30, the men’s rugby team played a home game in the Unity Bowl against Curry College on the Turf Field. Having lost core players to injuries and relying on new players to fill vital positions, Wheaton was defeated by Curry with a final score of 10-0. Sean MacBride ’20, Wheaton Men’s Rugby Match Secretary, said, “We were incredibly disappointed with our performance. We as a club take winning and losing very seriously… Taking a loss in a big event is something we all hate. Taking a loss against a team we know we can beat is something we all hate. We hated losing that game. That was a loss that we all took personally.”

The Unity Bowl is one of the biggest sports events on campus in the spring, with over 20 clubs and student organizations joining in such as the Southern Asian student initiative, SOHL House, SGA, Emerson House, Women’s hockey team and Ultimate Frisbee. This men’s rugby event aimed to unite all students from various backgrounds on campus to enjoy the beauty of the sport and build up the cohesiveness of student community.

Athletics has been integral to the educational liberal arts experience, both for student athletes and for those who enjoy sporting events from the sidelines. Athletics builds community by deepening friendships and connecting alumni across generations through sports events. However, those benefits are not without concerns. Athletes tend to travel in packs and conform to the idea of “herd mentality.” They may eat and socialize together; as a result, such a rigid group environment may be intimidating to many others. The perception of a division between athletes and non-athletes will be exacerbated if we continue to ignore or remain unaware of the situation.

To combat the perceived divide, the men’s rugby team attempted to take the lead, creating a platform and facilitating dialogues for students from both sides. “This game was originally conceived at the beginning of fall last year,” MacBride explained. “We recognized that there was a serious rift growing between varsity athletes and the general student population. We were lucky enough to be in a position where we are one of the biggest club sports on campus, getting the attention and crowds of varsity games without the varsity status.

MacBride continued to state that, “[g]iven the events of the past year both around campus and around the country, [the team] realized that the student body was more divided than ever.” Therefore, men’s rugby “decided that the game and events surrounding it was the right platform to bring the campus back together.”

As many clubs participated in this event, SGA president Mary Sasso ’18 said, “We wanted to be a part of the Unity Bowl because the mission of the event really spoke to our purpose as an organization that is meant to amplify the voices of students.”

By making this event happen, the rugby team’s Executive Board Committee worked hard not only on preparing for the game, but also on connecting with different clubs and promoting the event through different forms of advertisements. “My main responsibility was to reach out to the clubs on campus to make the event as inclusive as possible,” said MacBride. “Most clubs were incredibly enthusiastic, and the team and I were incredibly happy to get such a wide range of voices, backgrounds and communities involved in this event.”

Despite the Easter holiday, many students who stayed on campus showed up at the game. Speaking about the huge turnout, MacBride said, “We were incredibly excited to get such a strong showing at the game, as it feeds our energy on the field. We understand the rain was tough to stay through, but we were impressed that so many people came to support us and stayed.” Similarly, Sasso stated, “I thought the turnout was great! I don’t think I have seen that many students at a rugby game before.”

Whether the Unity Bowl event bridged the gap between athletes and non-athletes and to what extent this social event can help eliminate the divided situation are still unknown. From the perspective of an athlete, however, the case at Wheaton may not be what it seems. Kyra Schwartzman ’20, a player on the women’s lacrosse team, said that, although “most of [her] friends are [her] teammates, there is not as big a divide here compared to other colleges.” It is true that most college and university campuses have an inherent gap between varsity athletes and non-athletes. Thus, the “gap” between two parties and the stigmas surrounding athletes are not unique to Wheaton.

“I think there is a lot more support between athletes and non-athletes at Wheaton because I definitely think that there is a connection between these two parties, [as shown in the rugby] event,” Schwartzman added.

Even if there will not be significant changes made to close the perceived gap between the two parties, an event like the Unity Bowl has created a greatly improved atmosphere with the help of efforts from both athletes and non-athletes. MacBride commented, “We plan on making the Unity Bowl an annual event, much like the Purple Bowl in the fall already is for us. In a community and country that is so divided, we realize that, given the position we are in, it would be a disservice for us to not take an active role in bringing us as people together again.”

These steps, together with new awareness of the divide, will make it easier for all students to move outside their comfort zones and to get to know new people throughout their time at Wheaton.