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Voyageur's Best Generally Speaking Columns of 2003

Softball team

Restoring the faith in athletics
Seth Aho, Jessica Emmert gain from athletic experience
by Bill Pocernich  |  June 17, 2003

Over the last few months, many negative things have been reported about athletics in general and college athletics specifically. Coaches have been fired at the Division I collegiate level for attending strip bars and partying with college students. The University of Michigan is still being penalized for alumni paying its basketball players large sums of money (as much as $250,000 for one player) in the early 1990’s. At the high school level, disagreements between parents and coaches are resulting in more lawsuits than ever before. However, two local athletes have gained much from the athletic scene that has recently become so tainted.

Both Jessica (DeMars) Emmert of McGregor and Seth Aho of Cromwell graduated this spring after completing four years as student athletes at their respective schools. Jessica graduated from Northwestern College (Roseville) while Seth attended Hamline. Both schools compete at the NCAA Division III level, meaning they cannot give athletic scholarships. I have long believed Division III athletics to be the purest form of sports we have left. The players play solely for the love of the game, the coaches coach without parents questioning their every move or action, and through this, great things are gained. After discussing their experiences with me, those thoughts were solidified.

Seth Aho played defensive end for the Hamline football team for four years. In that time, he was named Team Defensive Lineman of the Year, All-Conference Honorable Mention, and MIAC Academic All-Conference for three years. However, these great accomplishments are not what Seth will most remember from his collegiate athletic experience. “The best thing about playing college sports is the relationships,” said Seth. He pointed to the time spent with his teammates and coaches as something he will be able to benefit from for a lifetime. Seth pointed to time management and persistence as things he learned while a student athlete that will help guide his life in the future. “Everyone’s level of commitment, even though it is just a Division III school, surprised me the most. I needed to learn time management and how to be persistent, never to give up, in order to be successful.” Seth’s college athletic experience, summed up in five words or less? “Great friends, great experience.”

Jessica (DeMars) Emmert starred at Northwestern (Roseville) on the basketball court for four seasons. Among her many awards, she received Team MVP twice and UMAC Player of the Year. Like Seth, Jessica chose not to dwell on these individual accomplishments. “The best thing about playing college athletics was the challenge. Having to be consistently good. College sports was pretty much what I expected. The only surprise to me was in the off-season workout program and the commitment it took. I think that learning to deal with various situations, people and perspectives and get along with different people was one of the greatest things I learned from my college athletic experience.” Jessica summed up her experience as a “great experience and I learned a lot about life.”

There are many people that I know and that most readers know who say they “could have played in college.” When they say this they refer to athletic ability only. It takes more than ability to play at a four year collegiate level, even “just” Division III. It takes persistence, a willingness and desire to improve both as an athlete and a person, and it takes a time and energy commitment few people are willing to make. In addition, it takes a perseverance to stick it out, even when you don’t get the playing time early in your career that you were used to in high school. Both Seth and Jessica demonstrated these qualities. They gave much to their respective schools, teams, and programs. It is also apparent that they got much in return. Not in scholarship money or fame, but in relationships and life lessons. Isn’t that what sports are supposed to be all about? Congratulations, Seth and Jessica. By finishing four year careers as collegiate student athletes, you have done something that a small percentage of people in the world are able to.

And thank you. Thank you for restoring faith that athletics still exists as a pure form where relationships are allowed to form and lessons are allowed to be taught. Hopefully, every other level of athletics, from high school to professional, will take a look at Division III sports and see what great things can happen when the team – not the coach’s or parent’s ego, money, or fame, but the team – is at the center of the athletic landscape.

This article first appeared in the June 17, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.