A Blessing in Disguise
Two years into my Oberlin College adventure, I’ve learned that what makes Oberlin students so unique is that they make the most of what is available to them. Whether it is staying late in the Conservatory to practice for an upcoming harp recital, attending nightly biology tutoring sessions or organizing unique ExCos and clubs, Obies find a way to succeed even when our school cannot mirror the overflowing arsenal of equipment at larger universities.
Undoubtedly, this drive for success is what makes the Oberlin populace so unique. Not only is it applicable to the classroom, it is also evident on the athletic courts and fields.
As a varsity athlete, I have experienced this drive for success first hand. Sports teams receive a limited sum of money, forcing teams to choose between an extra bag of balls or a nice meal at Olive Garden after an away game. While the athletics department continues to strive to improve the Oberlin student-athlete, most notably by approving the two million dollar stadium that will host soccer, track and lacrosse games next year, changes must be made.
Of particular concern is our pitiful excuse for a weight room. Since the untimely fire that raged from the sauna in the men’s downstairs locker room in Philips over Thanksgiving weekend, students, athletes and community members alike have been forced to improve their phyisques in a gym not up to the standards of a college athletics program.
For those who may be fortunate enough not to have experienced every claustrophobe’s nightmare, picture the Science Center computer lab and add five benches, two squat machines, one rack of free-weights and place 15 sweaty, musty people jostling for position. You now have Oberlin’s “main” weight room.
In the second squash court, an old, ugly rug lies on top of a layer of dirty-white plastic that hangs out into the walkway. It protects the floor from the impact of weights falling to the ground, yet simultaneously reminds us that this is the college’s way of supporting athletics.
When I returned from Winter Term and discovered the extent of the fire and that the regular weight room would be closed for the rest of the year, I was disheartened and annoyed. I’ll admit I was impressed that people at least moved the machines to a usable area, because after going a month without opening the gym, I figured all was lost.
Having a hard time understanding my frustration? If the library closed down due to a similar fire, how would the library-crazed students react if they were moved to a significantly decreased room? What would biology and chemistry majors do if lab rooms were shut down and they had lab in King?
Since it “reopened,” the Oberlin community seems to have grown accustomed to working through the congestion problem and has gone about its business as usual. After all, most weights are available so theoretically everyone can do separate workouts. But when you are sitting in line waiting for a machine, you go to grab the 30-pound dumbbells but discover one is missing or journey up the steep stairwell after a strenuous leg work out, wishful thinking sets in and aspirations for a new weight room begin to flood your mind.
If anything can be taken away from this fire, it isn’t about how long cleaning the ventilation system can take or how not to leave a sauna running, but rather that the school needs a new weight room.
Over the course of Joe Karlgaard’s tenure as athletic director, (after the departure of Vin Lanana to Oregon), I have seen gradual improvements in Oberlin athletics. Slowly, the once hopeless “Oberlin mentality” that focused on just keeping the losing score respectable has washed away. Last season, field hockey became the first team in school history to make it to the NCAA tournament. Men’s soccer has made it to the conference tournament in consecutive years, football had an outstanding season this past fall and cross country and track have been unbelievable, most notably the women’s team winning the conference title last fall.
To be able to take steps forward, athletes must be able to grow both in skill and, of course, physically. A large part of the off season is spent in the weight room. Players can only improvise so much with insufficient machines and weights.
Not only would players benefit from a new working environment, but the school would reap the rewards by attracting more athletes and non-athletes alike.
If Oberlin wants to progress athletically, it requires bringing in good recruits each year and raising the standard of performance. Of course academics is the main reason to choose a school, but a school that has a multi-million dollar gym shows it is committed to its athletics and its athletes.
It guts me to say it, but let’s take Kenyon as an example. Kenyon was fortunate enough to generate $75 million to build a state-of-the-art, jaw-dropping facility around its top-ranked swim teams. Included were new basketball courts, a movie theatre to watch game footage and, yes, a gigantic weight room.
I don’t anticipate this piece to sway Karlgaard or to catch the eye of some rich alum who will donate money. I just feel the school would benefit significantly, both athletically and financially, if a new weight room was built. If it were to happen, I would look back on the day individuals decided to leave the sauna running as a momentous occasion and truly believe it was a blessing in disguise.