Op-ed: The Power of Sport
Senior staff writer Shannon Scovel explains how collegiate swimming, the 2017 NCAA wrestling tournament and sports helped her build an unbreakable bond with her father
In 2001, USA Today sports journalist Christine Brennan wrote a column about her relationship with her father, Jim Brennan, in honor of his 75th birthday. These kinds of tributes are not unprecedented, so now it’s my turn to share some thank yous and some thoughts on celebrating sports with my father.
I grew up with a blue wrestling mat in my house. While neither my brother nor I competed, we used the mat for general workouts, push-ups, abs and other fitness activities. Though mostly, I know my dad liked just having it as a reminder of his sport. My father, an All-American wrestler from the University of Maryland, preached the values of commitment and perseverance to his two children; and as I grew up, sports became something that I shared with both my parents. I never wrestled, but I had the chance to demonstrate my effort, pride and commitment through my own sport of swimming.
Three weeks ago, when I finished my collegiate athletic career as a Patriot League swimmer for AU, my dad sent me a text that brought me to tears: “Empty the tank. Don’t worry about the emotions. Ride them hard the last 500. Let your emotions work in your favor. Remember all the great races and take yourself back to them at the finish. The adrenaline will keep you from feeling any pain. Have fun with the history. You are a true champion, the definition of a champion. I am so proud of you. Love, Dad.”
My dad knew what it felt like to end a collegiate career after years and years of blood, sweat and tears. In 1987, he stood next to seven other wrestlers at the national championship and listened as the announcers recognized each of the All-Americans for the 167 lb. weight class. The photo of him in this moment, his last moment as a college athlete and his biggest moment on the national stage, hangs in our house as a reminder of what can happen when you pour your heart and soul into a sport. Last weekend, at the 2017 NCAA wrestling tournament, I watched him stand and earn recognition for his achievement 30 years later.
I had covered the AU wrestling team for two years and six months when I arrived in St. Louis to report on the squad one last time. I was excited to cover the tournament, but even more excited to spend the weekend with my dad and share the NCAA wrestling experience with him.
My dad and I watched almost every session in St. Louis, and we saw two more rounds of wrestling after AU was knocked out. I finished my articles for The Eagle early and spent the final day of the tournament soaking up the experience. In the final session, though, while ten national champions earned their titles, my dad and I shared one more moment, a moment that reminded me how special it was to celebrate this weekend with him.
From the loudspeaker, we heard a blaring announcement in between final rounds. “Ladies and gentleman, please stand up if you have ever competed in this tournament,” the announcer said. My dad stood up. “Now stay standing if you have been in All-American in this tournament.”
I looked over at my dad, standing up, smiling. Thirty years after standing up by the podium in his senior year, he was standing again.
The tournament brought back memories for my dad, and I could see the excitement in his eyes as he watched the next generation of wrestlers compete for the same honor he won in 1987.
I never won All-American honors in my sport, and I only scored at my conference championship once. But sharing the collegiate athletic experience with my dad and being able to cover an event as a reporter that he competed in as an athlete meant just as much to me as a national title would.
My dad passed on the values that he learned as a wrestler to me, the values of effort, pride, commitment and passion. And although neither of one us will ever again compete as college athletes, we will carry these values forever. Watching him earn recognition for his accomplishments and seeing his excitement about the progression of the sport he loved brought him such joy, and I could not help but feel enormous pride walking around St. Louis with my All-American dad. I went to St. Louis as a reporter, but I left with much more than a few Eagle bylines. I left with the memories of an incredible weekend and a new bond with my dad, as we cherished the power of sport together.
Thank you, Dad.
Shannon Scovel is a senior staff writer and former Editor-in-Chief for the Eagle. She also served as captain of the AU varsity swim team for the 2016-2017 season.