Saturday, August 27, 2011

Student Athletes

For Maryland (and, more directly, University of Miami) football fans, the fallout from "The U"'s latest heinous scandal is a matter of great interest in advance of their September 5th opener up here in College Park. As yet more Miami athletes are accused of receiving improper payments and benefits from a crooked booster, the academic aspect of collegiate athletics seems entirely absent.

There are a number of reasons why making the trek over to Ludwig for Friday night's huge matchup between the two elite women's soccer teams of Stanford and Maryland (it ended up being a fantastic game fraught with tension on a beautiful night), but what stood out to me the most was the play of Stanford's Chioma Ubogagu.

Maryland boasts some impressive talent -- Jasmyne Spencer is a very entertaining player (and should have been awarded a penalty that would have determined the game) -- but Ubogagu is a special player. The freshman had a brilliant first half and I spent halftime trying to learn more about her on the wireless: from Coppell, Texas; fresh off a team that won the Class 5A state championship; the granddaughter of a former Tottenham Hotspur and Nigerian national team player and one of the most heavily recruited female soccer high school athletes from last year's class.

Chioma was so heavily recruited that she turned down an offer from the elite women's program in the country at the University of North Carolina to play soccer at Stanford. Why?:
“It was just the best of both worlds, educationally and soccer-wise,” Ubogagu said. “I kind of wanted to go a place that I could start a tradition. Stanford has never won a national championship, and I'd love to be a part of that as opposed to just being another ring.”
Ms. Ubogagu's profile notes that she boasted a 4.975 GPA in high school. In a February 2010 interview, Chioma was asked what some of her goals were in her junior year in high school. Her answer:
Academically, my goal this year was to make all A’s [every] 6 weeks which I have kept up with so far. Soccer wise, I would love to win another state championship.
Per a nice profile on ESPN Rise, prioritizing academics comes from her parents and the opportunity to play soccer is conditioned on excelling in the classroom.

I am deeply ambivalent about big time college football and men's college basketball. While the poor academic achievements of the majority of Gary Williams' and Ralph Friedgen's players may not have bothered many supporters of the college's athletics programs, it has been, alongside the abusive nature of student support for those two teams, a major factor in keeping our family away from their games.

But when the balance is right -- when athletics is something clearly and intrinsically tied to the academics of a university -- there's no ambivalence in the stands. Chioma Ubogagu would seem to be the living paradigm of all that collegiate athletics aspires to be.

A few random unrelated additional notes riffing on Maryland alums:

This household was very happy to see the news that Rodney Wallace has been called in to the Costa Rican national team. Listed as a midfielder, he'll get a chance to play on the wing alongside or behind Christian Bolanos -- one of our favorite international footballers. We'd have much preferred to see Wallace get a shot in the U.S. men's national team, but it is hard to see how he'll be able to generate enough buzz off of his performances for the Portland Timbers to catch Jurgen Klinsmann's eye.

I love nearly everything about the Timbers' entry into the MLS, but the team is not exactly developing Maryland talent. And, for that reason, we were similarly very happy to see Jeremy Hall move to FC Dallas. We had hoped that getting away from Red Bulls would allow Hall to show his terrific talent and while that may not have worked out, early returns for Dallas have been promising. If nothing else, Hall's change of address led to me watching a phenomenal performance tonight from Brek Shea in Kansas City.

On the other side of the spectrum, we noted that the Harrisburg City Islanders beat the Rochester Rhinos in a USL Pro semifinal and will face Orlando in the championship on September 3rd. Neither Jason Herrick nor Drew Yates will take part in the game, as both were lost to season-ending injuries early on. Herrick reportedly suffered a concussion that killed an already disappointing first professional season, and Yates injured his ACL. I've not been able to locate information discussing either's progress (or lack thereof) in recovery, but we hope that it is swift for both.

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