Everyone knows them...the athletes. They're easy to spot in a sea of people.
Wearing their school colors with pride, seeming to the common eye like an advertisement that they, for some reason, could never stop running.
There are over 460,000 of them in the United States. Approximately 176,000 are Division I athletes, 118,800 Division II, and 187,800 Division III. I am one of "them". Yes, I am one of the over 460,000, but more importantly, I am one of the 187,800 students participating in Division III athletics. We are the greatest in number, have the highest academic success rate, and have the lowest percentage of students that participate in national championships.
When us DIII athletes decided to pursue sports in college, we did not make that decision lightly.
We knew that playing a sport at this level was going to be hard. Not just because of the many hours on the field, in the weight room, or at team study halls, but because of everything else we had to manage. From fundraising money, so we can actually go to different places to play other teams, to paying for our own gear, to running between practice and class, we have to do so much.
I'm not saying that DI and DII athletes don't, but I am saying that our responsibilities differ.
When we win, 100s or 1000s of people aren't waiting to congratulate us. When we lose, those same people are not upset that we lost. When we have personal successes, they aren't put on national platforms. When we pull a big upset, it is not talked about for days, let alone weeks, months or years. Our coaches are not household names. Nobody, except our friends and family (and maybe our opponents), knows who we are.
To us, that is OK. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, and decided to do it anyways. We don't play for the glory.
We play because we love the game so much we can't imagine our lives without it. We play because the game is a part of us, not because we want to be a part of the game. We don't get scholarships, we don't get free clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc., and quite frankly, we don't care because we do get to play the sport we love.
Our professors give us weird looks when we come to class with our cleats hanging from our bags because after it ends we have to (literally) run to practice.
Our classmates stare at us as we sit down because our backs are covered in sweat (we didn't have time to change after lift before class) Our friends ask us why we stay up so late (we didn't get back from our game until midnight and are expected to take an exam the next day). This is the life we chose. While other kids were signing letters of intent, we were signing unwritten contracts to be an athlete and still be treated like any other student.
Lucky for us, our coaches stress the importance of succeeding in the classroom, as well as on the field.
We chose to be students first and then athletes. Thankfully, our coaches understand that, and encourage us to push ourselves in both aspects. Our professors wish us good luck as we (attempt to) quietly sneak out of their class because we have to get to our game. They work with us to make up what we missed, and to succeed in their class. When they show up on the sidelines of our field, we are thankful that they support us in all aspects of our college careers.
We chose to pursue the education that we wanted, and still get to participate in our sport.
Often times, we run into parents of DI or II athletes, or the athlete themselves. Since we're always wearing our team gear, they ask where our school is, what division it is, what position we play, etc. When we say Division III, we can see their face shift, almost as if they feel bad for us; but we speak with pride because we know that being a DIII athlete is an experience that we will always be thankful for.
We are DIII athletes, and we are proud.