Team Spirit Runs Wild Within Calvin Cross Country/Track & Field Programs
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
By Andrew Knot
By the traditional sense of the term, Track and Field and Cross Country are not team sports. Outside of relays, the sports are designed for the individual.
Talk to members of Calvin’s Cross Country or Track and Field teams, and you’ll likely think otherwise. In building a tradition-steeped program, the Knights’ have relied heavily on team spirit and encouragement.
“At Calvin, we use the team to help us reach our goals,” said Junior Nick Kramer, a Calvin standout in Track and Field as well as Cross Country.
Bret Otte, Calvin’s Head Track and Field Coach, is intentional about promoting the concept of team to his squad. Otte makes a point to integrate different the team’s different event groups in warm-ups, bus rides, and small groups. For him, the team nature of the sport may seem slight, but is crucial and unavoidable. “The subtle nature of the sport is that we are very dependent on one another in practice for encouragement and to push one another,” said Otte.
Critical to this team atmosphere is encouragement and team spirit, of which the Knights have no shortage. “I’ve never seen more Calvin athletic gear than I do at every single track practice,” said Senior Rachel Boerner, one of the Knights’ most accomplished runners. “We are proud to support Calvin College and strive during every practice and at every meet to show the rest of the world how great the school and people of Calvin are,” she added.
This united mission is evident in weekly meetings, called “spotlighting,” where team members draw attention to areas requiring improvement or notable achievements.
“The goal is to know when a distance person ran well when you’re a thrower or know that a jumper jumped a PR (and at what distance) when you’re a sprinter,” said Boerner.
Both Kramer and Boerner attribute their success to their teammates.
“The success I have had at Calvin could not have been done without my teammates. We are always challenging each other,” said Kramer.
Boerner echoed a similar experience.
“The cheers from my teammates can provide the mental push and/or instructions I need to do my best in the race,” she said.
The effects of such team spirit are best evidenced at Nationals, where the Knights come out in droves to support their advancing runners.
Oftentimes, teammates will carpool to Nationals and camp out to support their qualifying teammates. For Kramer, this form of team spirit finds its culmination in a chant.
“The biggest thing that defines the team spirit on the track team is the ‘CALVIN’ chant,” he said, calling it “powerful.”
He recalls the Nationals indoor tournament earlier in the season where that chant made all the difference. With a half-mile remaining, Kramer recognized first place was out of reach.
“I was ready to start feeling sorry for myself and jog it to the finish line when I heard ‘Calvin!, Calvin!, Calvin!’” he said. That cheer, audible even from the NCAA live stream, fuelled Kramer to the finish line.
“I realized I was representing an entire student body who was counting on me to do my best,” he said. Kramer finished the race an All-American.
“Rain or shine, warm weather or cold, a large portion of our team is at nationals, whether they are competing or not. This is what makes Calvin College different than every other school,” said Boerner.
She continued, “We always have the largest fan base at a National meet and I think that shows just how far are school spirit goes.”
Boerner said that opposing coaches and athletes regular compliment the Calvin squad on their spirited and dedicated sense of team.
For Boerner and the rest of the Knights, Track and Field and Cross Country aren’t just team sports, they’re life-long associations.
“That’s how big of an impression Calvin College’s track spirit and team unity has made on the members of this team. Once you experience this kind of team, you’ll never forget it,” she said.