Redefining the role of a senior

Have you ever tried to play sports with tears in your eyes? Hopefully not. Trust me, it’s a little hard to regain composure.

Last Saturday, I felt my heart break a little before our final home game of the season. Maybe “heartbreak” is a bit of an over-exaggeration, but I had been dreading this day for such a long time. Saturday, the Truman State University women’s basketball team celebrated six amazing women who have given their all to the program and to their teammates, but it was hard to be in a celebratory mood when it was also the day I said what felt like “goodbye” to the greatest teammates I’ve ever had.

In all reality, that should have been me this Saturday, playing my last game on the Pershing Arena court, which has been such a huge part of my life at Truman. An unexpected medical redshirt year changed those plans, and so here I was, handing my best friends flowers and scrapbooks, trying to imagine what basketball will be like next year without them by my side. There’s something about your recruiting class — together you go from underclassmen to veteran leaders, and you’ve experienced the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and the hardest of workouts with them right there to help you, celebrate you, laugh with you and love you. Those bonds are incredible.

As you can see from the sappy stuff above, I have a special place in my heart for these seniors, but if you knew them as an underclassmen, you would, too. In college athletics, when you think of what you want your senior year to be like, it might seem glamorous. Envisioning your senior season can mean hopes of making the starting lineup, scoring more points, playing a bigger role on the court or being that person everyone turns to for interviews. But this is not always the case, and my view of the senior role has been completely redefined.

This year, the seniors didn’t always see court time. They’re not all starters, and their Senior Day bios simply weren’t a list of overly impressive stats or All-Conference accolades. We probably won’t graduate an All-Conference player, and there are no 1,000-point scorers in this crew. The Senior Day recognitions might be shorter statistically, but believe me, this team isn’t lacking accolades to honor. Rather than stats, Senior Day was actually about other, more important things. We have individuals owning titles like most selfless, best charge-taker and best pre-game speech.

Being a senior doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be a shining star in the stat columns — the seniors have taken that stigma down. Senior leadership means much more. The culture of our team has taught me this. Senior year is a time to leave your legacy, but what will people remember you for? What will they care about? How did you treat your teammates, and what did you do for them? It’s not about shining at all — it’s about sacrificing. It’s about going out of your way to share what you’ve learned and help those below you. It’s about being a teacher, being patient and being unshakeable for your teammates.

For some, the game is everything — the wins, the losses and the highlight reels. But to the leaders on my team, it’s more valuable than that. The team and the love between each member truly came first for this graduating class, and it will be hard to see them go. The impact they’ve left on our program is immense, but the impact they’ll leave in the world is so much bigger

Here’s to the future teacher, nurse, marketer, coach, landscaper and doctor. The best is yet to come.