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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Competitive Legacy

<u and your brother could have been standout basketball players if you had just let me coach you!”

Whether the sport is basketball or baseball or swimming, my grandpa stands by his statement that I could have been great if I had only agreed to be his pupil. It is a sure thing that, whenever I visit him in his Florida home, the subject of my bright outlook as a young athlete will be brought up at least once. Despite my height and build, my grandpa is convinced that I was a “can’t miss” prospect as a first grader missing layups in my driveway and as a fifth grader afraid to step into the batter’s box. My family and I cannot help but laugh at these claims, remembering the times that my grandpa would pay my brother and me one dollar apiece for the chance to take us to the pool and correct our breaststroke and crawl. He would set up “basketball camps” in my driveway for us during the summer, teaching us the three-man weave and perfecting our shooting form. And it isn’t until now, three years removed from high school sports, that I am beginning to understand why he pushed us like he did.

In high school back in the 1930s, Ike Isaac was a standout basketball star with a promising future playing college ball. He received a scholarship to play at the University of Illinois, but his father got sick during his first semester in college and he had to return home to take care of him. As a result, he never got the chance to play Division I basketball, but this didn’t deter him for long. As soon as he could, he got back into the game at Albion College, a small school in Albion, Michigan. He excelled in many sports there, and Albion became his home for the next thirty years, as he went on to teach and coach at the college level. Additionally, many of his student-athletes went on to get their PhDs and MDs.

It is true that much of my grandfather’s drive to push my brother and me came from his competitive and athletic nature, yet, more so than that, I think he understood the importance of discipline and focus, two of the many tenets of both individual and team sports. It wasn’t enough for us to simply get to the other end of the pool; we had to demonstrate that we could do it with the right form. Excelling in a sport requires countless hours of practice, and mastery of any skill does not come without years of dedication. My grandfather knew this, and so he started training us young with the hope that we would grow to enjoy playing. And while I didn’t pick up the basketball or the bat as he had hoped, I still found within myself enough desire and passion for sport to participate and excel in cross country, wrestling, and tennis. These sports all required immensely different skill sets, and none came without its setbacks, but I pushed through.

And now, here I am at Carleton, playing Ultimate Frisbee, a sport my grandfather had never known, much less played, before my brother and I introduced it to him. Ultimate is the first team sport in which I have taken part since freshman year of high school, and I have found in it the same redemptive qualities that my grandfather saw in basketball. It requires hours of practice perfecting the mechanics of a backhand or a flick, and it necessitates that one be patient and smart. Yet it also demands fast reactions and quick decision-making. Above all, however, I am drawn to it for the team. I have found in Ultimate what I was missing when running a race for cross country or stepping onto the wrestling mat or walking onto the tennis court. In each of these sports, you are accountable only to yourself. With Ultimate, you grow as a team; you win and lose as a team. There is nothing greater than finding that you share the same goals as your teammates, and then focusing on making those dreams a reality. And so, over a decade later, I have finally embraced the element of competition and sports that my grandfather worked so hard to instill in me.

-Jon Isaac is a Carletonian columnist

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