Bob and his wife, Sue (Wotila) Brackenridge ’65, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on June 19 with family and friends in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They are still active and healthy, and both attended the 2015 Homecoming in Kalamazoo. They also are planning a Michigan trip in May 2016 that will include stops at the Senior PGA golf tournament in Benton Harbor, the Michigan capitol in Lansing, and the Upper Peninsula. The latter is sure to rekindle memories of Bob’s “Soo to Kazoo in ‘62” cross-country relay with Coach Swede Thomas and Hornet harrier teammates.
Bobby (and, to a lesser extent, the extraordinary streak of consecutive conference titles by the Hornet men’s tennis program) is the subject of a short feature on the Colgate University Raider website. Bobby is in his ninth season coaching both the Colgate men’s and women’s tennis squads. “I was fortunate enough to play four years for the Kalamazoo College men’s tennis team,” he is quoted. He was captain his senior year and part of an All-American doubles team with partner Andrew Minnelli ’01. Bobby’s major at K was English.
Sarah, a.k.a. the “Bricktator,” is making a name (even two!) for herself in roller derby. She’s a lifelong athlete: a childhood figure skater, high school basketball player, and Hornet soccer standout (she was captain of the women’s varsity team two years). At K Sarah majored in biology and studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. After graduation, while living in San Francisco in 2011, Sarah got hooked on roller derby after attending a local game. She joined the Bay Area Derby Girls, a four-team league. Last year, when Arnosky moved to St. Louis, Mo., to attend graduate school at Washington University, she joined the St. Louis-based Arch Rival Roller Girls (ARRG) league and had an immediate impact. She was named MVP of the ARRG league this season, and she led her travel team to a No. 10 international ranking. In November of 2015 Sarah and her ARRG travel team qualified for the WFTDA Championships in St. Paul, Minn. The event included teams from five countries and was streamed live on ESPN3. In roller derby, each team has five players on the track at one time — four blockers and one jammer. The goal of the game is for the jammer to lap opposing players as they go around the track. Each time the jammer laps an opponent, one point is scored for the jammer’s side. The blockers are thus simultaneously attempting to stop their opponent’s jammer while also trying to create space for their own jammer to skate through. Sarah is a jammer for ARRG with the moniker “Bricktator.” She loves the sport for its physicality and footwork and for the fact that it favors so many different types of athlete body–short, tall, wide and thin. The sport has surged during the past 15 years with hundreds of women’s leagues around the world.
Rob is the new director of intercollegiate athletics at Willamette University. At K Rob majored in economics and business and played four years of varsity basketball for the Hornets. He studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. After graduation he worked as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Chicago. In 2002, he returned to Kalamazoo College and served as the head men’s basketball coach and assistant professor of physical education, and in 2007 also became assistant director of athletics. As head coach he led the Kalamazoo College Hornets to an 18-7 record during the 2002-03 season, the best since the 1993-94 season. Rob joined Willamette in 2012 as director of facilities and operations, and was later promoted to assistant athletics director in 2013 and to associate athletics director in 2016. He became interim athletics director in December 2016.
I was not the most confident lad as I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed one fine August morning in 2006 in front of the Crissey Hall listening to our new enthusiastic head soccer coach welcome us freshmen into the family. These new freedoms and new rules (or occasional lack thereof) were a lot to take in. I didn’t dive flawlessly into the current, quickly hammering down strokes and adjusting to the flow. I belly-flopped, gasped for air, and skimmed the surface for the nearest flotation device. Life at K for my first two years was a constant struggle to keep up and find some sort of balance, some sort of identity.
First-year fall term I was a nervous sweaty wreck, concerned with what everyone thought of me and worried I would screw up. I tried to blend in, which wasn’t always easy. My first-year seminar, “Visions of America-On Stage,” was taught by Ed Menta, and he pushed me from my comfort zone. Normally I would sit in the back of a classroom and observe, taking notes like a mad court stenographer but never really interacting. That didn’t work with Ed. He demanded we take on characters and not only read plays but also interpret and analyze them, more closely than I ever had before. He forced you to question and to face the brutal limits of your adolescent level of understanding. It was after my first paper in Ed’s course that I realized K wasn’t going to be an easy road. I had considered writing my strongest subject and was abruptly taken back when I found a C- written in red pen at the top of my paper.
I realized I had to be more careful and critical of my work. But I didn’t want to put in the time and effort it would take. There were always people in every one of my classes that were smarter and caught on quicker. I didn’t take the time to learn from my mistakes. For the remainder of first year I was searching for answers but not the method or path to find the answers.
And by the middle of sophomore year I was fed up with my college life. I didn’t like my mediocre performance in class and on the soccer field, and socially I felt invisible. I’d been denied a three-month study abroad program in Spain for the spring. Nor would I be allowed to live off campus with my soccer mates during junior year. I was in a hard place.
I’m not sure what exactly clicked, but something began to change sophomore spring term. It started with little risks. The voice within me grew stronger and I started questioning outward. I worked up the courage to pipe up more in classes. I socialized outside of my soccer circle and got to better know the wonderful mix of eclectic students. In our spring outdoor practices and scrimmages I tried different positions and showed my versatility. It dawned on me that I needed a broader perspective on each part of my life before I could identify what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I was looking at myself differently, not in an overly critical way but instead evaluating goals I wanted to accomplish, examining the paths I could take to reach them, and then forming and executing my plan within a realistic time table. By no means did I have one of those enormous desk calendars for my room where I could fill in every single waking hour of my life, but I did find harmony in a semi-chaotic balance of opportunity and cost, and I picked my battles properly. By the time I was half-way through my junior year my work was improving and I was finding balance. My last two years at K were the best of my life.
By senior spring term I was walking confidently through the sun-filled quad. I was smiling more often. I had finished my final two soccer seasons as team captain and started every game. I made Dean’s List and completed a major in economics and a minor in religion. I participated in on-campus and off-campus events and held strong friendships beyond the circle of my teammates. Those have endured to this day. I still get goose bumps thinking about those last spring days—discussing the financial crisis in Professor App’s senior seminar, throwing a Frisbee or football around the quad, and raucously cheering on the men’s tennis team to another MIAA championship.
K is not a school for everyone. But for me it was the place to learn more about myself and how adaptive I could be. I learned I can jump into the unknown without a lick of experience and rise, ready to take on the world.
Today, at age 29, I work as a senior sales representative at a two-billion-dollar logistics company. It had 250 employees when I started and has grown to an operation of 2,500 employees at 10 offices nationwide. I multi-task daily, providing cost and problem-based solutions to a multitude of customers in a variety of industries. I’ve learned to question even the processes we’ve put in place and to absorb all of the knowledge I can to make insightful and innovative decisions. I push myself to learn what is new and to live outside my comfort zone. (Thank you, Ed Menta!) When I look back, I don’t think about doing anything differently. I smile, and hope that some young nervous first-year student like me will be lucky enough to experience the full metamorphosis that K can offer.
To get from the Bronx to Kalamazoo College in the fall of 1952, Herb Lipschultz ’56 traveled by train. But the real ticket to his attending K was football. He’d been the captain of the team at Dewitt Clinton High School and he wanted to keep playing.
“If I hadn’t played football I wouldn’t have gone to college,” Lipschultz admits. “That was the real reason I went—just to keep playing.”
And play he did, often on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Barring injury, he started every contest from the third game of his freshman year to the end of his four seasons at K.
When he graduated the question became how could he remain in the game? Coaching was an obvious answer, and he did that for many years. But the most effective path to gridiron longevity was becoming a football referee.
Lipschultz first put on a striped shirt the autumn of 1956, and he’s never stopped. This past fall, at age 80, marked the 59th year he’s spent his autumns throwing yellow flags and blowing a whistle.
“He’s been one of our top officials for a long, long time,” says Mark Uyl of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. So good, in fact, that Lipschultz was named the winner of the 2001 “Vern Norris Award,” an honor given to one official each year.
“I just enjoy being with the kids,” says Lipschultz, who has lived in Portage since 1960. “Football has been a big part of my life.”
And a busy refereeing life it is. From late August through October he typically works middle school games on Wednesdays, junior varsity games on Thursday, varsity match-ups on Friday, and Rocket football on Saturday.
Football is clearly Lipschultz’s first love, but it hasn’t been the only sport he’s officiated. Until he was 60 years old, winters meant refereeing boys’ basketball, which Lipschultz did for 38 years. He has umpired girls’ softball even longer: the spring of 2015 will mark his 41st year.
Has he ever been hurt while officiating? “Oh, I’ve been knocked down a few times in football games. But the only time I was really injured was in a girls’ softball game in 2013. A foul tip came back and hit me on my collarbone. Broke it. I ended up missing half of my football season that fall.”
His long presence on those Southwest Michigan football fields seemed unlikely 60 years ago. In fact, until a chance conversation with a high school friend, the likelihood Lipschultz would attend K and make Kalamazoo his home was essentially zero. “There was a guy ahead of me at Clinton High who mentioned he was going to K. I thought he was kidding. All I knew of Kalamazoo was the song. I wasn’t sure it was even a real place. Of course, for me it turned out I really did have ‘a gal in Kalamazoo’ because that’s where I met my wife.”
The idea of attending K quickly dissipated after that chance conversation. If fact, as late as mid-August following his senior year at Clinton, Lipschultz had no intention of coming west.
“No, I was going to Rhode Island,” says Lipschultz. “I had a full ride scholarship to play football there, and I was all set to go. But I had a friend, Donny Isaacson, who was going to K and he said it’d be nice if the two of us went to the same school. So I sent in my transcript to K, but that was mostly just a lark. I wasn’t seriously thinking about going there.
“But then the day after Labor Day,” he adds, “I got a phone call from K’s football coach, Dob Grow. He encouraged me to come, and the College offered $300 in academic financial aid. I talked to my dad about it and even though I wasn’t going to have to pay a penny to go to Rhode Island, he encouraged me to at least think about K. So I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll go to K.’”
Two days later Lipschultz was on a train to Kalamazoo. Two days after that was K’s first football game of the season. He didn’t play a down. He was okay with that, but he most definitely was not okay with never leaving the bench in the second game.
“I was kind of cocky then, and I thought, ‘I’m out of here!’” Lipschultz recalls. “But our quarterback calmed me down and said I should at least finish the semester.” That proved to be good advice; by the third game Lipschultz was starting. And unless he was injured he started every game for the next three and a half years.
Lipschultz also came to appreciate his first year coach. “Dob Grow was one of the finest men I have ever met. I put him second behind my father for having an influence on me.”
Lipschultz had more than a few adjustments to make after arriving at K. His high school was all male and was considerably larger than K, which he recalls as having only about 550 students at the time. Certainly moving from the Bronx to a small Midwestern town was a change.
“I was used to cars honking and the elevated lines making a lot of noise all hours of the night. But in Kalamazoo it was so quiet. I honestly remember the crickets keeping me awake at night.”
Lipschultz admits football was a different game in the 1950’s. “Almost all of our linemen were under 200 pounds. And I didn’t have a facemask on my helmet until my senior year. We called them ‘birdcages.’”
His facemask consisted of a single bar, and even that was never used in a game. During a preseason practice it broke and gashed Lipschultz’s face. “I said, ‘To heck with that’ and never used a facemask again.”
While at K, Lipschultz went by his birth name of Lipschitz. That was an uncommon name in Michigan, but, “There were a lot of Lipschitzes in the Bronx back then. Three full pages in the phone book.” But because the name’s second syllable provided fodder for teasing, he and his wife, Laverne (who goes by the nickname “Toots”) changed the name to Lipschultz just before their first child started school.
Another Clinton High grad made a similar change. “There was a guy a year or two behind me named Ralph Lifshitz. He later changed his name to Ralph Lauren.” Two other students of note who attended Clinton during Lipschultz’s time: actor/writer Garry Marshall and actor Judd Hirsch.
After Lipschultz graduated from K, he took a job with Oakwood Schools as a physical education teacher. “Oakwood was a separate system back then. Grades K through 9. But it merged with the Kalamazoo system the next year.”
He remained with the system for 40 years, retiring in 1996. During that time he was involved in the athletic lives of thousands of middle schoolers—teaching, coaching and serving as athletic director.
Lipschultz can display an amazing memory for people and events. About games played decades in the past, he can remember the score and who made the big play. About former students, he can often recall an anecdote.
Recalling his early years in the schools, he says, “It was a different world back then. The kids didn’t do any weight training because we didn’t have any weights. I had to convince the administration to buy some. Our basketball team would take taxis to the other schools because we didn’t have school buses. If a basketball game went into double overtime, it was sudden death. And middle school football was touch, not tackle.”
Another change related to taking showers. “Until about 1980 the kids took showers; always after football or basketball practice and a usually after gym classes. But then they stopped taking them. Even after football practice, when they were all dirty and sweaty, they’d just put on their street clothes and go home. For a while I made them shower, but the administration told me they couldn’t back me up on that so I stopped.”
A change he considers unfortunate: “Over the years teachers got less and less support from the parents. And the kids knew it.”
Lipschultz’s ability to remain so active is due in no small part to his passion for fitness. Virtually every day involves some type of workout. Three or four times a week he goes to the YMCA, where he waterjogs, lifts weights, rides a spin bike, and uses kettlebells. He took up golf when he was 63 and still plays up to four times a week when weather permits.
His activities have allowed him to keep his weight under control. “I was 166 pounds when I showed up at K; I’m a little less than that now.”
Managing his height has been a different story. “I’ve gotten shorter,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve gone from about 5’ 8” to 5’ 4”. My wife complains that she can’t wear her highest high heels anymore because they make her taller than me.”
Herb and Toots have four children, one of whom, Tyler, graduated from K in 1989 (and, naturally, played football). They also have seven grandchildren, some of whom are twice as old as the football players Herb referees.
All of her husband’s officiating has meant some level of sacrifice for Toots. “He’s gone a lot. And it sometimes means having dinner either real early or real late.”
But she’s also gotten a few laughs along the way. “I remember being at a basketball game he was working. I was there with the wife of his partner, and the man behind us starting yelling at the refs. I finally turned around and told him we were the refs’ wives. He didn’t say a word after that.” |
When asked how much longer he plans on refereeing, Lipschultz smiles. “I’m just taking it a year at time.”
On Tuesday, March 22, 2016, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) released findings of an investigation conducted collaboratively with Kalamazoo College. The report concluded K committed three major violations: the use of a noncompliant formula for awarding financial aid to student athletes, a recruitment impropriety, and inadequate internal monitoring. The investigation was prompted by reports to the MIAA commissioner of a possible recruiting impropriety at K.
The NCAA concluded there was no intent by Kalamazoo College to circumvent NCAA rules. About two decades ago the College chose a process to award merit aid that considered, among other factors, every student’s entire extracurricular résumé. The College believed that formula to be the most fair to all students, and it believed (mistakenly) that formula to be compliant with NCAA rules.
When K discovered its financial aid formula was not in compliance, it immediately made the changes to ensure its procedures were consistent with NCAA rules. Student athletes who matriculated in the fall of 2015 have compliant merit aid awards. K continues to consider extracurricular information in the admission process, which is permissible, but no longer considers extracurricular activity of any kind when awarding merit aid for any student.
The dissemination of incorrect information to a small group of prospective student-athletes constituted the recruiting violation. The information suggested incorrectly that a coach could influence financial aid award protocol. No coach at a Division III school has that capability, including those at K. None of the prospective students who received the communication came to K. And the College has implemented new procedures for training new athletic department personnel.
The third major violation, standard in these cases, cited the College for not having had in place measures to prevent or detect the other two violations. All of the NCAA concerns have been corrected. Kalamazoo College is committed to complying with NCAA rules and regulations.
The NCAA placed K on probation for a period of three years, beginning immediately, and banned postseason competition, including conference tournaments; regular season conference championship consideration; and NCAA championship opportunities, for any K team whose roster contains a student athlete who received impermissible financial aid.
The College accepted the terms of the probation. It has appealed the postseason ban, which has been stayed pending the appeal’s resolution. The ban, in the College’s opinion, unfairly penalizes student athletes—those who had no role in determining financial aid awards and who were unaware of the violation and those whose aid is compliant with NCAA regulations.
If the appeal is denied (a decision is expected this month), the NCAA would allow Kalamazoo College to recalculate the financial aid packages of next year’s junior and senior student athletes in order to maintain postseason play and championship consideration.
To address the possibility the NCAA will deny the appeal, President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran and Provost Mickey McDonald have selected nine teams that will be repackaged and nine teams that will not. Next year’s junior and senior student-athletes on the following teams will have their financial aid awards recalculated in order to make these teams eligible for postseason play: baseball, men’s cross country, women’s cross country, men’s golf, women’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and women’s tennis. Most junior and senior members of these teams will not see a change in the amount of financial aid they receive. But some will receive less financial aid from K, and they will have two options. They can accept the new financial aid package and continue to play on the team, or they can retain their current aid package and not play on their team.
The president and provost’s decisions were deliberate and difficult, factoring several complex criteria. Among these were the number of team members facing an adverse financial effect; the range of those adverse effects; the continued affordability of a K education for some student athletes and their families; the indispensability of postseason play in composing a meaningful season for some sports; the effect of recalibrating financial aid on retention and recruitment; the College’s desire to honor as many of its original financial aid commitments as possible and to minimize the number of cases where student athletes and their families would feel they had no option other than discontinuing intercollegiate athletic participation.
“On behalf of Kalamazoo College I apologize to every student athlete and family member affected by an error the institution made in good faith so many years ago,” said Wilson-Oyelaran. “We know if the appeal is not successful that nine teams will be denied postseason competition for, at most, two seasons. And even though the nine repackaged teams will be eligible for postseason competition, some of their team members will have to cover a loss in financial aid or discontinue playing on the team. All of those possibilities hurt some student athletes (and their families) in some way, and we profoundly regret that.”
The Kalamazoo College Statement on NCAA Infractions can be found at hornets.kzoo.edu/ncaareport/index
It’s late afternoon, and De’Angelo Glaze mills about the Richardson Room Café in the Hicks Center, slapping high fives, giving hugs, laughing so hard his eyes close. A faux rabbit fur bomber cap frames a boyish face that can’t stop smiling. He seems to know everyone, and everyone seems very happy to know him.
In a way, he’s been wrapped up warmly here, swaddled in the comforting ebb and flow of college life—playing football for the Hornets, focusing on academics, surrounded by caring friends, professors, coaches, teammates.
It’s a far cry from the life in which Glaze, age 21, was steeped in the years growing up in a tough neighborhood just north of 8 Mile Road, a neighborhood where there is a predetermined path for many young men, one that doesn’t include study abroad and late night study groups.
In 2009, his cousin was shot dead over a dice game. Sometimes, while hanging out on porches in his Royal Oak Township neighborhood, De’Angelo would hear the crackle of gunfire break apart the night. Many of his peers—the ones with talent, potential, intelligence – would choose a life bound to the streets, he says, a future concerned with hustling, dealing drugs, pushing the edges of life, and flirting with an early end to it all.
Glaze blazed his own trail.
“It’s become clearer to me recently that we shouldn’t have to choose between these two paths because it’s a false choice,” he says. “No one really wants to choose a road that leads to crime, to possibly being killed. But for many it’s all they know. I wanted something different.”
Rarely does one get out alone. There’s almost always an encouraging believer, a loyal and loving friend or relative who sees something in us and pushes us to see it, too, to imagine ourselves in a better spot.
For Glaze, a business major, that encouraging believer was his mother. That Glaze would go to college was a foregone conclusion in her eyes, he says. The way out— the way to making a better life—was through education. He will be the first in his family to graduate from college.
“I didn’t see anyone do this. It was trial and error. I didn’t have any one in front of me,” he says. “I had to pave my own way. But people pushed me because they saw something in me. My mom always said, ‘Education is the key.’”
Not everyone was so involved. One afternoon, Glaze was sitting on his front porch with a few friends when his father drove by. He stopped the car, rolled down the window and shouted to his 13-year-old son, a boy with whom he had scarcely been involved.
“He said, ‘They won’t give me a blood (paternity) test for you. You’re not my son,’” Glaze says. “Then he drove away. I don’t remember what I felt at the time. I was in shock. It rattled me.”
Still, he sloughed it off, tried to stay strong, for himself and for his mother and little sister. He’d need to.
A few years later, his mother developed an ovarian cyst, and had to quit her fulltime job at an auto parts manufacturer to focus on her treatment. The loss of income meant that the family lost nearly everything except their house. She found part-time work at Target, but it was barely enough.
For a year, the family fought a monthly battle to keep the gas on. The house routinely had no heat or hot water. To get to sleep that winter, they huddled under mountains of blankets in rooms warmed with space heaters. Pinching pennies, they would store bulk food in a chest freezer in the basement. It was a dark year, the lights turned off whenever they could be. But something burned bright in him, a fire to keep going.
“I had to be the man of the house,” Glaze says. “I had to take care of my mom and sister. I learned a lot at a young age, I guess.”
That Christmas, his mother told her kids that there wouldn’t be many gifts. Times were simply too thin.
“Right then I said, ‘Don’t buy me any gifts.’ I still say that. I’ll take care of my own responsibilities. My motivation in almost everything I do is so my mom doesn’t have to work hard ever again. She sacrificed for me. She gave up a lot so that I could have what I have. Getting a job, making some money for her, that will make me feel like I’m playing my role.”
Glaze was developing a maturity seen in few teens, but he was still a high school kid, still needed the outlets through which the pulse of youth surges. In sports, he found his spark.
At Ferndale High School, he was a multi-letter athlete: an all-state shot-putter, MVP of the boy’s track team, captain of the football team. His talents on the gridiron caught the attention of Jamie Zorbo, head coach of the Hornets football team, who recruited Glaze.
His college choices came down to Michigan State University and K. He saw himself succeeding at either institution, and in the throes of trying to decide talked it over with a calculus teacher.
“She told me, you can have relationships at school anywhere. It’s the ones you develop with other athletes that will last forever,” Glaze says. “The next hour I finished my application to K.”
He toiled in the trenches, on both the offensive and defensive line, for two years. Then he decided football wasn’t for him anymore.
“My time with football had passed,” he says. “It was taxing more than fun. It was time to move on from it.”
And Glaze made the most of the time he gained after leaving the sport. If anything, life might have gotten busier.
He became a resident assistant, became involved in a host of student activity groups, and spent spring term 2013 on study abroad in Bonn, Germany, an experience that taught him “a sense of being adaptable to any situation, of being able to be independent in a different culture with different people.”
“In many ways, De’Angelo represents the liberating power of the liberal arts,” says Sarah B. Westfall, vice president for student development and dean of students “He’s an intelligent, bright, curious, enthusiastic young man who has the freedom to make a range of choices and think broadly about who he is and what his life can be. All of that is exactly what a superb liberal arts education helps a person do. It’s about freedom.”
His K educational experience has also been about friendships based on reciprocal love and a deep desire to serve. For four years, Glaze has been deeply connected to K in part through friendships with students from Los Angeles. Many students from LA attend K as Posse Scholars, a scholarship program that supports public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential often overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Each year during winter quarter the Posse Foundation-Los Angeles convenes a “working retreat” of all the K Posse Scholars and their invited guests. The latter include fellow K students, faculty, staff, and, every year he’s been here, De’Angelo Glaze—a testament to the depth and breadth of his friendships on campus.
Serving others is important to Glaze. “De’Angelo, or any other student from a challenging background, adds unique perspectives to class discussions,” says Amy MacMillan, the L. Lee Stryker Assistant Professor of Business Management, who has had business majors in several classes. “There is a desire in many of these students to give back. I’m moved by how much I see this desire in De’Angelo. He is an excellent example of the social justice spirit that makes K so special.”
Glaze has seen different sides of the education system, from the resource-thin environment of an urban school system to a college like K, where students are free to focus on developing their potential because their needs are consistently met.
“Education is the only way out,” he says. “Supposedly everyone has equal rights, but that’s not so as far as opportunities. Your background has a heavy influence on that.
“I feel like there are an endless amount of opportunities because I went to K. I can talk to different kinds of people, adapt to different situations, learn from others who are not like me. Going to school here awakened me to a lot of hidden abilities. But I know that in a way I’m lucky. And having an opportunity like I did shouldn’t come down to luck. It should be a right for anyone who has talent, ability and a desire to work hard.”
When Glaze graduates this June, his mother and sister will, of course, be in attendance. And when he looks out to see them, in some ways, he says, he will be looking back as much as forward, thinking about challenges met, sacrifices made.
“It will be an emotional day full of tears of joy,” he says. “There will be a sense of accomplishment, I’m sure. But it really will be about knowing that this is the beginning of where my life’s heading. It’ll be a day when I can say that I came a long way, but have a lot further to go.”
Like most K first-year students, Connor Vogt ’18 is looking forward to going on foreign study. Unlike most of his classmates, however, Connor has already studied abroad, twice in fact. And his travels during those two occasions have been extensive—the list of countries he has visited is up to 21.
Those opportunities came as a result of Connor’s mother, Amy, and her job as a senior manager for the automaker BMW. In 2007 the company asked her to consider relocation to Munich. She agreed, so her family (Connor, his father, Richard, and his younger brother, Brandon) left their home in Greenville, South Carolina, and moved to Europe. They stayed for three years, which for Connor were grades 6, 7, and 8.
“I loved it over there,” Connor recalls. “I went to an international school. There were kids from about 50 countries, and we got along great. In Germany I learned to snowboard, which I’d never done before.”
On weekends Connor travelled outside of Germany. “My family took trains and went to almost all of the West European countries.”
His favorite? “Maybe Ireland,” he says after a moment’s thought. “It’s so … homey.
“But I really liked living in Germany. For one thing, I’m a huge soccer fan and the game is so big over there! It’s just cool how popular it is.” Emblematic of his passion for the game is one of his Hoben Hall dorm room wall hangings: a large Liverpool Football Club white and red flag.
Playing soccer inspired Connor’s fluency in German. “My school classes were taught in English, but I played soccer on a club with a German coach and players. It was when they started yelling at me to do things in German that I realized I had to learn the language. I got to be fairly proficient.”
He also came to appreciate certain government benefits. “Germany has socialized medicine, so anyone can get medical treatment. My brother had to go to the hospital once, and it didn’t cost anything. And going to college is free. Of course, their taxes are really high.”
After Connor’s 8th grade year BMW asked his mother if she’d accept a position 4,500 miles to the east, in Beijing, China. She agreed, and the family moved directly there. That stay lasted two years, Connor’s 9th and 10th grade, again in an international school that was home to students from some 50 nations.
China presented a new set of challenges, not the least of which was the language. “Chinese is a lot harder for me to learn than German. Their writing is entirely different. Instead of letters representing sounds, they have characters that represent words. When I saw their signs I couldn’t even guess what they meant. In speaking, subtle little differences in pronunciation dramatically change the meaning of the word.
“For example, the word ‘ma’ said one way means ‘mother,’ but if you say it slightly differently it means ‘horse.’”
As they did in Europe, his family took trips to nearby countries, albeit fewer in number than was the case during their stay in Germany. “We went to Japan and Thailand, but China is so big that we could travel a long ways and still be in China.”
His travels also took him to the Great Wall. “That was really cool. It’s so long. You can hike on it for days. But parts of it are really in disrepair, with vegetation growing over it.”
Conner came to enjoy Chinese food. “The food I had there is not like Chinese food in America. When I described to my Chinese friends what we eat in America they said, ‘Oh, that’s what our grandparents used to eat!’ One of my favorite items was ‘baozi,’ which is like a dumpling. They fill them with things like pork and sweet potatoes.”
He also came to enjoy the Chinese people. “They are very . . .” he said, struggling to find the right word. “Upfront. Uninhibited. Once we were at a restaurant and the waiter, out of the blue, asked us how much we paid for rent. He didn’t see that as a personal question; he just wanted to know. Another time a girl approached me and asked if she could run her fingers through my hair to see what it felt like. And when we got away from the cities, where people didn’t see a lot of westerners, they’d come up to me and ask if they could have their photograph taken with me.
“I loved China. I’d live there if it wasn’t for the air pollution.”
Oh, yes, the pollution. “It was amazing,” Connor said, shaking his head. “I went for a walk once and got lost because I couldn’t see more than 200 yards in front of me. That was disconcerting. Another time I had to clean off something in our backyard. It had about an inch of grime and grit on it!
“There are numbers to measure pollution. In Kalamazoo the number is about 20. A bad day in Los Angeles might be 120. Beijing regularly hit 300, and on bad days it was 500. Sometimes they wouldn’t let our school cross-country team go out running.”
Like most of the Chinese, Connor looked forward to important foreign dignitaries coming to visit because it was on those occasions that the Chinese government took the pollution problem seriously. “They’d shut down the factories and shoot some kind of rockets into the air to make it rain. Then the air would be so clean and the sky so blue. That was great!”
After two years in China, and five overseas, the family decided to return to South Carolina. Having come to appreciate the life of an “ex-pat,” Connor had mixed emotions about the move. “I’d made friends from other countries, like Japan, France, and the Netherlands, so I actually was not excited about going home. I didn’t want my living abroad to end.”
But end it did. Connor finished his last two high school years in a small Catholic High School where he became a star cross-country runner (with a best 5K time of 17:18).
When Connor began his college search he initially focused only on larger universities. All the high schools he’d attended were small, so he thought he’d go to a college that was large, like Texas or Michigan or Clemson. Had he gone to one of those schools he had no intention of running cross-country.
But things changed after Conner’s father, Richard, offered some advice that had a touch of irony to it.
“When my father was in high school, in the late ’70s in Flint, he was recruited by K to run cross-country. He basically blew off the offer because he wanted to go to a bigger school, which turned out to be Michigan State. I don’t know if he regretted that decision, but he was the one who suggested I consider K. I never would have applied to K if he hadn’t encouraged me to do it. After I did, K really started to recruit me. They called me on the phone several times and had me come in for a visit. Once I knew I was coming to K I decided I’d also run cross-country.
“My first few weeks on campus, last fall, were challenging, but it’s been great since then. Running cross-country has been amazing. I’m the only freshman male, but the older guys have been very welcoming. I tore my sartorial muscle in my quad, which made me miss a few meets, but my last meet was almost my best time of the season.”
Conner’s father also has been pleased with how things have turned out.
“When I first suggested to Connor that he apply to a small school, such as K, he agreed to do it, but he did it sort of kicking and screaming. But I really thought K would be a good fit for him, partly because of K’s study abroad program, and partly because I knew he wouldn’t end up in classes with hundreds of other kids.”
After a moment’s pause, he added, “To this day I sometimes think it might have been interesting for me to have gone to K and run cross-country.”
K’s first-year cross-country coach, Kris Koster, has been impressed with what he’s seen of Connor. “Even when he was injured he was upbeat. He has a lot of potential.”
As to where he might go for his study abroad, Connor is considering London—which he has visited (“I loved it there. There’s so much to do!”)—and Bonn, Germany—which would be, surprisingly, uncharted territory for him. “We just never got to Bonn when we lived in Munich.”
Wherever he chooses to go, with five years of overseas study already under his belt, there is little reason to think he won’t adjust quickly to a sixth. And, even more importantly, learn deeply from the experience that author Jim Harrison describes as the “traveler’s displacement,” when “Where am I?” becomes “Who am I?”
Not long ago, one of my teammates handed me another piece of rubble from the Kalamazoo College pool deck. It’s not shocking to Hornet swimmers anymore, and not surprising for a facility that opened nearly half a century ago. Our natatorium is a beloved space, home to many conference championship teams, hall of famers, and national champion alumni—but a hallowed space whose time has well passed.
That’s why the piece of rubble in my hand—brown and lumpy and an image of decay—is nevertheless a source of optimism to me, for a new natatorium is in the design stage. The K community needs to raise the funds, and the $4 million raised so far means we’re about a quarter of the way to goal!
The conceptual plans, once they’re a reality, will mean that for the first time in decades, the team can train together—all swimmers and all divers at practice at the same time (!), boosting our camaraderie and unity as a team.
The nearly 38,000-square-foot facility would include 10 short course lanes for competition, six extra lanes for recreational use, two three-meter diving boards and two one-meter diving boards, classroom and dryland space, and seating for 350 spectators.
The facility will appeal to the eyes of prospective athletes and students as well, allowing us to recruit a broader range of swimmers and divers from across the nation, maintaining the program’s long tradition of excellence and building a stronger name for Hornet swimming and diving in the MIAA and in the NCAA.
The new natatorium will benefit more people than Hornet swimmers. The new pool will be a key component of the fitness and wellness of the entire campus and the community. For example, the Center for Civic Engagement’s “Swim for Success” program, a learn-to-swim opportunity for children without access to lessons, could increase its numbers from its current cap of 50 kids. The greater Kalamazoo community would be able to use the space for high school meets, club teams, educational programs, diving teams, lifeguard classes, and sports camps. USA Swimming could host meets for swimmers from all across the nation—another opportunity to shine a light on K, considering no other natatorium in Southwest Michigan is capable of hosting these events or classes.
What all the chunks of rubble made me realize more than ever: we’re moving onto bigger and better things. As a sophomore on the current team, odds are I won’t compete in the new facility. That doesn’t really matter to me. The future of the Swimming and Diving program, the future of K, and the future of the new space does matter. Although I’ll miss the retro and rustic feel of my pool (I may even miss the rust), the new natatorium carries an extraordinary potential for greatness. And that greatness will allow us to grow as a team, as an institution, and as a community.
Please join me in making this happen sooner rather than later.
You can make a gift to the new natatorium and hear from former Hornet coaches Bob Kent, Lyn Maurer and Kathy Milliken with a visit to our website.