Monday, April 4, 2016


During Easter weekend I could be found in Lake Placid taking in the Frozen Four of NCAA Division III hockey. Going against all I’ve ever known, I found myself cheering one of the participating teams (Geneseo) that just so happens to be the biggest rival of my college (Brockport).

If you have even a modicum of appreciation for athletics or the strength of human spirit, Geneseo’s story was one to savor. It was amazing that they made it to the championship weekend: a teammate had to leave the sport in November after suffering brain trauma in an off-ice accident while another player was murdered in January. Those incidents would have crushed the morale of most anyone, but the Ice Knights persevered and continued to win in honor of their fallen peers. They truly were the definition of a “team.”

While they didn’t take their Cinderella story all the way to the championship game, the fact that they remained as one of four out of seventy-six teams in DIII was amazing and deserving of the local and national coverage they received.

Geneseo’s success amidst tragedy also served as a reminder why DIII college athletics are the ultimate outlet for anyone who enjoys athletics yet find themselves soured by professional sports and the Division I schools which serve as their “minor leagues”. Everything that you might hate about those leagues and programs is gone (the ungodly huge salaries, high ticket prices, the free rides to the best colleges, taxpayer investments in multi-million dollar stadiums, and the prima donna egos that defy the lessons that sports were supposed to teach). DIII participants are truly student-athletes (education first!) who don’t get scholarships to play a game, know that they have almost zero chance of making it to the pros, and play their butts off for the love of the game.

It’s competition at its most pristine.

And it’s advanced competition that’s fun to watch.

DIII kids aren’t pushovers. As a matter of fact, they might not even be kids. Take ice hockey for example: The times have changed and no longer do you see a lot of “true freshmen” (guys aged 17 or 18) on the ice. Most of them stuck around the juniors for a while and further honed their game. When at a DIII game, you’re watching men in their twenties playing at a highly-skilled level that many others could never come close to achieving. Other sports are equally entertaining, and local sports fans are familiar with two popular DIII products who played for the Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson and London Fletcher.

You don’t have to break the bank to take your family to these battles, either  -- something pro sports can no longer claim. For $5 you can watch a DIII game, parking is free, and the foods in the arenas is actually affordable. The venues in which you can watch these affairs are homey, close to the action, and plentiful. Here in WNY you could visit Buffalo State, Brockport, Fredonia, Geneseo, and the two Alfreds to name a few.

If, like me, you dig sports but hate what they’ve become, dial it back a bit. Ditch the pros and head to a DIII hockey, football, basketball or baseball game. You’ll find yourself loving the game again and enjoying the thrills provided by competitive sports unburdened by all the nasty financial incentives.

From the 04 April 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

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