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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
by Jerry Pyle
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The football team scored a sun-drenched win to go to 4-0. The women's golf team won their fifth straight tournament. Women's soccer won a third straight game. And homecoming week was a smashing success. Which made me sad.
No, I don't mock homecoming or cheer for bad weather or ill feelings. Just the opposite. I'm jealous.
Concordia conducts what must be one of the most sincere, well run and well attended homecoming weeks in the nation. There are events for all ages, class reunions for what seems like each of its 100 graduating classes, and an endless series of banquets, gatherings and shows, all of which are crowded and truly joyful.
The football team usually wins. The weather cooperates so often that pure luck is an unlikely explanation. The parade is always energetic and humorous and long. Even the traditional naming of the homecoming king and queen is seriously watched and well attended. There is always a pep-rally and bonfire, a quasi-talent show, and spirited games against the alumni in sports like women's soccer.
Students hope for a date to the homecoming dance.
Grandparents want to see the dorm room they stayed in as freshmen. Visiting alumni all want to know if professor so-and-so is still here and where he or she can be found.
And beyond the Norman Rockwell rituals, there is a visceral bond that links the homecoming visitors, a bond that is hokey and sappy and, most of all, very real.
There are, of course, those who profess to be too cosmopolitan to get caught up in these rituals, claiming they were dragged back kicking and screaming by a demanding and over-sentimental spouse. But even these former students can be seen sneaking off to check out some corner of the campus that holds personal romantic memories or carries special historic significance in their journey to adulthood.
Former lovers steal time to catch up on the progress of their now-separate lives. Old teammates tell lies to each other about how much better they were than the athletes of today.
And almost everyone laughingly recalls how dumb they were when they were young.
They remember how little they appreciated the little things about life on this campus, little things they now hold as treasured memories of their youth.
Beyond the emotion-laden memories of places and events are the friendships that formed in this place, and endured. Those friendships are, for most, a thread through time, a thread that provides a sense of life's continuity and an agreed-upon, almost timeless, place to call home.
The homecoming reunions here are far more than mere social obligations, where bank balances and gray hairs are compared in an effort to keep score in some game of life. They are genuine gatherings of friends, the kind of old friends who can pick up on things as though they had never been apart, even though they had indeed been apart for years.
I am jealous of all of this because I can never really be a full part of it. It's not just that I didn't attend college here. I didn't attend college at a place anything like this.
Much as I hate to regret decisions, as fruitless as regret can be, this is becoming one of mine.
When sitting down with top high school athletes we are trying to recruit, I often (almost always) launch into a speech about my feeling for homecoming here, and the bonds and friendship I witness renewed each year.
I tell them how much I enjoyed attending the University of Minnesota, and the wonderful education I received, and the outstanding level of basketball competition at which I had a chance to play, and the great diversity one experiences while attending a school with 50,000 people on campus.
And then I tell them, silly as regrets might be, how I wish I had listened and understood when recruiters from small colleges, even small Division I colleges, had spoken to me about the benefits of their programs. I tell them how much I had been caught up in the idea of playing big-time ball, and how nothing else really mattered, and how sure I was that any college could give me a good education if I worked at it. And wasn't that really all any college had to offer anyway?
I tell them how recruiters tried to explain to me the differences, but that it all just sounded like a line of baloney, this stuff about lifetime friendships and a sense of community and a group of people who would support me through thick and thin, forever.
They were, I thought, all just trying to trick me out of my dream of playing big-time ball and steal a Division I athlete to play in their small-college league. A college is a college.
As I tell my story to prize recruits, each time truly expecting they will really listen, I watch their eyes glaze over, exactly as mine surely did, as they patiently wait for me to finish. When I'm done, the recruit usually responds with something like, "Can you promise me I'd be a starter as a freshman?"
Maybe someday, long in the future, they can join me as I watch another Cobber homecoming like a jealous lover, knowing I now can never have what once was mine, just for the asking.
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