Feature: November 6, 1996


PAW asked six student-athletes to describe their lives off the court. How do they fit in academically and socially? What does it take to excel, and what do they hope to gain from their Princeton experiences? Following are excerpts from interviews by Senior Editor Paul Hagar '91.

Showing Respect

The captain of the basketball team, Johnson is from Hull, Massachusetts. He is a history major and a member of Cap and Gown Club.

I never wear team gear in the classroom until I feel the preceptor or professor realizes I am committed to the class, either from my class participation or from my scores on papers and tests. By waiting, I am showing them I respect their class. Then if I wore these clothes and they had a problem with it I think they might have a stereotype of athletes, and I cannot change that. Professors don't care about my sport, and that's the way it should be. They want to prepare me with what I will need in the future. I've never had a faculty member make any kind of reference to special treatment I might get as an athlete. But freshman year there were a couple of cases when a student joked around about it. People were talking about their SAT scores, and one guy said it didn't necessarily matter what scores I got, because as a basketball player, I was going to get in anyway. That was tough to deal with, even though he was a decent friend of mine at the time. It was disrespectful. But I've dealt with that all my life. It's just that people don't know what they're talking about.
- Princeton fans and Penn fans. The lack of fan support at Princeton does bother me. The Penn students may be obnoxious, but no one doubts their school spirit. No one doubts they really live and die by how successful their basketball or football team is. That's something you can't say about Princeton students. When students do come out, it makes us happy to be out there and reminds us how special it is to be a student-athlete. If they don't come, they don't come. We're going to continue to do what we can do: bring titles home and put in long hours. Maybe the academics are so demanding that students just try to get their work done. But even when they do come they're really not that loud. I mean, I go down to the Palestra [Penn's basketball arena] and I get bitter, because we can't call plays, we can't hear each other speak. That's how it's supposed to be-loud. Every sport deserves it.
- Quitting. I've reached a point where I said, "I can't do this" every year I've been at Princeton. I reached that point at a pivotal part of the season last year. But I've been able to surround myself with people who have always been encouraging and positive, and the coaches really help you. Also the professors, if you can make a connection there. They really appreciate your time in the class and in the course work. I know pushing myself in athletics and in academics almost to the point of quitting will pay off down the road. At the least, I'll know I was tough enough to overcome the challenges here at Princeton, which I think is the best school in the world.

Managing Time

A guard on the basketball team, Pressley is from Seattle, Washington. She is a molecular biology major and premed who belongs to Colonial Club.

I have to be very organized, and I have to have a schedule. Organization keeps me calm, and for me it's the least stressful way to do things. So maybe I'll plan to sleep seven hours tonight, or maybe I can only sleep for five because of my athletic and academic commitments. From the time I step on campus until Spring Break, I'll be doing basketball. In preseason, we're working out, lifting, running, and scrimmaging. During the season, we practice every day except Sunday. And being a molecular-biology major, I have 24 hours of class a week. That's 11 more than the average Princeton student. So I don't have much time to waste.
- Social life. The people I'm closest with are definitely my teammates. I spend 40 hours a week with them and on top of that, two of them are my roommates. It's natural that a lot of the people I know are athletes. When I'm going down to Jadwin, I see the guys on the basketball team, the guys on the football team. I see the girl's softball team when they're lifting in the weight room. Those are the people I bump into, so they're the people I socialize with.
I don't have a wild social life, going out to the Street, staying up really late. There's a tradeoff if you're an athlete. If there's a game coming up, your choice to drink the night before means you will be sacrificing your performance in the game. And you could also be sacrificing your academic performance, because if you don't play well, it's harder to care about studying your biology the next day. Your social life has to correspond with your academic life, and your academic life has to correspond with your athletic life. But we still have our fun.

Setting Priorities

Quarterback and captain of the lightweight football team, Barnett is from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He is majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology and is premed, in Air Force ROTC, and a member of Cap and Gown Club.

There are benefits and costs to being both an athlete and student. There have been times when I thought, "I can't deal with this. I'm not going to be able to make it." But I persevered and I feel great about it. One of the costs is that it can make you afraid to take on more than you think you can handle. My freshman year I was really overwhelmed, and I never want to go through that again.
It's about priorities. I have a strong desire to be a doctor, and that's the main thing I'm doing here. Right behind are football and my relationships with other people, but when push comes to shove, you have to remember the reason you're here. When I get into a routine, I start doing better. During the season, my grades are higher.
- Being a role model. I don't feel like a role model, especially here, where everyone is talented in their own way. But back home, when I talk to people in high school who are trying to get into a school like this, and play sports, I feel like I'm something they'd like to be. That's a great feeling, but it's not where I want to stop. I love it that my family's so proud I'm here.


An outfielder on the softball team, Christie is from Lincroft, New Jersey. She is president of the Varsity Student-Athletic Advisory Committee, an Eating Concerns Peer Educator, and a member of Cap and Gown Club.

I think that like almost no other group on campus, Princeton athletes have an awareness of representing this school to the outside. We play other teams in the Northeast or nationally, representing the body of Princeton students and excellence and commitment in the classroom in addition to what we do on the field. It's like we're showing off that academic prowess along with our athletics.
- The competition. Since freshman year, our practices have gotten longer, and our competition has gotten better: We play teams like UCLA in men's basketball, we played Arizona in women's softball at the College World Series. We're competing with people who have very different lifestyles in college than we have here. Gary Walters has expressed concern about the increased time a student-athlete has to spend on his or her sport. At Princeton, sports don't have to be all-encompassing; they are as important as you want them to be.
- Discrimination. The Student Athletic Advisory Committee is concerned about students being labeled "dumb jocks," because the student-athletes are representing the school in university-sponsored events. So there should be absolutely no discrimination. Absolutely none. And I know of people who have felt their preceptors look down on athletes. I know there are some athletes who are reluctant to wear their team logo when they're going to class, so they won't be discriminated against. That's sad, because Princeton is a better place because of athletes. It's the diversity of people that makes this university what it is.
- Getting it all done. There are things you can't do, being an athlete, but I wouldn't exchange my experience playing softball for the world. I love being so busy I can't think, because that's what Princeton's all about: not realizing how much you're doing until you've already done it. How do I get it done? I guess I anticipate. If you know you have a lot coming up, then you don't go out, you don't dally at meals. It's not bad, because you have a mission.
Also, I think coaches here are very, very aware of the commitment to academics. My coach [Cindy Cohen], says that if you have a lot of work to do, you do not have to come to practice. I don't think coaches want you to pull an all-nighter and then be so tired you play badly. They want you to do what you have to get done and then play well. Not many people take advantage of that, though, because they are committed to both their athletics and their academic work. I think it's very possible to do both.


Haller captains the water polo team. An electrical engineering major, he lives in LaJolla, California, and is a member of Ivy Club and the Zeta Psi fraternity.

I never miss water polo practice. I'll miss a class if I have to, because it's college, and you can do that and still catch up. Our coach understands the workload, and if we tell him we have work and can't come to practice, he'll say it's O.K. What is unacceptable is missing practice without calling, because that's discourteous and irresponsible. But he knows you can get it all done, and I know that, too. During the season, everything revolves around water polo-when we're traveling on weekends, I bring books once in a while, but actually getting work done is not very realistic.
- Competing. When I applied to Princeton, I wrote my essay about water polo. In the essay, I said competing gave me a lot of self-confidence and it gave me strength, both physical and character strength. It taught me to achieve and to push myself. Being on a team gave me a sense of loyalty, commitment, and responsibility. Now, after being at Princeton, I've taken that confidence and figured out why I'm able to achieve, and be strong, and do amazing things.

J. P. O'CONNOR '97

A member of the men's ice-hockey team, O'Connor lives in Otterburn, Quebec. He is a politics major and a member of Cap and Gown Club.

I feel very fortunate to be a hockey player. When you come to Princeton as a freshman, it can be really intimidating. But when I got here, I had 30 friends-guaranteed-because I had my teammates. Kids who come here without that must panic at first. At the end of my sophomore year, I had shoulder surgery and missed a significant amount of class right before finals. As a result, I didn't do well, and I was put on academic probation. Junior year was particularly difficult for me despite the team's fantastic year. It was a season I wasn't too proud of: the coach and I weren't seeing eye to eye, and I didn't realize some personal goals.
When hockey isn't going well, I'm genuinely not a happy person, or student. It was a snowball effect: Hockey started to go badly and classes followed. I was forced to miss what would have been the first semester of my senior year. When I came back, [Associate Athletic Director] George VanderZwagg, the NCAA compliance officer at Princeton, said I couldn't be on the ice when the team was on the ice, I couldn't go on the road with them, I couldn't work out in the gym with them. So I had to stretch the boundary of being a student and an athlete and find other people to be with. I had to go searching, and I'm a better person for it.
Even with everything that's happened to me, I know Princeton has given me more academically than I could ever imagine. It has made me an infinitely smarter person. I tell people to take advantage of everything this school has to offer. You won't have time to do it all, but do as much as is humanly possible.