It was just a game. Two football teams, perhaps the two best in the nation in Division III. And we didn't win.
And yet, as I joined players and coaches, family and friends on the field after the game, all I could see, everywhere I looked, were winners. Twelve and 0 until this day, the best record and the best football team in North Central history. And leading the defending national champions going into the final quarter.
Seven hours earlier, the field at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium was covered in a blanket of four or five inches of wet, slushy snow. The visitors from the 10,000-student public school from the north, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, wondered if this small private college in Naperville was up to the challenge of December football in the snowbelt. We were. An array of physical plant stalwarts, augmented by athletic staff and anyone who could help, with trucks and plows and sweepers, shovels and brooms, turned the field green by game time. Lambeau couldn't have done it better.
I leave it to others, more knowledgeable about the game of football than I, to describe the x's and o's of what can only be described as a fantastic college football game. A personal highlight came an hour before kickoff, when a long-time faculty member showed up at the tent on our lawn. I commented that I didn't remember him at a game before. He said, "This is my first game ever." I asked did he have some of these young men in class. "Yes," he said, "and they're unlike any I can ever remember. They're very good students. They take their school work very seriously." Would you believe a 2.971 combined gradepoint this fall for the 121 members of this football team!
Great football teams, like national championship cross country teams (after winning last year, North Central's men came in second at November's national championship), don't just show up on Saturdays in the fall. They're built piece by piece, week after week, month after month, year after year. Thousands of hours of hard work, studying, practicing, lifting, running. It's cumulative. It starts with the individual. Discipline. Character. Passion. Study. Review. Repeat. But in the end, to win, it's all about team.
To single out any of the young men who made me so proud this season—in particular, the ones whom I've had the privilege of getting to know personally—would be to miss the essential dynamic of this group, with its wonderful senior leadership (senior captains: Kyle Antos, Nick Hicks, Steve Hlavac, Joe Schneiderbauer, Derek Sulo, Matt Wenger—with a nearly 3.5 combined gradepoint), which was all about joining together to go farther and accomplish more than any North Central football team before it.
Football is a game. Not just a game, but it isn't life and death, a dad laid off, a classmate killed in Afghanistan. It's Division III for gosh sakes, high level football, great athletes, but no agents or athletic scholarships. It's where the term student-athlete isn't an oxymoron. Indeed, that's the point. Winning isn't the only thing. Learning and growing, and preparing to win, are. And once in a while, as a community comes together around a team, the students turn into teachers, and remind us what our "game" is all about. That's what I felt on Saturday.
We're in our Sesquicentennial year. We've got a ton of money to raise to build a new science center and fund scholarships to keep North Central open to students from all backgrounds. But watching those young men play their hearts out, after seeing that snow-covered field turn green before my eyes, I was more than proud, I was confident. Great colleges are built on great teams—teachers, coaches, staff at every level, students, alumni and friends. Discipline. Character. Hard work. Step by step. Month after month. Year after year. It all adds up. On Saturday, I was reminded that we're right there. With many championships to come!
Thank you, Coach John Thorne, and the Cardinals. You've inspired us all, alumni, campus and community. Cardinal Nation. And best of all, we know we've still got more to do.
Hal Wilde, President