© 2023
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Softball, graduation and the art of multitasking

Dr. Amy Bass
Courtesy of Dr. Amy Bass

Commencement this year felt a little extra. To be sure, riding alongside students as they journey their way through college is an honor and a privilege; it is, I often say, my “why.” But it is also a lot of work -- exhausting, painstaking, work. By the time the actual graduation ceremony rolls around, I’ve been grading nonstop for days and working closely with marvelous and meticulous colleagues in the dean’s office to make sure every last box is checked and each student’s pathway across the stage before family and friends, degree in hand, is assured.

It is often bittersweet. We spend hours in the trenches with students, developing relationships that are unique and important. Graduation means lots of hugs and tears, notes slipped under my door expressing things they are too shy to say in person, and the occasional email of gratitude from a parent or grandparent. This year’s graduating class felt particularly emotional, composed of warriors who arrived at college in the fall of 2019 only to be told a few months later to go home.

Just for two weeks, we said back then.

Well, maybe a little longer, we soon updated.

Those who returned, who persisted, who stayed afloat in the days of remote learning, who took on the maze of masks and vaccines, who battled the grief that accompanied the loss of loved ones: they are graduating this year. They had just one semester -- that golden first semester -- of so-called normal times. And Saturday at Manhattanville College, there they were, sitting in the hot sun on the quad with nary a mask in sight, listening to speakers and watching the conferral of honorary degrees, waiting for the moment when the president would say her “power invested in me” line and they would be students no more.

Except for the softball team. (I mean, you knew I was going to make this about sports, right?) The four graduating seniors on the Valiants’ softball team did not sit on the quad alongside their classmates for hours because they had a game to get to. In fact, with any luck, they had two games that day.

The Manhattanville softball team went into the postseason as the number one seed in the Skyline Conference, riding a 30-game win streak behind star pitcher Charli Shinstine, an English/creative writing major who carried a perfect 19-0 record with seven shutouts, striking out 170 in 116.2 innings. To the surprise of no one, the team started their championship quest last Thursday with a win against Mount Saint Mary, Shinstine’s shutout performance nailing down the program record for career strikeouts.

The train was rolling exactly as expected. Except in sport, you have to expect the unexpected. I mean, I’m a Red Sox fan. I know this.

Friday morning brought the Valiants their first loss in…well, you do the math. Farmingdale stayed on top with a 3-2 win that made their road to the championship a whole lot easier (and let’s be clear: double elimination is no mean feat to understand) and the Valiants’ path forward so much harder. But that afternoon, they chipped away at their to do list with another win over Mount Saint Mary, sophomore pitcher Emily Mottoshiski stepping into the circle, setting up a rematch with Farmingdale for early Saturday afternoon.

Balancing academics with athletics is a dance that is not always done well. But that Saturday morning was a virtuoso performance on all sides. The registrar and dean pushed the names of softball’s seniors to the head of the graduating class. They walked the stage, shook the hands of all the important people, and went right out the gate, where Athletic Director Julene Caulfield waited with a golf cart and a direct route to the locker room.

“It was seriously a highlight of the year for me,” Caulfield later told me. “That five minutes with the girls is why we do what we do.”

The mad dash to the field continued once commencement ended as many of us -- faculty, staff, and newly minted graduates alike -- threw caps and gowns into offices and cars to hoof it over to the softball field, where within an hour of crossing the stage, Shinstine, who also had been presented with one of the college’s highest honors, the Dammann
award, occupied the circle to squeak past Farmingdale with a 3-2 walk off win in extra innings. The team then sealed the championship deal, 6-1, in the second game, Mottoshiski nabbing “player of the tournament” honors for successfully pitching two complete elimination games over the course of two days.

“AND we GRADUATED today!” Shinstine yelled as the team danced in the hot sun, joy personified, championship shirts already pulled over their uniforms.

And yet for a little while longer, she and her fellow graduates will remain student-athletes on campus alongside their teammates, heading to Virginia for the start of the NCAA tournament, where they will face The College of New Jersey. What the future holds, whether on the field or after, remains unclear. But without question, these graduates have learned the art of multitasking.

Amy Bass is professor of sport studies and chair of the division of social science and communication at Manhattanville College. Bass is the author of ONE GOAL: A COACH, A TEAM, AND THE GAME THAT BROUGHT A DIVIDED TOWN TOGETHER, among other titles. In 2012, she won an Emmy for her work with NBC Olympic Sports on the London Olympic Games.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content
  • When Brittney Griner took to the stage in Phoenix last week for her first official presser since her return to the United States in December, having spent nearly 10-months detained in Russia for drug allegations the U.S. State Department deemed “wrongful,” it was clear it was not going to be any ordinary media event. Griner, who wore a black shirt that represented her new partnership with the advocacy group “Bring Our Families Home,” laughed when she saw the number of reporters assembled.
  • I launched a new seminar last spring entitled Sport Stories — a course devoted to how we make meaning, tell stories, about sport. Some of the stories we studied, like John Branch’s epic Pulitzer Prize winning piece “Snowfall” — a multimedia telling of the avalanche at Tunnel Creek in 2012 — changed the way we think about how to convey the answer to the question “what happened,” with aerial video, interactive graphics, and moving images accompanying Branch’s always affecting prose. Others, like Buzz Bissinger’s classic Friday Night Lights, gave us the opportunity to talk across mediums — narrative nonfiction writing, television, film — alongside themes of education, racism, and poverty.
  • If I’m really being honest about the last year in sport, I would have to put procuring tickets to Taylor Swift’s upcoming “Eras” tour at the top of the pile. From failed verified fan registration links to a complete meltdown by Ticketmaster that took you out of the virtual line just as you thought you were stepping up to the window, the rodeo to get those seats had as much drama, tension, corruption, and excitement as anything FIFA could ever hallucinate.