The shot clock is winding down. Loyola has to hold the ball long enough to get a shot off. Side-step. He sets his feet. He floats and…SCORE!
Loyola won tonight, and I am proud.
I will never forget the day I was offered a full-ride scholarship to attend Loyola University Chicago to play Division I softball. We were seated in a restaurant on a warm summer day. My parents were seated to my right. For some reason, I saw my father first. Her words came matter-of-fact, “We’d like to offer Brooke a full-ride. Tuition, room, and board all paid for by the university.” Tears formed on my father’s face. I had found a place where I can be with the best of the best. I can compete on the biggest stage for female athletes. It was an incredible moment for me and my family. I was one of the best.
Athletes work themselves to the bone for success. They grind. They grit. They tear their bodies up and bleed on the field. They put their heart in the game because it returns every bit as much love as they give. It’s not always easy, but damn is it worth it.
For four years, Loyola was where I bled for my sport. I gave it everything I had. Unfortunately, no one really knew or cared. Athletes aren’t in the game for the glory. It’s a perk, but it isn’t everything. I remember dreaming about attending a school where people knew our name. Where we walked onto the field and said, “Fear us, we’re Loyola.” But Loyola didn’t have that respect. Hell, I don’t think people even knew we were Division I. I played against Purdue and beat them. I played against Northwestern and beat them. I played against Notre Dame and I beat them. But no one knew because Loyola wasn’t on the radar.
When I first started dating my boyfriend, I remember feeling a bit envious of the way he and his buddies cheered on their team in the playoffs. Purdue. It’s a team people know. It’s a team that has loyal fans that actually give a damn. Their games were a big deal. I would watch the way they’d emotionally implode when they’d blow it and how they’d jeer when they made that game-winning shot. I didn’t have that. I had Loyola…
But, Loyola is on the radar now. My school, where I put my blood and soul into the game, is a place where athletes are starting to be respected. It’s a place where they can hold their own against teams across the nation. They’re on the map.
I’m proud because I know how hard those guys have worked to get there. They put in as much as any other athlete competing on the big stage. They love the game as much as Duke or North Carolina, or Purdue. The only difference is they can’t walk into a room and say, “Fear us, we’re Loyola.”
But they’re getting there. And they deserve to be seen.
While I didn’t get to see a school that got excited about its sports while I was there, I can be an alumn that gets excited about my team from afar. And, let’s be honest, I just want to see them go further than Purdue 🙂