‘Tough times never last, but tough people do’: Blumberg’s journey to tennis stardom

By Madeline Coleman

William Blumberg stood on the sidelines of the indoor courts, watching his teammate and close friend Blaine Boyden’s every move.

It was May 2017, and the University of North Carolina men’s tennis team was tied with the University of Georgia 3-3. Whoever won on Court Six would go on to fight for the NCAA Championship.

The Greenwich, Connecticut native locked eyes with his teammate for a split second and had a look on his face that showed his faith in Boyden’s ability. In a way, it calmed the then-sophomore for what was to come.

Boyden bounced the ball three times before throwing it in the air and hitting his serve. Blumberg moved his head side to side, never losing sight of the ball. As Boyden hit the ball wide, just out of reach of the Bulldog opposite the court, Carolina was headed to its first NCAA Championship. Blumberg, who was a first-year at the time, ran onto the court without hesitation, quickly followed by his teammates. He was the first to reach Boyden, who jumped and embraced his teammate in midair.

Two years later, a picture of that moment is now hanging in Boyden and Blumberg’s apartment.

Blumberg almost missed out on that game and the chance to play for UNC-CH. He was ranked as high as No. 4 in the juniors’ world at one point, playing international tennis matches as a teenager. He’s hit with Mike and Bob Bryan, the most successful doubles tennis players in America, over the years and even Roger Federer this past summer.

So why is Blumberg here, competing on Court One for singles and doubles, instead of going pro? Because he doesn’t want others to think of him as just an elite athlete.

There’s more to him than that label.

The Legacy of Little Compton

 The Blumberg brothers couldn’t help but smile as they rolled the windows down.

William leaned his head out the window of the car as his family got to the exit for Fish Road in Rhode Island. The salty ocean smell hit his nose and the sun shone down on the car. At the end of the road at the bottom of the hill, there’s a sign that reads “Little Compton.”

The Blumberg brothers’ smiles grew even bigger. They were finally at their vacation home.

“It’s something, and a place that you’ll never understand until you go there,” William said.

This small town holds a piece of William’s heart. Some of his oldest friendships were formed on Little Compton’s tennis courts and golf courses. This is where he fell in love with tennis and became a scratch golfer.

He, his brothers Alex and Andrew and his friends would play on the beach all morning, eating a marshmallow fluff sandwich or two. But once the clock neared 3:30 p.m., they dropped everything. With sand in their shoes, the kids would run to the country club in order to make it in time for AT’s, a tennis clinic for all ages where they would play games. The group would then play golf at dusk, get up the next morning — and repeat.

Sometimes, William and Little Compton are almost seen as one and the same to his friends.

“When I think about Little Compton, I think about Will immediately,” said Michael Marzonie, William’s best friend since kindergarten. “I affiliate him with that spot because it’s so down to earth and so genuine. There’s nothing flashy about it.”

Here, William isn’t the big-name tennis player. He can relax his shoulders and be William, or “Bops,” as his family calls him.

“William Blumberg is the tennis player and who people know,” said Andrew Blumberg, William’s oldest brother. “The Bops is who William is when you really know him.”

Reigniting his love for tennis

Blumberg sat on the bleachers and watched his brothers play tennis.

He longed to join them, to play with them. He wanted to be like them. Sports was his gateway in, his way to be seen as an equal and to hang out with them. He became a fiery competitor, making it hard to get him off of the court.

“He was always hassling me to stay after work for another 20 minutes to play another bunch of baseline games with him,” said Pat McNally, a tennis pro from Little Compton. “It’s funny how the tides have turned because now I’m begging him to stay and play with me… I used to kick his butt and now he’s kicking mine all over the place.”

Blumberg found success early on and started traveling in the junior circuit regularly, resulting in him missing more days of school. When he was in eighth grade, his school gave Blumberg an ultimatum — tennis or school. He chose to do online schooling and continue traveling for tennis.

He quickly found international success. At 17 years old, Blumberg made the quarter finals of singles and doubles at Junior Wimbledon and made the finals of Junior French Open Doubles with Tommy Paul, now a tennis pro. He even won the Junior Davis Cup for the U.S.

All signs pointed toward him staying pro. Blumberg was one of the lead junior USTA players in the nation, and had hit with pros like Ryan Harrison, Thomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic.

But his body suddenly held him back.

Blumberg would come home feeling awful. His parents would send him to the doctor for more antibiotics. Even when he competed in the Junior Wimbledon and French Open, he was miserable.

The doctors eventually discovered that Blumberg had infectious mononucleosis, more commonly known as mono, but the diagnosis came too late. Blumberg was tired of people berating him in practice while his body struggled. He was burned-out.

“I was depressed and I hated the sport,” Blumberg said.

Blumberg took a step back from the lonely road and went home to Greenwich High School for his senior year.

It was his dad who convinced him to go out and hit a few times a day. As each day passed, Blumberg found his love for the sport again.

“It wasn’t who I am, but without that time period, I wouldn’t be the man I am today,” Blumberg said.

Blumberg and his oldest brother Andrew have always shared a love for sayings. As his little brother struggled through hard times, this Robert Schiuller quote captured how William would persevere, according to Andrew.

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

Blumberg’s next step was as unexpected as his setback. He decided to ignore what people were telling him to do and go to college rather than the pro circuit. It turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

During his time at UNC-CH, Blumberg has broken records. He was the first player in program history to reach the NCAA singles championship match. He was named ITA National Rookie of the Year, ACC Freshman of the Year, 2018 ACC Player of the Year, and ranked as high as No. 1 in both singles and doubles during his 2018 spring season.

“With all of the success he’s had as a player, he’s certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player to ever play at Carolina,” said UNC-CH head coach Sam Paul.

A never-ending network of support

There they are, gathered in the masses surrounding Court One.

UNC men’s basketball senior Luke Maye and manager Eric Hoots sit along the sidelines yelling as loudly as they can. The men’s golf team sits behind one end of the court, showing just as much support. Countless athletes and college students from all walks of life surround Blumberg’s court to support him on any given match.

However, some still believe it pales in comparison to what Blumberg gave up.

“There are people congratulating him or angry with him,” said Asher Dawson, Blumberg’s best friend from Little Compton. “They DM him on Instagram saying, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t win your match. I lost this X amount of money,’ and he has to filter out that noise.”

But his friends and family are the only voices that matter. They would do anything to support him, and the feeling is mutual. As his girlfriend Mary Bryan Pope describes, Blumberg cares deeply, whether it’s about family and friends or tennis.

When teammate Boyden’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 2017, he felt his world stop. Boyden was in his room on Super Bowl Sunday when he got the call from his dad. Blumberg could sense something was wrong and decided to check on Boyden. Since then, Blumberg has been by Boyden’s side.

“If you’re in his corner, he’s going to care for you with all he’s got,” Boyden said.

Out of concern for Boyden’s wellbeing, Blumberg had Boyden’s favorite YouTuber Nick Colletti create a personalized video for Boyden.

“I will always go the extra mile for my friends and my family,” Blumberg said. “I would take a bullet for anyone that I’m close with.”

Moments like this showcase how meaningful friendships are to Blumberg, a love so strong that he wanted to get a tattoo of some kind that reminded him of his friends and family. It started as an impulsive idea, but his parents told him to wait a year before getting the permanent ink.

It’s small enough that no one would notice unless they were looking for it. The tattoo is hidden when his sleeve is down, which is something Blumberg loves. Etched in his mom’s handwriting on his right bicep is the word “we,” the letters formed together so the tattoo is connected.

“Whatever happens and you’re there for one another, that’s my ‘we,’” Blumberg said. “It’s just a subtle reminder that you’re not alone and you’ve got people around you, and you’ve got the people who love and care about you.”

Every so often, the junior will grab his arm, rubbing where the tattoo is. It reminds him of his family, who is the center of his “we,” and his friends.

He’s never alone.

Edited by Charlotte Spence.

A living brochure, nobody knows Chapel Hill like Bob Ward

By James Tatter

Speaking in the entrance room to the Carolina Basketball Museum, Bob Ward was often interrupted in the middle of one of his many iconic Chapel Hill stories.

Midway through a tale of his short stint in the early 1970s as a rural mail carrier for the Chapel Hill Post Office, he stopped. A woman had walked in to inquire about the museum, a shrine to the storied University of North Carolina basketball program.

Ward was on the job as a “nonessential, seasonal, temporary, part-time” greeter and museum attendant, as he refers to the role he has held at the museum since his retirement in 2008.

He looks the part. His neatly brushed gray hair and darker bushy eyebrows frame a well-worn smile. His blue sweater has a wide silver, black and white argyle pattern down the front. He wears black Asics sneakers and navy socks with Tar Heel logos on them. A gold wedding band sparkles on his left hand, perhaps outshone by the pale blue crystal from his UNC class ring on the right hand.

The woman wanted to know if there was a brochure to guide her through the museum.

“We’ve never really had a brochure,” Ward said. “We’re a living brochure.”

No kidding. Ward’s memories tell of a Chapel Hill that anybody who has been there would recognize.

The town has changed, but Ward has a tale for every age.

Whether it’s a basketball game, a celebrity visit or even the weather conditions, Ward remembers it. Chapel Hill has left a mark on Ward, and he has left his mark on nearly everybody who has crossed his path in the seven decades that he has known the college town as home.

‘In my blood’

Ward remembers two presidential visits to Chapel Hill, both of which he witnessed in Kenan Memorial Stadium.

The first was by John F. Kennedy, on one of those patently Chapel Hill fall days where the sky dons Carolina blue and the clouds never roll in. Something was wrong with the public address system — “You couldn’t half hear what he was saying,” Ward recalls.

He remembers the day JFK was assassinated, too, just over two years later. His fifth period English class was dismissed early, and the bus home from the old Chapel Hill High School building on Franklin Street was stone silent.

“Nobody said a word,” Ward said, his characteristic smile temporarily leaving his face.

He remembers Bill Clinton’s visit for UNC’s bicentennial celebration as well, but not for anything the president did.

“Charles Kuralt stole the show,” Ward remembered. That was the day that Kuralt, the famous CBS broadcaster and UNC alumnus, delivered his ode to Chapel Hill, perhaps best remembered for his question, “What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?”

Ward is bound to Chapel Hill by a relationship that started with his father, who attended UNC.

“It was, I guess, in my blood,” Ward said.

His dad instilled an early affinity for the school. Ward remembers games in Woolen Gymnasium, where the Tar Heels used to play their basketball games. The wooden bleachers were carted over from Kenan Memorial Stadium after football season, and Ward was terrified of the large gaps in the slats — large enough for a kid to slip through, he was certain.

He remembers the 1957 season. After winning a triple-overtime game against Michigan State in which the lead changed hands 31 times, UNC advanced to the NCAA title game the next day against Kansas.

Ward and his father already had plans to go to visit his mother’s family in Florence, South Carolina, the next day. The tournament games were televised that year, but not as far away as South Carolina.

So after driving to Florence in the morning, he and his father hopped in the car that night and drove north to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

There they gathered in the living room of his aunt and uncle’s house along with a few neighbors to watch on a small black-and-white TV as UNC went to triple overtime for the second night in a row. After the Tar Heels sunk Kansas to capture their first NCAA title, Ward spent the night at the house before riding back to Florence in the morning and then back to Chapel Hill later that afternoon.

A man worthy of a statue

Ward graduated from UNC in 1970. He worked in banking for years, but never stopped being involved with UNC, particularly its basketball program. He has ushered at home games for the Tar Heels for 35 years.

He started at what was then called Carmichael Auditorium, moving over with the Tar Heels to the Dean E. Smith Center when it opened in 1986.

One of Ward’s close friends, Freddie Kiger, is a courtside statistician for college basketball broadcasts on ESPN, Raycom, Fox Sports South and CBS. Kiger labels Ward as a local legend.

“Bob Ward has been here forever,” Kiger said. “They should have a statue of him somewhere.”

Ward brought another Tar Heel fan into the fold when he married his wife, Ann, who he met in 1973.

“When he planned our wedding in the fall around football season, I kind of got an inkling for it,” Anne said.

He took her to her first UNC basketball game in 1973, a senior day matchup in Carmichael against Duke. The game would become one of the most iconic in the history of the UNC-Duke rivalry.

With 17 seconds left, the Tar Heels trailed by eight points. Before the advent of the 3-point shot, the Tar Heels scored four times to tie the game in regulation before winning it in overtime. Ann remembers thinking the bleachers were going to give out from the crowd jumping around.

“Those things were bouncing,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we are going to die right here.’”

The couple estimates that they go to 60-70 UNC sporting events per year, including the games Ward works with the basketball team.

At the Smith Center, he is a fixture, responsible for sections 127-130. His job has put him next to rapper J Cole and author John Grisham. Scott May, the father of legendary UNC player and current men’s basketball director of operations Sean May, used to stand next to Ward on the concourse to watch games away from the crush of the crowd.

His job has put him even closer to some of the players on the court. He took a knee to the chest from a diving James Michael McAdoo while working courtside, and had a near miss when Reggie Bullock jumped above him.

Ann often watches on TV from home, where she looks for the back of his head on close-up shots.

“If I’m ever near the TV, I’ll tap on his head,” she said. “He says he can’t feel it.”

A smaller world

The Wards have one daughter, Katie, who quickly got caught up in her father’s fandom.

When she was 3 years old, Ward would take Katie with him to watch UNC baseball games. Katie was like her father: She never met a stranger. She would walk around the stadium, talking to whoever she could.

Over the course of the season, she befriended a college girl named Lindsey Mathews, who would sit behind home plate. Mathews dated the team’s catcher.

The catcher, Todd Wilkinson, would let Katie run around the field after the games.

In 2017, more than 30 years after Mathews and Wilkinson graduated, a UNC graduate student walked into the Carolina Basketball Museum. She was filming something for a project.

As always, Ward struck up a conversation. Bizarrely, it came up that her father was Wilkinson. Ward shared with the girl the connection he had to her father and the girlfriend. The girl informed him that Lindsey had ended up marrying Todd after all.

“Is your daughter’s name Katie?” the girl asked.

It sure is, Ward informed her.

“I’m named after her,” the girl told him.

Ten years after leaving UNC, the Wilkinsons were still charmed by the lovely child who had kept Lindsey company. So much so that they named their daughter after her.

Katie Wilkinson connected Lindsey with Ward via phone, and they both started crying. The Wilkinsons and Wards reconnected when Barton College, where Todd is now the athletic director, came to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels at the Smith Center later in 2017.

The world seems to be a little smaller for Ward than it is for anyone else. He has a connection to and a story of just about everything to do with this town. Spend enough time in Chapel Hill and your thread has probably crossed over his at some point.

His stories could fill volumes of books. And it doesn’t take much to get him to tell them.

“All you have to do to get to know Bob Ward better is walk up and introduce yourself,” Kiger said. “And then let Bob Ward be Bob Ward.”

Story edited by Brennan Doherty

‘All I have to do is give it everything I’ve got’

Jay Arrington's life has not been easy, but, through perseverance and support, he now plays college lacrosse.
Jay Arrington’s life has not been easy. Through perseverance and support, he now plays lacrosse at St. Andrews University.

By Lauren Tarpley

“I make sure I’m grateful for every opportunity I get. If I could go back one year and give myself advice, I would say be appreciative.”

A lot can change in one year. One year ago, Jahdi’El “Jay” Arrington, 20, was living in Chapel Hill. Jay was reluctantly attending Durham Technical Community College, and he already had a few run-ins with law enforcement. Today, Arrington is attending St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC, on a scholarship doing what he his most passionate about, lacrosse.

Life changing opportunities do not happen by chance. These opportunities are born out of struggle, hardship and dedication. Arrington is a prime example of how one’s life can completely change with some ambition and support.

Originally from Ohio, Arrington moved to Chapel Hill while in middle school. A lack of stability had a negative impact on Arrington’s middle school career as multiple moves and switching schools led to poor grades. During this time he was enrolled in the mentor-partnership program Volunteers for Youth where he met his mentor, Eric Perry.

“I figured I needed to do something to give back a little, but as far as getting Jay—it was just the universe doing me a solid favor,” Perry said. “He’s had his struggles, but he has a wonderful heart and he was just the perfect kid for me to mentor.”

Arrington was 12 years old at the time and eight years later Perry continues to support and advise him.

“I’m not sure what it was that caused fate to sign on to it or how it worked, but the universe just lined everything up perfect. I fell in love the first time I met him. He was just a sweet little guy and that part of him never changed and never will,” Perry said.

Struggle to success

Perry helped Arrington work through tough situations in his youth such as transitioning schools, sometimes ending up in worse districts.

“He wasn’t with the same kids or teachers, and it was really hard for him,” Perry said. “He’s a get-along guy, but in this process, he was getting left behind in school.”

As Arrington got older, Perry remained by his side through good times and bad times. Arrington eventually graduated from East Chapel Hill High School and enrolled in Durham Technical Community College. While Arrington was hard-working and ambitious, he still had his faults. He would eventually be charged with a DUI, amongst other minor encounters with the law. Instead of falling victim to these hardships, Arrington used them as an opportunity to learn and grow from his mistakes.

“My struggles have helped me open my eyes to real-life situations. The obstacles that are in my way will be hard to deal with and will continue to challenge me, but all I have to do is give it everything I’ve got,” Arrington said.

Perry was a prominent figure through these difficult times, reminding Arrington that he is in control of his fate.

“He was twelve when we first started hanging out and he’s damn near a grown-ass-man now,” Perry said. “We all have some bumps along the way and if all is well at the end of the rail, we’ve learned something and have some grip on right and wrong.”

Thinking positive

Throughout their relationship, Perry has emphasized the importance of being proactive and positive in life, as our life reflects our thoughts.

“We kept talking about asking the universe for the next great thing,” Perry said.  “Don’t go through life asking what terrible thing will happen next, because the universe will answer with what you ask for. But, the exact opposite is also true. I believe if you look in the mirror and ask for great things, great things will happen.”

According to Perry, every time they spoke, Arrington would say three things he was grateful for. Then, in January, Arrington received a phone call congratulating him on his admittance to St. Andrews University on a lacrosse scholarship. Arrington now had the opportunity to get an education at a four-year institution while playing the sports he is most passionate about—just one more thing to be grateful for.

“It’s been gratifying knowing he was able to make a connection between the change in his attitude and this amazing opportunity,” Perry said. “I’m proud of him. Super proud of him.”

A bigger issue at hand

While Arrington’s hardships were temporary obstacles on his path to success, these struggles often hinder young black Americans trying to succeed.

Black Americans are highly represented within the United States’ criminal justice system. According to The Sentencing Project , 32 percent of blacks males between the ages of 20 to 29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision– whether that be prison, probation, or parole. While white males born in 1991 have a four percent chance of spending time in prison, their black counterparts have a 29 percent chance of going to prison at some point during their lives, according to The Sentencing Project.

An article published on Slate.com reported on a Rhode Island study that found black drivers were more likely to be stopped than white drivers despite the fact that they are less likely to receive a citation. Furthermore, black Americans were three times as likely to have their cars searched and were less likely to have a reason for being stopped. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

Perry has emphasized the importance of being aware of the current racial tensions in our society, stating the alternatives to cooperation can be frightening for black Americans.

“If you’re young and black, it’s open season on you. So, you have to be super aware of that in a way that I wouldn’t have to. It’s unfair, but that is what’s going on,” Perry said.

These racial issues, on a larger scale, might be hard to relate to. But ,when these issues happen on a local level and effect loved ones, the reality becomes clear. Perry believes voting and movements such as Black Live Matters bring awareness to these issues and offer people a way to be proactive.

“If you want to change injustice in the system, and it’s loaded with it, you can’t change the system without being active,” Perry said. “That’s a simply fact,”

Jahdi’El Arrington – student athlete

Currently, Arrington is majoring in communications. He will be red-shirting as a midfielder on the men’s lacrosse team at St. Andrews.

“Now that I am in school, doing what I love and getting an education, I feel like I can start achieving more in life since I am learning so much as I go through this process,” Arrington said.

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Hazing, the perfectly natural, boys-will-be-boys abuse

By Jacob Hancock

The putrid stench of sweaty bodies cramped together in the hottest room in the entire school, the whip of towels, the maniacal laughter of upperclassmen and the shrill of freshmen – it’s all a bit intimidating when you first walk into a varsity boys’ locker room. It’s a hazing culture and it happens in every sport.

You’re getting ready for football practice in the middle of the season. Normally, you run straight to the locker room after the school bell rings, but today you had to stay a few minutes after class to talk to your teacher. You walk in to the locker room and all of the seniors immediately stare you down – it’s open season. You do your best to change quickly, but it’s too late. They start grabbing you, pinching your nipples and yanking at your boxer shorts. They pin you to the ground and the fat guy (you know which one I’m talking about: the big hairy one who could pass for a middle-aged man) sits on your face. Everyone is laughing at you. You’re completely humiliated.

But it’s all perfectly natural.

Ask almost any guy who played a varsity sport in high school and they’ll tell you that something like this went on in their locker room. Some of them will even admit to partaking in hazing freshmen. Most would write it off as “typical locker-room behavior” or “boys will be boys.”

But why?

In what other setting is this kind of behavior tolerable – let alone expected? According to a study conducted by Alfred University, 79% of NCAA athletes admitted to being hazed in high school. Why is hazing in varsity boys’ locker rooms so commonplace? Is it even a real problem? If it is, how can we fix it?

Is it natural?

Gaston Sanders, a 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, played soccer and baseball in high school and graduated at the top of his class. The son of a strict teacher and regular church-goer, Gaston never thought of hazing anyone when he was an upperclassman. While he didn’t get picked on much when he was an underclassman (he was bigger than most of the seniors), he admitted that some of his peers were harassed, often in very odd ways.

“I always thought it was a little weird,” Gaston said. “Overly-masculine guys that throw around homophobic slurs as insults during the school day are suddenly grabbing at a dude’s junk, sticking their thumb up their butt and dry-humping each other in the locker room before practice. It doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.”

But not everyone thinks it’s weird. Jace Lawrence, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, says that the football locker room helped make him the confident young man he is today.

“Yeah, I got hazed,” Jace said. “But I wasn’t a little bitch about it. That kind of stuff happens everywhere. That’s life.”

Jace grew up with three rowdy older brothers and a big sister with a mean right hook (she played basketball at Meredith College as a center). When his siblings picked on him, he couldn’t count on his parents to make them stop. Tough love is the only kind of love he knows. When he first stepped into that locker room as a freshman, he wasn’t intimidated – he was prepared.

“Locker rooms are the first time you really see the world. You are stripped of everything in addition to what you’re wearing. You’re thrown in with a bunch of savages, and you either sink, or you swim.”

It certainly seems like Jace was able to swim. But what about those who may be sinking?

Is it harmful?

Sammy Eubank, a junior at Appalachian State University, was a varsity soccer player and wrestler all four years in high school. He finished his senior year as the school’s third all-time leader in wins in wrestling and was an integral part of the school’s first ever soccer conference championship team. He had friends in every part of town, he got invited to all the big parties, everyone knew his name and at one point or another he had probably made every single one of his classmates laugh.

The early years of high school weren’t so great for Sammy. As a freshman, he stood at 5’6” and weighed 115 pounds. His bright red hair was messy, his shorts never matched his shirt, and his pallid complexion was covered in blemishes. He wasn’t the most popular kid, especially in the locker room.

“Some days were rough,” Sammy said. “I seemed to get picked on a little bit more than everyone else. I usually just tried to laugh it off, but it wasn’t always easy. I seriously thought about quitting.”

Sammy was lucky to be able to get past the bullying. He was brave enough to speak up and tell someone what was going on.

“Eventually I felt like I had to say something to the coaches,” Sammy said. “I asked them to keep me anonymous, and they held a team meeting and told the guys that some people were starting to feel singled out. Things started to get better after that and I was able to move on from it.”

Things turned out well for Sammy, but there are many kids who experience similar bullying who aren’t so fortunate.

“I was lucky that my coaches were willing to step in, but I don’t know what would have happened to me if things had kept going the way they were. It could have ended badly,” Sammy said.

A literature review by Vanderbilt University Medical Center revealed that suicide is the third-leading killer of student athletes. Student athletes are also more likely to have mental health problems. Often, this is explained by the stress of balancing school and sports. It can also be caused by hazing.

Many athletes who were hazed don’t actually think of it as hazing, but rather as a sort of bonding moment, according to the review.

Jack Amoroso, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, played baseball in high school and said that he thought the locker room behavior was perfectly healthy.

“I feel like for the most part guys are just kind of joking around with each other,” Jack said. “Yeah, we messed around with each other, but I don’t think anyone was traumatized or anything.”

In some cases, maybe nobody gets hurt. But that certainly isn’t the case in all locker rooms across the country. And if we wouldn’t let kids behave this way in a classroom, why would we let them do it in a locker room?

What should be done about it?

Kids that experience hazing are often encouraged by their parents to “tough it out” and “pay their dues.” Parents want their kids to be accepted by their peers, and fear that taking action will turn them into outcasts. Some kids even beg their parents not to get involved because they don’t want to be embarrassed.

What’s even more troubling is that many coaches and school officials don’t take hazing incidents seriously. A lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Lake Zurich High School in northern Illinois. The suit alleges that both coaches and school officials, including the principal, were complicit in allowing athletes in multiple sports to commit acts of hazing involving sexual assault.

The lawsuit came about after reports of an incident in which a student on the football team was forced to strip naked and stand in the shower while teammates peed on him.

Chad Beaver, an assistant coach and dean of students at the time, told the student’s parents that what happened to their child was “no big deal.”

Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana and author of multiple books on hazing over the last couple of decades, said in an interview with Al Jazeera America that hazing incidents today are more brutal than years ago.

Many people will tell you that sports teach kids toughness, and help them learn to overcome obstacles. They’ll also say that playing sports develops good character. But is a bully someone with good character?

Charles “Donnell” Johnson, a junior at UNCW, played basketball in high school. He is named after his father – a retired member of the U.S. Army – and he certainly takes after him. Donnell is about as clean-cut as it gets – never a hair out of line. He’s a straight-A student and the last person you would expect to get into any trouble. He wasn’t the most talented basketball player in high school, but he definitely worked the hardest, and he demanded that his teammates do the same. And he wasn’t going to put up with any crap – especially hazing.

“I know that on some teams that stuff probably went on,” Donnell said. “But that kind of stuff didn’t fly with us. We were a team, and we all had the same goal. If you weren’t focused on winning, then you got the hell out. We didn’t put up with bullies looking to make someone feel bad. It’s called being a good teammate.”

That’s what people don’t realize: sports don’t teach us anything if we allow kids to be bad teammates. Allowing hazing to happen in varsity locker rooms doesn’t help kids form healthy bonds, and it’s not a healthy way to develop toughness. Some kids may be able to shake it off, but others may develop mental health problems that can persist throughout the rest of their lives and even drive them to suicide.

Taking a stand against hazing isn’t being “a little bitch” – it’s being a good teammate. Sports are supposed to teach kids to be good teammates, not bullies.

If parents and administrators want to create a safe environment for children to grow and develop, they need to take hazing more seriously.

Edited by Jordan Thomas Wilkie

Six months on the sidelines: the long road to recovery after an ACL injury

By Colleen Brown

For a girl, co-ed indoor soccer games are fast, tough and usually painful. You get beaten up by boys with 40 pounds and 6 inches on you.

I love it.

I thrive on the attention of the crowd outside the clear walls. It’s packed with almost 50 people: fans for my game, plus the next two teams and their fans.

My team’s down a goal late in the second half. I’ve got the ball on my foot, heading straight for the net. A big, mean defender who’s been targeting me all night steps in my path. He has a grin plastered on his face and I want nothing more than to blow past him. Blood rushes in my ears as I pick up speed. Cheers from the crowd and shouts from teammates blur into background noise.

He comes in with a low sweep at my ankles, trying to trip me. After touching the ball past him, I tense and release the muscles of my right leg, jumping 8 inches off the ground in full stride over his ankle. It’s a move I’ve perfected over the years. I float for the briefest of moments, left leg outstretched, reaching for the ground.

I touch the turf and my ankle holds, but there’s a horrible crack.

I’m screaming before the rest of me hits the turf, clawing at my knee, the ground, anything to make the pain go away. My knee spasms with bursts of pain so intense I can’t find air to breathe.

The referee, my parents and coach are hovering over me. I can barely hear them speak as I spit saliva, curses and rubber pellets out of my mouth. My left leg hangs down, swinging limply as my dad and coach carry me off the field, red-faced and crying pitifully.

It’s deathly quiet in the cavernous room. All around me, people are staring, muttering their condolences and names of their favorite orthopedic surgeons.

The game goes on without me.

Another day at the office

Sports are an intrinsic part of my life. Growing up, I was always on a field, tennis court or in the ring with my horse. It was the winter of my junior year in high school, during a game of indoor soccer, when the impossible happened. I was invincible, the star of my team, riding the high that comes from pure adrenaline and doing what you love. And that’s when I tore my ACL.

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is the cornerstone of the knee. It crosses through the center of the knee, stabilizing movements and limiting dangerous over-rotation. Tears usually result from rapid twisting motions, awkward landings or violent hits. About 150,000 ACL injuries a year occur in the US, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. The ACL, unlike a muscle, cannot heal itself. With today’s medicine, there is only one sure fix: surgery. After a torn ACL is removed and replaced, complete recovery requires six months to a year of intense, painful physical therapy.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Ambulatory Care Center is an orthopedic center where athletes, students and other patients are operated on for a variety of injuries. I met with Dr. Alexander Creighton, an orthopedic surgeon kind enough to let an inquisitive journalism student with no medical experience whatsoever into an operating room.

After donning a pair of scrubs and an extremely unfashionable hairnet and mask, I was allowed inside. The patient, who must remain anonymous due to medical regulations, was already under. I could hear his pulse monitor beeping like in emergency room dramas. Massive hospital equipment lined the walls. In the center sat the operating table, overhead lamps and two video screens broadcasting a camera feed. It looked like a cross between an operating room and an alien abduction chamber.

There were four people in the room: an anesthesiologist, two assisting nurses, and fourth-year fellow, Dr. Hannah Dineen, who was busy inserting a camera into the patient’s leg.

There are two main techniques to replace the ACL. A graft can be taken from the middle third of the patellar tendon, which stretches over the knee cap, or from the hamstring muscle. This patient had chosen a patellar graft, the exact same surgery I had.
With the overhead lighting dimmed and lamps spotlighting the patient’s exposed knee, Creighton made a four-inch downward incision starting at the middle of his knee cap. Unlike his TV stereotypes, Creighton did not hold out his hand and demand “scalpel.” Dineen peeled back the skin of the patient’s knee like an orange peel and held it open to expose the patellar tendon. They used a tiny surgical saw to cut through the bone in order to remove the section of the tendon. The room filled with the rancid smell of seared bone. I had to hold my breath as smoke and minuscule shards of bone flew into the air.

Most of the two-hour surgery was spent cleaning out the inside of the patient’s knee. They removed his torn ACL and other bits of delicate-looking pink flesh with a tiny cauterizing tool, burning his flesh away until it blackened like the skin of a seared pork chop. Another tool was used to hollow out the patient’s spongy pale yellow bone marrow. My continuously shocked expressions must have been amusing for the two other fellows observing the surgery.

After hollowing out a cavity, the new ACL was pulled into place with thin sutures, then screwed in. Dr. Creighton tested the strength of the graft, then Dr. Dineen stitched together the patient’s patellar tendon and the skin over his knee.

That was it: the surgery that put me in a world of pain and helped bring me back to sports. It was both fascinating and disturbing in its normalcy. It’s easy to forget that while an ACL injury is a life-changing experience for one person, to these doctors and nurses, it’s just another day at the office. It was clinical and gross and altogether fascinating. I wanted to be able to say good luck to the patient. He’ll need it in the coming weeks.

The road to recovery

The hardest part of my ACL recovery wasn’t the physical aspect, it was the emotional. Being forcibly grounded was traumatizing, like clipping a bird’s wings. Wanting to learn more about other athletes’ experiences, I met with Yuri Jean-Baptiste, one of the physical therapy trainers for the UNC-CH women’s soccer team, at the Stallings-Evans Sports Medicine Center. The center is state of the art, decorated in muted grays and Carolina blues, with therapy tables, whirlpools, ice baths, strange-looking machines and ESPN on every flat screen.

He explained how athletes are prevention tested for injuries the moment they step on campus. They have a regimen of workout plans and preventative therapy techniques to help lessen the risk for injuries. But despite all the world-class technology and training UNC-CH has to offer, last year, there were six ACL tears on the women’s soccer team alone.

Jean-Baptiste tore his own ACL, which he said gives him a unique perspective in helping current athletes.

“I think that especially in today’s society a lot of the time the athlete tends to identify themselves with their sport, position or place on the team,” Jean-Baptiste said. “So when that’s taken away that’s a huge mental, emotional blow to them.”

I ran into UNC-CH junior Kirstyn Waller in the lobby of the sports medicine center. Waller’s a member of the women’s rugby team, and had her own ACL surgery just five weeks ago. She’s no longer on crutches, but still wears her post operation knee brace. It’s is a heavy contraption that immobilizes the leg completely straight from upper thigh to calf. The brace is heavy and clunky and trust me when I say it’s horrible to sleep in.

“I was already really emotional with the whole process,” Waller said. “I was weeping as I woke up from surgery. I don’t even know why.”

Waller’s progressing well, but she’s got five more months of physical therapy before she’ll be able to step on a field again.

Recovery starts on an exercise bike, slowly pedaling until you can’t bend your knee any more for the pain. Everything is tight with inflammation and scar tissue. Your hamstring, quad and calf muscles have completely wasted away. Patients have to relearn how to walk, how to move up and down stairs. The goal is to bring their reconstructed leg back to a point where it’s just as strong as their healthy leg.

UNC-CH first-year Emily Pender had a similar experience in high school. Pender tore her ACL while rebounding during a basketball tournament the summer before her senior year. She’s completely healed, tall and strong, and plays center for UNC-CH’s women’s club basketball team.

“I guess I just landed wrong,” Pender said. “I would try and play every day. I would practice my walking in my hotel room and then go see my coach and try to prove to him that I was walking fine. Then when he left I’d limp away.”

The drive athletes have to get back in and play is what makes ACL injuries so terrible. They’re fixable, but the cost is six months of pain and frustration.

“It’s the young girls that hit you the hardest,” Creighton said. “High schoolers who have hopes for playing in college, or who just want to play.”

Girls like me, like Waller and Pender. Thankfully, it’s not an injury that will keep you out of the game permanently.

But it does come at a cost.

Edited by Hannah Smoot