Toward the end of an extraordinary women’s basketball team season — which concluded as the best in program history — athletes, alumnae, students, coaches, faculty members, and staff gathered to hear a panel discussion that examined life lessons learned on, and off, the court.
Beyond the Game, which helped to close out Women’s History Month on March 28, centered on women, athletics, and leadership. The annual event, co-hosted by Barnard and Columbia, celebrates the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, the College’s arrangement with Columbia University that allows Barnard athletes to compete in D-1 tournaments via the Ivy League Athletic Conference.
President Sian Leah Beilock spoke in her opening remarks about the increase of student-athletes who have enrolled in Barnard during her six-year tenureship. And Peter Pilling, Columbia’s Campbell Family Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education, thanked President Beilock for her support, which he said had a direct impact on the women’s teams’ recent successes.
Pilling then introduced New York Mets’ announcer Marysol Castro JRN’00, who moderated the keynote discussion and shared with the audience that she was also a former teacher and athletics coach of Barnard’s Dean of the College, Leslie Grinage.
The panel included Erinn Smart ’01, U.S. Olympic fencing medalist, and 2010 Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame inductee. She was joined by Amy Weeks, head coach of Columbia’s women’s golf team, and Sherrie Deans CC’98, president of the Intentional Group and former executive director of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation (NBPA).
For excerpts from this year’s Beyond the Game panel, see below, edited for clarity and flow:
Why Teamwork Matters
Weeks reflected on how any success achieved by an individual on the golf course springs from a collective effort.
“[What] I’ve tried to instill in all the teams that I’ve coached is to be able to take those [everyday] successes and move them into their life. I also try to do it with my kids and my family, my nieces and nephews. I try to instill in them the power of being on a team, of contributing to others, and of how much you receive back from those contributions.
“The influence that you receive from your teammates and your coaches far outweigh any workout. They outweigh any failure on the golf course. You have the ability to be a change agent. The student athletes that I’ve interacted with and learn from here at Columbia and Barnard are running in an environment [that] gives them [the] super powers to go out into the world and be change agents.”
Why the Team Behind-the-Scenes Matter
Smart took her sophomore year off at Barnard to try out for the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney. She didn’t make the team but shared how the setback taught her the importance of teamwork beyond the sport.
“When I didn’t make the team, I was brokenhearted. My brother made that team, and I traveled [to Sydney] — my whole family was there. And I sat watching and crying the entire time, like, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ After Sydney, it felt like my world had shattered. But I came back to campus, and my friends were so supportive. I told my mom that come hell or high water, nothing would stop me.
“I adjusted my goals, not the big goals, the little ones, and I figured out what it [would take] to get me to that next Olympic team. I made 2004 and 2008, and that’s where I won my Olympic medal. I believe if I had made that 2000 team, I would have never had the Olympic medal. I think I would have retired after 2000. So that’s why I say keep those big dreams.
“The other thing I’d say to the student-athletes is the bonds you create during these years are incredible. It was a village of coaches, other athletes that helped me — friends, family — there’s just so much that goes into it. Everyone that competes at that level knows it’s a collective effort. So lean on people; ask for help. You’re not weak by doing so.”
Why Students Need Sports
Deans didn’t play sports when she was young, but she still spoke about the interconnectedness of athletics and education and how being an athlete is essential to student growth in college and beyond.
“I’ll say that 94% of all women in the C-suite were athletes. I am actually a weird exception, that I even made it to anything with a C in front of it, as a non athlete, is wild. So I think when we think about sports, especially at institutions like Columbia and Barnard, sometimes we think of it as extra, but actually it’s essential. And so, to tie it back to the work, part of what we did when we were in the [NBPA] foundation was to push for the availability and access to sports, because kids are playing less.
“We have to understand how primary athletics is to our existence and our humanity and make sure that we sustain it. I’ve traveled all over the world for basketball and every single country we went to has a Minister of Sport except the United States. Even the Vatican has a minister of sports. They understand the role that sport plays in our society and how it affects our health and well-being. It’s vitally important. So Title IX, and ensuring that women can play, is about your health, it’s about leadership, and it’s about the community.”
The panel discussion can be viewed here and below: