Sports, Greek life: A complementary relationship?

Matt Tesmond

Illustration: Julie Peterson

Greek life and varsity sports share many core goals: building a sense of family, working together to accomplish goals and, above all, having fun. So it is not surprising to find at Whitman a thriving culture of Greek athletes. Athletes’  participation in Greek life, however, spans the spectrum from a positive relationship to a disruptive engagement.

For many, the combination of Greek life and athletics is a great thing.

“I think [involvement in Greek life] speaks to the quality of the people. They want to be involved in a lot of aspects of campus,” said junior swimmer Andrew Roehrig, a member of Phi Delta Theta. With only four Greek members on the team in 2009 and 13 this season, the swim team is one of the varsity teams that has seen a large growth of Greek life participants over the last two years.

“A few people have strong opinions, and the idea of the swim team as its own Greek organization still resonates with upperclassmen,” said Roehrig about past pressure exerted on swimmers against joining Greek life. Roehrig believes that this pressure has gradually lessened in recent years so that Greek life participation is now widely accepted on the swim team.

The Greek system does more for athletes than just provide a place to get involved. It provides an important source of emotional diffusion for athletes.

“The Greek system helps team morale. It’s nice to have a support system to rely on outside of basketball,” said junior women’s basketball player and Delta Gamma member Mary Madden about the benefits of Greek life.

Sophomore baseball player and Sigma Chi member Aaron Cohen agreed.

“A lot of the guys like to be involved with people that we normally wouldn’t. We spend a lot of time together on the field and it’s always nice to get a break every once in a while,” he said.

There are certain varsity teams which have large groups of members of a certain fraternity. This pledging trend has led to the fraternities being stereotyped by sport.

“Soccer guys are TKE, baseball guys are Sigs. Beta has some soccer guys, Phi is swimming and tennis players,” said first-year Beta pledge and swimmer Yohan Mahoney.

“In my experience athletic stereotypes aren’t as prevalent in Whitman sororities [as in fraternities],” said first-year Aliza Whalen.

The idea of the sports team serving a function similar to a Greek organization is still present, but slowly melting away as more players join Greek life on campus. The women’s tennis team underwent such a transformation in Greek life participants just in the last year. Senior independent tennis player Emily Rolston has seen the change firsthand.

“Earlier in my career the team consensus was that the tennis team played the role of a sorority. I think this has changed: as a freshman there was maybe one sorority member and now there are five, maybe six,” said Rolston. Rolston does not believe that this change has affected the team in any way, positive or negative.

Balancing sports and Greek life is not always an easy task and sometimes creates tension between individuals and teams. When asked which took precedence, Madden said practice time and games always top her list.

“Sports have priority over Greek life for sure,” she said.

Although this seems the standard for those who participate in both Greek life and varsity athletics, the balancing act can still prove troublesome.

“The balance is the hardest thing to deal with but it’s something that  is manageable if dealt with correctly,” said Cohen. “With so many  activities going on for both baseball and Greek life, it’s hard to  walk the line which balances both of them evenly . . . I feel that every kid  I have seen join a fraternity from our team has the ability to come up  with a good working balance.”

The issue of Greek life has been a particularly interesting subject in the baseball team, where negative pressure regarding the Greek system seems  to come not only from teammates.

“[Head Coach Jared Holowaty] straight up told us he didn’t like the Greek system,” former baseball player and TKE member David Fleming recounted.

“Although he has his reasons, I think it is a negative thing. It makes issues surrounding Greek life a touchy subject [on the team],” said Fleming. “Coach’s view didn’t have too much effect on my decision and many guys in my class’s decision to go Greek, but it had some influence over this year’s [first-year] class.”

In a recent survey of varsity athletes, only two percent of athletes reported that their coach had an influence in their decision whether or not to go Greek.

Fleming believes Holowaty’s sentiments are not meant to be negative, but are rather a product of his own experiences with fraternities on the East Coast.

“I don’t think he is fully aware of what Whitman fraternities are like. Guys are here to play baseball,” Fleming concluded.

With the re-introduction of a fourth sorority at Whitman this year due to steadily increasing interest, involvement in Greek life is a growing trend at Whitman College, and is increasingly a choice made more by individuals than by team pressure.