Warming the bench

by Laura Dillavou

Senior Joe Clanton came to Simpson looking for a little more action than riding the pine. As it turned out, Clanton left the pine in search of greener pastures.

As a sophomore, Clanton transferred to Simpson in hopes of playing basketball. In his first year, Clanton expected to learn the dynamics of the team and the quality of player the coach was looking for.

“My sophomore year, I had a positive outlook on things, I was eager to play the game,” Clanton said. “But after that [year], I was getting more and more frustrated with not getting to play.”

The playtime, for many athletes, is the most exciting part of the game. While sitting on the bench allows them to watch the game, the real action happens on the field or court.

“I felt like I wasn’t utilized during the game,” Clanton said. “I had a lot to give, but I never got the chance to prove myself to the coach, or to anybody. After a while, it wasn’t fun anymore.”

Discouragement and frustration take a lot away from the ideals of any sport for many athletes. But for some, sitting on the bench is a reminder to work hard to earn a spot on the team.

Emannuel Mate-Kodjo, a sophomore and member of the men’s soccer team, sees varsity playtime as the ultimate reward for hard work.

“Our JV soccer program was cut, and so many boys couldn’t play anymore,” Mate-Kodjo said. “I was ecstatic just to be chosen for the varsity team. I’ve only played three games, but it’s inspiration to work harder.”

For young athletes, there’s usually an expectation to sit out for a few games. The real action comes with class status and ranking. However, this isn’t always the case at Simpson.

“We just happened to have an awesome freshman class this year,” Mate-Kodjo said. “They were the best ones to be out on the field, so they played. The coaches are fair in that the best players get the play time.”

Coaches have a large say in picking the best players to get the job done. The first step is recruitment for athletes. For those promised playtime when they’re recruited, the actuality of the game can be much different.

“We wouldn’t spend time recruiting people if we didn’t want them to play,” football coach Jay Neimann said. “But, they also have to realize there might be people in front of them with better abilities.”

Some athletes’ expectations of being on a team don’t match their coaches’ philosophies.

“If you’re not recruited to come here for a sport, it’s real hard to get out there and play,” Clanton said. “He (the coach) already knows who he is going to put in the game and who will be his star players. It’s not really fair unless you’re one of the chosen ones.”

For other Simpson athletes, trying out for the team as a walk-on rendered expected results.

“I played in high school and I wanted to play in college, but I wasn’t recruited,” Mate-Kodjo said. “It’s fair that he would play the players he has picked to come here. I guess it’s incentive to work hard over the summer.”

Working hard and practicing in the off-season is a key sign of commitment for many athletes. For football players, training continues year-round and shows during the first few weeks of practice.

“Training is really important,” said sophomore Derek Lyons. “You can tell who’s been working out and who hasn’t been. It’s important to just keep working.”

Coach Neiman agrees.

“Everyone has to practice like they’re a starter,” said Neiman. “We always tell them, ‘You are one injury away from starting,’ and we believe that. We look and consider everybody.”

While warming the bench, these players keep a positive attitude for the team, and for some, that is the most important part.

“When the guys are out on the field, I give moral support to them, or when we are in practice, I try and push them,” Mate-Kodjo said. “I just try and keep my head up, and a good attitude.”

“You can always contribute positive leadership and your own hard work, even if it’s from the sides,” Clanton said.

Through the disappointments and glorifying moments of game time, or even through the lack of game time, one bit of advice never fails, whether the athlete is tried and true or green to the game.

“It’s never too late to keep working hard and give it your all,” Lyons said.