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“Swat Sucks:” An Alumnus’ Perspective

Editor’s Note: J.B. Haglund ’02 won three individual national championships and another as a member of a relay time during his time running for the Haverford track and cross country teams. 

When I think of a “rivalry” with Swarthmore, I tend to think of one athlete in particular.  But only after I stop chuckling about the time the Haverford vs. Swarthmore game was billed in Sports Illustrated as the battle for the position of the country’s worst basketball team.  Because I arrived at Haverford with that in the back of my head, I never took the rivalry as seriously as some on campus seemed to.

Add to that the fact that Swarthmore’s track and cross country teams were never in a position to challenge us over the time that I was competing at Haverford, and the idea of Swarthmore as a rival never moved beyond that of, well, a joke.

Of course for other athletes on campus then and now, that may appear to be disrespectful, immature, ignorant, arrogant and all sorts of other awful things.  It doesn’t honor their efforts or the fact that for them, the Swat game may have been the most important of the year, an opportunity to salvage a tough season or the chance to demonstrate their dominance.

But I bring it up because, even now when I am far removed from the “rivalry” in an athletic sense, the way Haverford as a group appeared to approach the rivalry always seemed disrespectful, immature, ignorant, less arrogant than trying to make up for some kind of inferiority complex, and all sorts of other awful things.

While I was at Haverford I thought of Swarthmore as a place where the food was better, the students more intense, and the scene of a bizarre picture smashing/replica-goat burning ritual that took place when Swarthmore managed to steal the Honor Goat and held him ransom.

As a rival though, I remember Marc Jeuland.  I remember distinctly racing side by side with him at what was then Western Maryland at the Centennial Conference championships.  He was the only other runner in the conference that I worried about losing to that year, and true to form, he managed to stay close until the last climb to the finish. I raced against him again  at the 5k at the NCAA Championships that year, where he was All-American in both the 10k and 5k despite flying back to Swarthmore to take his honors exam in between the two races.

He beat me in that 5k, but there was never a hint of “revenge;” he was excited and I was pleased for him.  I remember that after graduation he went to Africa with the Peace Corps and helped to design systems to bring fresh water to remote villages in Mali.  He went on to qualify for and compete in the US Olympic Trials marathon in 2008, along with Haverford alum Bobby Cannon.

I tell all those stories to bring up the great things that come of a healthy, “real” rivalry, at least in my mind.  I reveled in beating Marc, not because I didn’t like him, but because he was a good runner and when I was able to beat other good runners it validated all the training and sacrifices I made to compete at a certain level.  But I also took pleasure in his success and have nothing but respect for all the things he’s accomplished since we crossed paths on the track.  And I would freely admit that his running career post-college was far more successful than mine and I am rather jealous of his participation in the Olympic Trials, something many of us dream about but few of us have the chance to do.

My guess is that there are quite a few athletes for whom our rivalry with Swarthmore has produced similar moments with similar competitors.  The reason I could never stomach going to a game versus Swarthmore while I was a student at Haverford was because the games seemed to present an excuse for Haverford students to stoop to a level that was honestly disgusting.  While I still haven’t broken my streak of unattended Swarthmore vs. Haverford athletic contests (outside of XC and track), from what I hear and read it would seem that this aspect of the rivalry hasn’t changed.

Somehow I would hope that as a community our approach to the rivalry could mimic more of what I think is actually present within the games themselves.  We don’t need to have rivalries like the big Division I schools where the scholarship gladiators (who have almost nothing to do with the college or university whose name they have on their uniforms) of one school fight it out on the field while alcohol fueled “fans” become raving lunatics in the stands.

Since we know the athletes on the field from our classes and might even know some of the athletes on the other team from those same classes, why can’t we cheer loudly for our team and skip the stupid cheers about what Swat might or might not do?  Couldn’t we enjoy the athletic contest but walk away with respect and civility win or lose?

I think of Notre Dame’s football team and the majority of their student section standing for the Navy’s traditional performance of their alma mater in 2007 after Navy broke Notre Dame’s 43-game winning streak in triple overtime and wonder: can we have that kind of class?

But then I wonder, why don’t we?

This is a rivalry between two colleges that pride themselves on teaching and learning more than just what happens in the classroom.  These are colleges that pride themselves on helping the students emerge as not just having learned about the world but how to be a better part of it.

So why do we go the opposite direction whenever our teams face off on an athletic field?

As a teacher in a local high school and as an assistant coach at Haverford, a great deal of what I do is based on a belief that people can do better, students can learn and improve and athletes can learn and work and compete better than before.  Though there are always moments of disappointment and doubt, the wonderful thing about what I do is getting to be around long enough to see the persistent upward trend.

So why not start with a cheer like “Swat’s great.”  Because let’s face it, if we think Haverford is pretty good, we have to acknowledge that Swarthmore is pretty swell too, maybe even better.  Which is fine, because the better they are and the harder we compete with them (which, when done right involves a great deal of respect and willingness to learn from them), the better we will be.

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