Jack Williams is a senior journalism major and a columnist for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Four years ago when I was trying to figure out where to go to school, like any other sports fanatic, I took into account what the sporting culture was like at each of my top three schools.
My third option was Kansas. The basketball tradition was unlike any other, with every team going deep into March. My second option was LSU. I’ve been a Tigers fan all throughout high school, and I thought spending Saturdays in Death Valley would be electric.
Then, there was my top choice: Ball State. It was a mid-major school in the middle of Indiana that didn’t really have the athletic resume the others did. However, something felt right about the campus and what it had to offer.
After eight semesters in Muncie and two years as the sports editor of The Ball State Daily News, I’ve learned sports at Ball State are about more than just winning. The Cardinals offered something the big schools didn’t when I went to each game: heart and familiarity.
Beaming from the varsity fields at Briner Sports Complex to a run-down gymnastics facility in Anderson, Indiana, every sports team at Ball State played its games for the love of it. For four years, working up from reporter to editor, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to tell those stories, form relationships with athletes and coaches and find out what it truly means to be a Cardinal.
I’m not going to lie, to this day, after almost every game, I still get nervous talking to players and coaches. Even if I’ve covered the beat the entire season or have had casual conversations with them, my palms still get a little sweaty when I’m walking up to the press room or walking down to the field. However, there have been a few coaches that have made postgame interviews something fun and casual.
Starting out as the gymnastics beat writer, cutting my teeth as a freshman at The Daily News, head coach Joanna Saleem was always someone who was extremely helpful in the entire postgame interviewing process. She was always open to getting the gymnasts and always came up to me right after the meet ended. Even after the Mid-American Conference Championships, after the team had just lost the meet, she still came up to the press table for an interview.
I’m still extremely happy one of my last clippings with The Daily News was back where I started, covering the gymnastics team.
Softball head coach Megan Ciolli-Bartlett has also always been friendly and helpful when it came to interviews. On a phone call from the bus or in the press box at the softball field, I could always depend on her for stellar comments and just an extremely positive presence, win or loss.
My heart really aches for the team amidst the season’s cancellation. Being on the softball beat for two years, you could really tell the team loved to play every game, and it had set high standards it was always trying to meet.
As someone who grew up watching their sister play travel softball every summer, it was nice to spend a few more years at the field. Watch softball. It’s an extremely underrated sport.
While I did spend a lot of time at Worthen Arena and Scheumann Stadium, some stories that captured the true heart of Ball State Sports were off the court — some weren’t even varsity sports. One story sent me to Anderson Gymnastics and Cheer for a meet hosted by the members of Ball State’s club gymnastics team. While the members did seem a little stressed in running the meet and making sure everything went well, you could just see the joy in their faces after completing a routine or receiving awards. Their love for the sport was the story.
However, out of all the stories I’ve told, from Josh Thompson’s rise as a leader to Ball State Football’s overtime win over Western Michigan, nothing really captured the passion and heart of what Ball State Sports really are like Don Shondell.
Working on that six-month-long project left me tired, fatigued and annoyed it took so long to publish, but Shondell put it into perspective why every edit and rewrite was worth it. He created a legacy out of absolutely nothing. He was shut down so many times, but he persisted. Now 91 years old, if there wasn’t a pandemic, you would see him at almost every game. That’s heart if I’ve ever seen it.
Interacting with people like Don while at "the Harvard of Muncie" has taught me it's not about championships, or iconic venues or big-time games. It’s about the coaches, players and fans that capture the heart and passion of what it’s like to wear the cardinal and white.
After a men’s basketball regular-season finale victory, you can see head coach James Whitford smiling ear to ear while he passes you by with a high five.
After a stuck landing on the uneven bars, you can see gymnastics assistant coach Scott Wilson cheering with more intensity than anyone in the building
If you look down at the bench during any men’s basketball game, you can see Brachen Hazen fooling around with his teammates.
During a timeout at a men’s volleyball game, the bench jumps up, groups up shoulder to shoulder and sings the jeopardy theme.
Something I'll always remember is how all the fans at Worthen Arena would stand up together as the clock passes the one-minute mark in a close game or when the student section screams for “tater tots” during every opponent free throw.
Ball State Sports aren’t traditional, but they’re something special. Thank you for showing me what it means to watch, cover and be a part of a mid-major sporting culture. We may not have the football hardware of LSU or the environment of Allen Fieldhouse, but Ball State has a heart and passion that can’t be found anywhere else.
Thank you for allowing me to tell your stories, become a part of your team and be your sports editor.
Contact Jack Williams with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @jackgwilliams.