by Steve Charon and Steve Wideen
Steve Charon '09 played eight seasons as a Hornet - four each in football and baseball. During that time the health sciences major battled injuries, endured surgeries, and overcame the sudden passing of his father just weeks before the start of his junior season of football. And he excelled, earning All-MIAA first team honors in football and Kalamazoo College's George Acker Award, presented annually to the male athlete whose example is considered most inspirational.
Last spring Charon was one of several athletes who spoke at a Friday morning campus reflection called "Why We Play." The story is based on his words. You can see video of Charon and each of this year's speakers here.
"Competing in athletics has always been my favorite thing to do, as far back as I can remember. Growing up with five older brothers and a little sister - all athletes - it was natural for me to adopt a love for sports. When I was offered the chance to attend one of the best academic institutions in the country, and play football and baseball as well, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to do my favorite thing in the world, and, competitive as I am, the challenge of college athletics had immense appeal.
I've often been asked why I play sports. At first my answer's simple: Why wouldn't I; it's my favorite thing to do. But then I start to think about it from the questioner's perspective. Maybe it's not so simple.
I've seen my friend's facial bones shattered on the baseball field; I've felt opponents' joints dislocate; I've heard screams of pain seen a fair amount of blood on the field. I've had surgery on both my shoulders and a knee scoped as a result of sports-related injuries. For some, this notion of sports as play might seem counter-intuitive.
But for me playing sports is about what can't be seen or felt from the stands. It's about what goes on behind the scenes. It's me being me, and doing what I like to do. Life doesn't get any better than stepping out on that field.
Once I told a reporter that I liked to call myself Santa Claus because I bring gifts of pain. The quote appeared in an article that ran just prior to our football game against Adrian College. I painted my face like a medieval warrior for that game. When Adrian's students saw me, they yelled, "Look, it's Santa!" How could I not enjoy that? During a baseball game at Alma College, I drew a line in the dirt in front of a baserunner because he looked like he might try to steal. I looked him in the eye and said "I wouldn't cross that line if I were you." How could that not be fun?
Some of the best times of my life include attempts to be as arrogant as possible, trying to think of new one-liners to describe why I'm the best. But as an answer to the question, that's just play.
The real answer is about those times when you push yourself to complete exhaustion, your body aching and your brain begging you to stop. Yet, somehow you press forward. You can't tell me that isn't something special.
"I wouldn't cross that line if I were you."
The real answer is about the years of work you put in for a single goal: to step out on the field. That's special too!
The real answer has to do with when your father suddenly passes, and you're only 20 years old, and you get seventy-five teammates calling you and stopping by your home during those next few days to tell you that they lost a dad too. That's certainly something special.
The real reason is about those times in the fourth quarter or the 7th inning, when maybe things aren't looking so good for your team. So, you look into the eyes of those around you, and see something that tells you more about those people in a split second than any novel-length biography ever could. You see something special.
The real reason is that six-year-old boy who tells you he wants to be just like you when he grows up. All because he saw you throw a ball, tackle someone to the ground, or catch a ball and run with it (it's harder than it sounds, trust me). That boy sees something in you that he wants for his own life. He sees something very special.
Being an athlete has allowed me to stretch boundaries. It has allowed me to devote time and energy to something that is deep; it has allowed me to be part of something through something that lives within me and makes me love every second of being an athlete. It's tough to put in words. So forgive me if my response seems too short the next time I'm asked why I play. The answer's simple - and not. A sly grin and the words: 'Because to me, it's something special.""