Athletes in the shadows


It’s a typical Friday night: 6 p.m. and the place is packed, everyone’s hungry and can’t wait to be seated. The restaurant lighting is dim, but people still notice he’s there. Some people do the obvious double take, others continually glance out the corner of their eyes, while the ambitious take it head on. “Hey! It’s Brock Zylstra! Good luck this year, man.”

While star college football and basketball athletes, like senior guard Brock Zylstra, are recognized by most BYU students, professors, alumni or anyone who watches BYU sports on television, hundreds of other BYU athletes go unnoticed.

“Sometimes other athletes will recognize us,” senior softball pitcher Hannah Howell said. “But not necessarily other students.”

For athletes on teams like softball, golf, swimming, cross-country and tennis, the hours of work put into their sport may allow for personal success and accomplishment, but all too often their work gets overlooked by others who attend BYU.

“You have amazing accomplishments, and most people don’t even hear about them,” junior Hailey Campbell of the swim team said.

No matter the sport, competing at a college level is difficult and takes a lot of time and hard work to be successful.

“It’d be nice to know that other people know that we work hard,” Howell said. “And that we do just as much work as other, more well-known athletes.”

Though many of these athletes compete in individual competitions, the competition and intensity of practice and games still exist.

“I kind of wish they knew a little more about women’s golf,” said junior Annika Afoa Kahaiali’i of the golf team. “Just because some teachers and students are like, ‘Oh, you guys are golf. You just go out there and play and have fun.’ But really it’s pretty intense and it’s mentally draining. I feel like they think it’s a leisure activity rather than a competitive sport.”

However, it’s not all fun and games being in the spotlight 24/7 either, and it seems all athletes comprehend the difficulties that come with being one of these “celebrity athletes.”

“I think a pro of not being a well-known athlete is that we don’t have to deal with the stress of everyone watching us and making sure we’re always competing at our best,” Campbell said.

While it would be nice to have students recognize the work these athletes put into each sport, not being recognized on campus has its benefits as well.

“In another sense, it’s kind of a luxury too,” Howell said. “We don’t have to be bombarded by other people as well.”

Zylstra and his team understand the pressures that come with constantly having everyone’s eyes on them.

“I would say that you always have to be your best,” Zylstra said. “I mean you should always be trying to be your best, but you do one little thing wrong and people see it and it affects the team and the school. You’re not only representing yourself, you’re representing the basketball team, the athletic program and BYU as a whole.”

All athletes run into the difficulties of balancing school and their sports, which makes going unnoticed that much less enticing.

“Just having to maintain a good schedule with classes and everything (is difficult),”  Howell said. “And making sure you get everything done in between practices and school. In softball, we’re out there four to five hours out of the day, and the only time we have to take classes is in the morning, so it’s kind of hard to time manage.”

So whether you do the double take, the peripheral stare or go gaga over certain athletes, don’t forget the hard work and achievements of all the other athletes here at BYU. They may be in the shadows now, but it only takes one person, one poster, one game to bring them into the spotlight too.

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