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Robinson and Rhodes: A Perfect Fit

Jim Amidon — I vividly remember when I interviewed Jeremy Robinson ’04 for a Works in Progress feature in Wabash Magazine. We talked about everything — travel, politics, religion, family, and Wabash. It was obvious to me then that Robinson was a young man wise beyond his years; his life experiences neatly woven with his intellectual curiosity to produce a bright, sensitive, and thoughtful person. He wanted to be a teacher, he told me. "Wow," I thought. "He’s the kind of teacher I wish I had when I was a kid."

I am not at all surprised that the Rhodes Scholarship committee selected him as a Rhodes Scholar, Wabash’s eighth and first since 1966.

As one of Wabash’s top graduates in 2004, Jeremy probably could have gone anywhere or done anything. Fred Wilson, CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, spotted the potential in a half-hour meeting with Robinson at Saks’ headquarters. Wilson told Robinson that if teaching didn’t work out for him to come see him.

Teaching has worked out for Robinson. Joining the ultra-competitive Teach for America program seemed like a perfect fit for someone who told me as a college senior how discouraged he was with the inequities in America’s public schools. At Harper High School in Chicago, Robinson has seen education at its worst; he also has seen the positive impact he can have on young people. And that’s precisely what Teach for America hopes to accomplish when it places the country’s best and brightest college graduates into the nation’s neediest schools.

Harper will lose Robinson next year when he heads to Oxford to seek a second undergraduate English degree. My hunch is that when Jeremy returns to the States after finishing his Rhodes Scholarship, he will be even better suited to tackle the problems in America’s public schools.

Wamidan: Another Brilliant Performance

Jim Amidon — Once I swallowed the last of the tail feathers, the crow I had eaten didn’t taste all that bad.

See, almost a year ago I wrote a piece in Wabash Magazine that featured Julian Moureaux. In that article I wondered how Wabash’s brilliant world music ensemble, Wamidan, would hold up after Julian’s graduation. Artistic Director James Makubuya was quick to point out that while Julian was a key part of Wamidan, the group was made up of dozens of dedicated musicians — and Wamidan, thanks for asking, would be just fine. New leaders would emerge, he said.

He was right. Wednesday’s show was a 50-minute, edge-of-your-seat, foot-stomping good time. Lots of new faces did emerge, and familiar old faces looked more confident on their unusual instruments. There’s joy in that African music and there was joy on the faces of the performers. Check out the photos by clicking here.

I simply can’t imagine a better way to spend an hour than going to a Wamidan concert. The show was tight and featured an array of ensembles and dancers. And once again, Reynaldo Pacheco thrilled the audience with his singing voice when he performed a French tune L’Hymne a l’amour. (My wife and I have agreed to pay Rey any amount of money to sing for us; heck, we’d pay to hear him read the newspaper with that voice.)

And it’s family entertainment at its best. With child performers Brian Thompson, Jake Feller, and Robin Morillo bringing down the house, Wamidan literally offered something for everyone.

James, you were right. Wamidan is doing just fine. And I can’t wait for the spring concert!

“Bell Week”

Jim Amidon — I wish I had a nickle for every call or email I’ve gotten this week that began with, "Jim, I know it’s Bell Week, but…"

Yes, it’s Bell Week. Coming in each morning I’ve seen smoke billowing out of burning trash cans, the freshman campus guards long gone and on their way to catch a little sleep before class. That smell — of the burning wood that keeps our rhynies warm at night — hangs in the campus air until about noon or so each day. Then it begins all over again as soon as night falls.

Bell Week. It’s the week when scores of former Wabash football players pick up the phone to call me or email me just to chat. Sure, they want to get caught up and tell me what’s new in their lives, but mostly they want to know the pre-game skinny. "How will Wabash play at DePauw?" "Is everybody healthy?" "What’s your gut telling you?" "How good are they?"

This is my 23rd straight Monon Bell Classic and they never get old; I never get tired of the hype and drama leading up to the big game. Nothing in my life — perhaps other than the birth of my daughter — compares to the emotion of the five or 10 minutes before kickoff of Wabash vs. DePauw. And imagine this: I’ve never played in a Bell Game!

Standing on the field and feeling the earth tremble as 8,000 to 10,000 fans jump up and down when the players charge out from the locker room is breathtaking. It’s right up there, I think, with watching the start of the Indianapolis 500 from the end of the main straightaway: you sort of hold your breath until all 33 cars come through. In the Bell Game, you hold your breath from the coin flip until the first big tackle, then settle in, focused and glued to every play.

I’ve never been able to explain why the Monon Bell Game is such a big deal to Wabash men, even those of us who have never suited up for one. Maybe it’s a male bonding thing or communal rite of passage. I don’t know. But I do know that when I gather with Wabash alumni of all ages and generations, talk quickly gets down to Bell Game memories. And trust me when I say those memories are vivid and alive in every single Wabash man.

Tomorrow, beginning at about 1:07 p.m., new memories will be seared into the minds of the Wabash fans in attendance. And we’ll spend our lifetimes recalling how great it was to be there.

DePauw to Hell. Bring Back the Bell!

Wabash Always Reads!

Jim Amidon — About two months ago I got a call from Mary Smith over at Nicholson Elementary School. She was working on a grant-funded program to encourage kids at her school to spend more time reading and less time in front of the TV. Her plan was the first Family Fun Sports Reading Night. What she needed from me was a big turnout from Wabash’s student-athletes.

Knowing that boys tend to read less, the theme was sports and the books selected for the evening were all sports-related. Nearly 50 kids and their families came out Tuesday night where they got to meet about as many Wabash student-athletes, who took time out of their busy lives (and practices) to read to the children. Coach Brian Anderson brought his whole wrestling team; I think the whole cross country team was there; and Coach Tom Flynn sent about 10 baseball players, too. Joined by a handful of Betas, the hulking Little Giants got down on the Nicholson gym floor and demonstrated that reading really is cool. As Mary said, "We know Wabash Always Fights and that Nicholson Always Reads!"

After the event, the kids and Little Giants enjoyed popcorn and soda (or course, it was a sports theme). The Wabash guys signed autographs and even Wally Wabash made an appearance.

I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the athletics department for its encouragement of community service. Our coaches — unlike so many in the Division I and Pro ranks — know that their athletes can and should be role models for our youth. And, honestly, I think our students love the opportunity to play "Dad" or "Big Brother" with our community’s children. The potential for further links between Wabash men and school-aged kids is limitless.

It’s good for our students, it’s good for kids, and it’s good for this College to make a difference in the community. Last night was a resounding victory for Wabash and Nicholson!

Senior Theater Majors Bring Down the House

Jim Amidon — It’s been a busy fall, so I guess I hadn’t noticed it was again time for the "studio one-act plays" to be performed. So when Denis Farr sent out the campus announcement, it caught me off guard. As it turns out, the one-acts were ditched in place of a full-scale production mounted entirely by senior theater majors.

I wanted to draw some attention to the work of the seniors, so I sneaked in Monday night to snap some photos. What I saw was collaboration among students — without faculty or staff involvement — that knocked my socks off. In the green room, Denis was leading a cast meeting and the actors were respectfully listening to him. Back stage Don Claxon was making last minute adjustments to the set. Everyone was in make-up and costume and ready to go. The dress rehearsal began right on time.

What I saw in the next hour or so had me glued to my seat. I planned only to stay long enough to get a few pictures. I couldn’t leave until it was over. The Vietnamization of New Jersey is NOT an easy play. The themes and characters are difficult and complex, yet the performances are excellent. And I suspect the timing of the delivery of lines — already quite good — will only get better with every passing night through Friday.

I knew Matt McKay was in the show; I did not know the guy trained in stage fighting would play the mother. I knew Rey Pacheco (that’s him above) was in the play; I didn’t expect his hilarious performance as the family’s (female) maid. Think The Bird Cage and you begin to get the idea. But the show is caustic and it does make you think hard between laughs.

As a former theater student at Wabash, I’m proud of the work of this year’s senior class — they really did bring down the house. And that was only at dress rehearsal. In a week filled with talk of football, make sure you catch this play.

Even Canon’s Best Can’t Get It Right

Jim Amidon — Since the day our office got the new Canon camera lens I’ve used to shoot sports this fall, I couldn’t wait for the colors of autumn to arrive. Finally, I thought, I’d have a lens and camera that could do justice to the gorgeous palette of colors nature gives us on the Wabash campus.

Nope, not even close. Even the super-duper lens that has transformed our sports photography isn’t capable of what the naked eye can capture. The subtle shades of yellows, golds, greens, pinks, and reds from a single maple tree don’t boast the same delicacy on screen as they do in my mind.

Gazing out my Kane House window I marvel at the maple tree that stands along Wabash Avenue; those brilliant colors standing out against a deeply blue sky. My camera turns the sky whitish-grey and blows out the Federalist backdrop of the Arnold House. My eyes, though, see the scene clearly; I can pick out four or five shades of red on a single leaf.

We photographers — oh how we love our toys. For us, the camera and lens can preserve moments forever; can capture the momentum-turning play in a football game or the instant a student makes an intellectual discovery in class. But our cameras and lenses — no matter how intricate or expensive — are not capable of paying tribute to the gorgeous hues of fall at Wabash College.

See the futile attempts at capturing nature’s beauty by Steve Charles and Jim Amidon by clicking here.

Sharon Stone, dance classes, football

Howard Hewitt – MEADVILLE, Pa. – Odd thoughts while wandering Interstates 74, 70, 270, 71, 76, 77 and 80: (with apologies to former Indy Star sports editor Bob Collins!)

- The 7.5 hours of driving time makes the number of Wabash fans at the game here Saturday even more amazing than usual. More than 100 were louder than the entire, but noticably small, local Gator supporters.

- Northwest Pennsylvania is beautiful this time of year. Allegheny College is surrounded by lots of large trees in full fall colors. I hope you noticed that in the background of some of the photos on the sports story.

- The campus itself is also beautiful. Allegheny was founded in the early 1800s and has lots of older, interesting buildings. While wandering about with Bachelor editor Allen Chatt, I came across the more than 100-year-old gymnasium. Allegheny’s Director of  Dance was there and told us a little about the building. She was very welcoming, a nice touch!

- Meadville is not a large city – 13,000 in the town and about 30,000 in the area. It’s best known former resident, according to a town website, is actress Sharon Stone.

- More than 30 Wabash men boarded a very nice bus for the ride to Meadville. History professor Rick Warner and his son accompanied the group. Many coming off the bus were Sphinx Club members. It’s too bad the other 20 seats were left empty. I would have to hope the lower than capacity turnout won’t dissuade future such efforts.

- And finally those crazy Wabash guys are fun. The students really gave the Gators a hard time during warm-ups. It was never mean, exactly, but creative and probably a bit irritating to our hosts. Good fun!

A “Joy” to Listen

Jim Amidon — It was late last spring when a handful of Wabash folks learned that Joy Castro would read from her then-forthcoming memoir, The Truth Book. Quietly, Steve Charles and I got excited about what it would mean to have Joy read the astonishing stories of her childhood.

The reading was initially booked for the Korb Classroom; we knew it wouldn’t be large enough so the event was moved to the Salter Concert Hall. Good move. The place was packed Thursday night when Joy stepped to the microphone, smiled, and began reading her powerful words.

She read a half-dozen "strands" from the book for the 275 or so people in attendance, all of whom were mesmerized and completely silent.

It was great to see Joy smile, even laugh several times as she read a segment of the memoir where she argues with her mother about her faith. That Joy can laugh and smile when reflecting on her tragic childhood reaffirms for me that the book really is about hope and deliverance.

She told me she wrote the book for "all the quiet people" about whose lives we know nothing because of their silence. Long a quiet person with hidden scars, Joy Castro is silent no more. Her words ring loud and clear and her message is powerful, graceful, and moving.

When the reading was over, Joy confidently left the stage, smiling with every step. She then spent the next hour or more talking with friends and strangers, signing books, and accepting congratulations.

Indeed, it was "joy" to spend the evening with Joy Castro.

This Just In from Our Italian Bureau…

Jim Amidon — We’ve just heard in from our Italian Bureau Chief, Mark Shreve ’04, who is on assignment in Perugia, Italy, where he works with an American study abroad program at the Umbra Institute.

Shreve reports that Wabash student Ross Dillard admirably represented his alma mater in a recent pizza eating contest, winning his heat by "stuffing his face" with two whole pizzas in just six minutes.

The mild-mannered Little Giant lost the overall contest when a 6-foot, 7-inch student from Rochester Tech beat him in the next heat by gobbling down three pizzas in six minutes.

Come to think of it, if I was a poor college student on a study abroad program and I could have all the free pizza I could eat in six minutes, I’d stretch myself, too.

Dillard, a junior, is studying in Perugia with his Beta Theta Pi pledge brother Adrian Starnes. Shreve reports both young men are great examples of Wabash men abroad. In fact, while grabbling lunch for the Umbra staff from the same pizzeria, Mark bumped into Greg and Robin Starnes, Adrian’s parents. Small, small world.

Check out Mark Shreve’s Umbra Institute blog.

Tough job, Mark has: Supervising pizza eating contests; visiting Perugia’s famed Baci candy company; taking students to Florence; spending the weekend in Tuscany; wine tasting and grape stomping; oh, and the occasional reports to the West Central Indiana home office. And to think he gets paid for it…

Bell Tickets, Details, and the Big Game

Jim Amidon — I was in the Wabash Bookstore Wednesday purchasing Monon Bell tickets for my family and there stood Justin Gardiner. Justin asked Ben Gonzalez how many tickets he could buy, and Ben told him "10." Justin was visibly angry.

I quickly said to Justin, "Now you’re not going to be one of those schmucks who buys a ton of tickets then sells them on eBay for inflated prices, are you?"

Gardiner smiled, looked at me, and said, "No. I have 32 family members coming to the game." Lesson learned: keep my yap shut and never, ever underestimate the fan following for the Monon Bell game.

Lesson to others: buy your tickets this week. Tickets will be sold during the Wittenberg game on Saturday, and I suspect there won’t be many, if any, left by Saturday afternoon.

*******

The Bookstore sold out of its initial 50 copies of Details magazine, which contains a slick feature on Wabash. Mike Bachner ordered another 150, so the shelves are full.

I have been amazed, though, that so few people are talking about the article, written by Jeff Gordinier. I gather that English professor Joy Castro blogged about it on the Old Hag blog and that a few folks have been debating it over lunch at the Scarlet Inn.

I figured the place would be abuzz about the article. Maybe the silence suggests that Jeff got it right; that he captured Wabash pretty close to reality during his five day stay in mid-September. Thoughts?

********

Wabash’s football team hadn’t even polished off its 44-10 win at Wooster last week when the buzz started for "the game of the year" between Wabash and Wittenberg Saturday.

It may sound blasphemous, but I think the Wabash vs. Wittenberg rivalry has gained about as much intensity as Monon Bell. Yes, the two are very different games and Wabash vs. DePauw has 115 years of history on its side. But darnit, Wabash folks just don’t like Wittenberg folks, and it’s safe to say that Wittenberg’s football team pretty much hates Wabash. See, it was Wabash that knocked Wittenberg off its North Coast Athletic Conference throne in 2002, and the program hasn’t forgotten it for a moment.

When coaches start using words like "war" and "battle" and they really mean it, I’m thinking big game.

I’m also thinking tailgating, cheering loudly, and another experience with a similar fever pitch as the Monon Bell game. No, not the same. But another opportunity for students, faculty, alumni, and friends of the college to come together to "win the war."