Division III athletes don’t get scholarships for performance on the field. They’re rarely found on television, and they almost never go pro.
Nevertheless, they’re still competitors, and the NCAA is making sure they’re recognized.
The association designated April 4–10 as “Division III Week,” a chance for colleges and universities to celebrate the students of the NCAA’s largest level. This inaugural occasion focuses not only on players’ actions on the field or on the court, but in their academics, extracurriculars, and involvement outside their respective institutions, too.
Emerson College did not plan on missing the opportunity.
“Our athletes do so much on campus, so much in the community, and they’re doing so much to further their careers, so why not celebrate them,” assistant athletic director Lindsay DeStefano said. “They deserve it.”
DeStefano has led the week’s events since day one. According to DeStefano, she proposed the idea to the department, and volunteered to organize it herself. The 2008 alumna said activities have been done before, but never like this one.
“At Emerson, we’ve done things here or there but we never made it a big thing,” DeStefano said. “So this year, I decided to make it a bigger deal.”
The softball game against Lesley University on Monday was supposed to kick off the week, but was cancelled due to snow. Staff were expected to ask those in attendance Emerson sports trivia questions, and winners would have received Lions merchandise.
“Why D3 Wednesday” was a social media gathering, where teams took to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #WhyD3 to share why they chose to play for a Division III school.
The department will put on a spirit day Thursday, requesting “everyone” wear the college’s colors of purple and gold, in preparation for a loaded weekend of contests.
Friday is “Donuts for DIII,” where students, faculty, and staff are invited to the Skybox at the upper level of Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym to enjoy pastries and coffee, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
According to DeStefano, the athletics administration hopes for a strong fan showing at these events and at the Lions’ home games over the weekend, including baseball’s matchup against Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and softball’s doubleheader against Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Saturday starting at noon.
The week concludes with a round of bubble soccer on Sunday, sponsored by Emerson Channel Sports, at 4 p.m.
“They’re simple,” DeStefano said of the activities. “They’re easy things that we can do to show our appreciation and support for the athletes.”
One player at the forefront is senior Tayllar Righini. Righini is a four-year midfielder for the soccer team, and currently finishing her final season of lacrosse, at the same position. She has over 100 career goals in the latter sport, and was named 2015 Student-Athlete of the Year at Emerson.
Having experienced the Division III level, Righini said the weeklong event isn’t only recognizing what she and other students have accomplished, but motivating them to improve their game as well.
“It really gives a confidence boost to the athletes,” Righini said. “We’re in an environment where athletics isn’t as valued as it is at other colleges, and I think being recognized and saying, ‘Hey you guys are important in what you’re doing,’ is [validating] and that’ll give us more of an incentive to keep working.”
The NCAA is planning to make Division III Week an annual affair, according to its website. Righini said she believes the organization is finally seeing them.
“They’re starting to realize that just because we’re not Division I doesn’t mean we’re not collegiate athletes,” Righini, a communication sciences and disorders major, said. “A lot of work goes into what we do and just because it’s Division III and we’re lower than everyone else doesn’t mean we’re not putting in a lot of effort.”
DeStefano said Division III gets overshadowed by prime-time events, and free rides.
“I think Division III flies under the radar, especially with the big time events like March Madness, and everyone’s hyped up for that,” DeStefano said. “We forget that Division III athletes put in as much time and effort as some of the Division I athletes but aren’t getting the same awards as in a full scholarship.”
In addition to the national event becoming annual, DeStefano said she also plans on making Emerson’s branch of the recognition a yearly occurrence.
“Athletics at the Division III level can be tough because your focus a lot is on academics and extracurriculars outside of athletics,” DeStefano said. “Our athletes put in a lot of time and we just want to appreciate and support them.”