My freshman year, I could not have cared less about Penn sports.
Growing up in a family of ACC and SEC devotees who attended games together almost as regularly as church, I was disappointed by the sparse attendance at my first Penn football game.
I realized that the Ivy League would not compare to the BCS conferences I had grown up with. I simply wouldn’t have a big-time sports program that my peers and I could rally around.
It was only in the fall of my sophomore year that I returned to Penn sports, this time not as a fan, but as a photographer.
Shooting games completely transformed my attitude towards Penn sports.
Over the course of a year and a half, first as the Daily Pennsylvanian’s sports photo editor and then as photo manager, I covered volleyball, field hockey, softball, women’s lacrosse, soccer and squash.
I also once woke up at 5 a.m. to cover a rowing practice and traveled on two road trips to cover men’s basketball. On the second occasion in Charlottesville, Va., I was able to shoot a Penn game on the same floor where I had graduated from high school two and a half years before.
Having a Penn Athletics press pass granted me access to several pivotal hoops games, including seats on the floor at both Penn-Yale men’s basketball games last season. All these exclusive opportunities fueled my growing passion for Penn athletics.
Shooting sports well is a slow and tedious learning process. I was forced to learn the intricacies of a Nikon on the fly in order to capture the key moments of the game.
You also learn to get tough fast. I toted around 20 pounds of photo equipment and figured out when to use each piece during the course of a game.
Once, I got trampled by Miles Cartwright on the Palestra sideline, and my first instinct had to be to protect my equipment instead of myself. Another time, a ball that the Red and Blue Crew threw back to the court from the stands hit my lens and bruised my nose.
But it was worth it to learn the rules and flow of each sport. This was easier for the sports that I had played myself, especially basketball and lacrosse, for which I understood the terminology and pace of the game.
In fact, shooting games allowed me to understand teams’ deficiencies better than spectators and even those on press row. It’s easy to notice through the lens when basketball’s big men aren’t pulling down rebounds.
Turnover-laden games meant sore wrists for me, since I constantly had to readjust my zoom to track players up and down the court.
Arguably the most rewarding part of the game for a photographer is the moment after the final buzzer sounds, when she gets to document either sheer joy or utter defeat.
In both cases, the drive to capture the perfect moment — when the expression on an athlete’s face or his or her body language conveys the tone of the entire game — is all-consuming.
It was in these moments, reminiscent of the climax of every cliched sports movie, that I recognized the talent and drive of so many of my athletic peers. In these moments, I understood the importance of sports at a place like Penn, where academic achievement often eclipses any other kind of success.
One of my biggest concerns upon accepting the position of managing editor was that it would take me off the court and out of the stands for an entire year as my responsibilities shifted away from shooting games.
Now that I’m able to reflect back on the time I spent immersed in sports photography at Penn, I know how important it is to give Penn sports a chance.
So get actively involved in Penn sports — you don’t have to be just a fan. Hang out with the Red and Blue Crew, help out at Penn Athletics or PennRec or even join the DP Sports staff. For me, it was photography, but for you, the ticket to appreciating Penn sports could be anything.
The worst thing we can do is ignore what Quakers athletics are all about, because they’re about us all getting the most out of Penn together.
Ellen Frierson is a junior history major from Charlottesville, Va., and is managing editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org._
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