Whitman vs. Whitworth: Why DIII athletics is big time, too
Pamela London is a graduate of Shorewood High School in Shoreline and a three-year student-athlete on the Whitman College women’s soccer team. She is an aspiring journalist who has worked as a sports writer and sports editor at The Pioneer, Whitman’s student newspaper.
WALLA WALLA – When I first came to Whitman, I thought being a Division III athlete meant school first, sport later. And I was right.
I thought being a DIII athlete meant long bus rides with lots of people and little space to move around. And I was right.
I thought being a DIII athlete meant I would be immersed in a campus-centric mindset when it came to sport, deprived of the packed basketball gyms and fierce rivalries that seem to permeate intercollegiate athletics at the DI or DII level. And I could not have been more wrong.
I went to high school at Shorewood in Shoreline. For four years, no matter what sport, early season or playoffs, boys or girls my school always got amped up when we faced Shorecrest. As much as I was ready for college in the fall of 2010, I did not want to leave that sense of rivalry behind.
I soon learned that Whitman did have an intense rivalry – with Whitworth University.
Separated by only 150 miles, Walla Walla’s Whitman and Spokane’s Whitworth have a natural geographic rivalry. We are travel partners in the Northwest Conference and often stay at the same hotels, which causes inevitable run-ins between teams in hallways, in restaurants and – most awkwardly – in elevators.
Like many intercollegiate rivals, the “Battle of the Whits,” as it affectionately is known, has a long and storied history. Both schools were established in the late 19th century and are two of only 31 liberal arts colleges on the West Coast. Whitman and Whitworth have been competing against each other regularly in the NWC since Whitworth joined the league in 1970.
I have never witnessed or participated in a rivalry as intense as Whitman and Whitworth. The rivalry has amped up in recent years, as Whitman has committed more to improving its athletics. One moment stands out. In February 2011, the Whitman men's basketball team faced Whitworth in our home finale. Since a blowout loss earlier in the season in Spokane, Whitman was on a seven game winning streak and could clinch the second seed in the NWC tournament with a win. Students, faculty, staff, parents and community members packed Sherwood Center to watch the Missionaries try to knock off unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Whitworth.
And knock them off we did. Trailing by 18 points midway through the second half, Whitman held Whitworth scoreless from the field the rest of the way, ending the game on a 17-0 run to win, 82-79. When the final buzzer sounded, hundreds of students rushed the court, a quintessential college experience in which I never thought I would participate.
That night, I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything by going to a DIII school. Watching a game like that, and playing in all the soccer games I have against Whitworth, has proved that I can get the DI athletic experience without being a DI athlete.
We may not have 20,000-seat arenas and 60,000-seat football stadiums, but the Whitman-Whitworth rivalry challenges any rivalry I have seen. Give me a soccer ball, two goals and my teammates around me facing off against Whitworth any time. When Whitman plays Whitworth, it does not matter to me that I play at a really small school with a nonrevenue-based athletic department in virtually the middle of nowhere. I don’t care that we do not play our games on national television or have thousands of people clamoring for tickets.
There is something special about waking up and realizing that it is a Whitworth game day. Bragging rights are at stake every time we match up with each other. It’s us-versus-them and may the better team prevail. Everyone who has ever been part of the Whitman-Whitworth rivalry understands what I am talking about.
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