Athletes and fraternities: Who’s where, and why?
By Jack Barrett
Published on Monday, January 26, 2009
Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series examining the relationship between varsity sports teams and Greek organizations at Dartmouth.
As winter rush concludes, and fraternities around campus take stock of their newest members, the presence of members of different sports teams in a fraternity remains one of the factors that influences student perception of Greek organizations at the College.
There is a notion at Dartmouth that members of certain teams are required to be a part of the organizations with which their teams are most-often associated. Alpha Delta fraternity president Jeff Kolovson '09, however, said this assumption is often untrue.
"We don't go out and get the athletes," he said. "It just tends to be where they feel the most comfortable, if a lot of their teammates are here. Athletes who pledge don't feel pressure -- they just want to be part of a tradition. It's essentially a self-selecting process."
This process is evident at AD, as 18 of 19 Dartmouth soccer players are members, the highest percentage of a team to maintain a presence in one fraternity.
Seven of these players are sophomores, who have yet to undergo their pledge terms but have already rushed, sunk bids and signed their pledge cards at AD.
"Traditionally, sophomore soccer players don't pledge until the spring," Kolovson said. "But they already rushed ,and we handed in their pledge cards. They are certainly affiliated with our house." In addition to scattered lacrosse and football players, AD has a large number of rugby players in its membership.
Because rugby is a club sport, however, it did not factor into the calculation of varsity athletes for each organization.
This is also the case with Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, whose 13 varsity athletes place the organization at the lower end of the athletic spectrum because the fraternity's main athletic group, the men's ultimate frisbee team, is not accounted for.
Many freshman athletes find themselves spending a majority of their free time at the fraternity where their older teammates are affiliated, some freshman athletes said.
"For us, all of the senior skiers, a couple juniors and a sophomore are all brothers at [Chi] Heorot," Mike Dea '12, an alpine skier, said of his team. "It's kind of like the cool thing to do, because it's how we were introduced to the social scene. The older guys make it easy to get involved."
For Dea, the draw of Heorot is the comfort he feels with his teammates and how easily they incorporate the new members of their team into the social life of Dartmouth.
While some freshmen may wait months before playing their first game of pong, having an athletic connection to a particular organization is a strong link for freshmen.
"There are so many frats out there where you can hang out with people you don't know, or you can hang out at a place where you already know all of the guys," Dea said. "I think it is kind of cool that most of the frats have an identity."
Although Dea said he enjoys having many of his teammates in one fraternity, he was clear to point out that it is not a requirement of any kind.
"It's in no way an obligation," he said. "There were two sophomores who went to [Bones Gate fraternity] and they weren't vilified for it or anything. It was kind of just like going against the grain, but not in a bad way at all."
While having an athletic connection may give a freshman athlete increased exposure to a particular fraternity, Andrew von Kuhn '09, the president of Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, stressed the idea that his organization views students who want to pledge Beta outside of any athletic context.
"More than anything, we look for well-rounded guys," he said. "Character guys -- guys who we know will get along well with other guys, and guys who are genuine."
In addition to AD and Heorot, the fraternities with the strongest varsity athletic presence include Theta Delta Chi and Gamma Delta Chi, both of which count more than 30 varsity athletes among their members.
Chi Gamma Epsilon, Beta and Psi Upsilon rank in the middle portion of athletic members with more than 20 athletes each, while Alpha Chi Alpha, Kappa Kappa Kappa, BG, Sig Ep, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Nu fraternities all have less than 20 varsity athletes.
Data for Phi Delta Alpha fraternity was not available for this report, which compared membership rosters provided by a member of each fraternity to the rosters provided on Dartmouthsports.com.
Of all fraternities on campus, Heorot has the most varsity athletes, including skiers, runners, hockey players and heavyweight rowers. Heorot also has smaller collections of baseball players and lacrosse players in its membership, as well as representatives from the lightweight rowing, squash and football teams.
Asked about the perceived image of his fraternity, Heorot president Jamal Sabky '09 referenced the tradition of the Dartmouth hockey team.
"Although the percentage of all other athletes outnumbers the hockey members, it's predominantly still a hockey house," he said. "But again, the process is self-selecting, pretty much the whole hockey class ends up here because that's where their teammates are. It's for the same reason that any other tradition happens here year after year."
Heorot's varsity athletic contingent totals 60 members, out of an overall membership of 73.
According to Sabky, having a diverse group of athletes in the fraternity lends itself to an enjoyable social environment.
"It creates an interesting dynamic," Sabky said. "Different teams have different functions on certain nights, which changes the social scene weekly."
On a smaller scale, Beta also has a diverse array of athletes in its membership, including members of the Nordic skiing, squash, track and field, baseball, basketball, football, alpine skiing and crew teams.
"It's really nice to meet guys beyond your own sports teams, who you wouldn't have met doing the stuff you usually do like going to practice," von Kuhn said. "And it's even more exciting to meet guys you wouldn't have met who aren't affiliated with any sport at all."
Beta's largest athletic presence comes from the football team, including some senior transfers from GDX, the organization which, in recent history, has been viewed by many as the "football house" on campus.
Speculation about this movement led some to claim that varsity football head coach Buddy Teevens '79, who is a Beta alumnus, encouraged his players to become Beta members.
According to von Kuhn, however, there is no truth to this rumor.
"Coach Teevens never pushed or encouraged it," he said. "There were other factors involved, but coach actually encouraged guys to try to pledge many different houses around campus, so that football players could be more widely involved."
Over the next few years, von Kuhn hopes Beta will continue to maintain a diverse membership.
"It's going to be interesting to see how the underclassmen handle it, especially the sophomores who are going to have the full three years in the house," he said. "It's important that we keep the amount of good character and good quality guys up in the house. If nothing else, we want to keep that tradition up."
GDX still has more football players in its membership than any other fraternity, with 30 players in its ranks.
Heather Reiley '12 said that the athletic reputation of a fraternity does somewhat dictate the social scene.
"If a team wins, you know it'll be a fun night to go there," she said. "It also helps determine what places are more fun to go to depending on who's in-season or out of season."
The downside to varsity teams occupying a certain fraternity, according to Reiley, only arise when one group of athletes tends to dominate a social scene.
"It can be intimidating if it's just one team who you're not comfortable with, or if you go to a pretty big multi-sport house if can be awkward if you're expecting to see one team there and you see another group of people," she said.
According to squash player Michael Shrubb '10, president-elect of AD, having specific groups of athletes in different organizations fosters a social cohesion and interdependence among different fraternities and athletic teams.
"The thing about houses and sports teams is that it's not just a way of dividing people," he said. "You meet different athletes along the way, and when you go out to different frats that are known to be associated with different sports it can be a great thing. You can visit one of your friends and they hook you up, knowing that you would return the favor. It's not like competition or rivalry -- actually pretty much the opposite."
Sabky agreed with this sentiment.
"It's great when sports teams are in different houses," he said. "If you had the same personality of guys in each house there would never really be any need to ever leave your own. But if different teams are in different houses you want to go out and celebrate with the teams that win."