Last week was a tragic, disgraceful one for collegiate athletics as we all know. But amidst the morally bankrupt failings at Pennsylvania State University, there are still powerful, positive stories out there about how great college sports can be.
This is one of them. Via ESPNW.com comes the story of Phyllis Reffo, a walk-on for the Pepperdine University women’s swim team.
OK, what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, Reffo is an ex-model, divorced mother of two teenage daughters and is 49 years of age. And she only started swimming six years ago, at age 43.
So that’s the big deal.
It isn’t an unusual occurrence for a middle-aged, or older, student-athlete to compete. But usually those situations happen well below the Division I level, at Division III or NAIA schools. But that’s not the case here. Reffo is swimming at the highest level possible – in the immortal words of former Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, this ain’t intramurals – and she’s meeting with success. Her relay team recently finished sixth, while she finished seventh in an individual event. This isn’t a publicity ploy; it’s a legitimate athlete making a squad legitimately, age be darned.
Let’s be honest: The past few days have given college sports a black eye. And the swelling isn’t going to go down for a long time. What happened at Penn State was a travesty to humanity, and it painfully illustrated just how screwed up college sports can be. A culture of secrecy and isolation allowed a vile predator like Jerry Sandusky to ruin countless lives while those in a position, both of knowledge and power, to stop it opted to instead protect the institution’s image instead of doing what was right.
And when the school’s board of trustees finally gave Penn State some adult supervision and showed the courage so many failed to exhibit in firing Joe Paterno in the absolute right decision, PSU students turned their campus upside down, embarrassing their school and destroying property all in the name of their sun god head football coach, who won a lot of games but lost miserably when he was most needed.
But thankfully, what happened in State College, Pa., isn’t what all college sports are about. There are still stories of triumph and achievement out there. Phyllis Reffo is one of them.