Where winning is secondary
MIT balances track and field with elite academics
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The initials are all it takes -- MIT.
Instantly, it’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the top research universities in the world. Science … engineering … it doesn’t matter. The best of the best of the best students covet acceptance to study there, and only a tenth or so of those who apply actually make it in.
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Only two astronauts flew on board the Space Shuttle seven times, and one of them, Franklin Chang Diaz, is an MIT grad. The same goes for Tom and Ray Magliozzi of “Car Talk” fame, famed World War II aviator James Doolittle and architect I.M. Pei.
The school’s 31 sports teams are not known as the Bears, Beavers, Bulldogs or anything of the sort. They’re the Engineers, and if that doesn’t speak volumes about what’s most important on its Cambridge campus, it’s hard to say what might. These are stellar students, and on the track and field teams at least, they’re stellar student-athletes as well.
The women’s team was ranked fourth by the USTFCCCA going into this week’s NCAA Division III indoor national championship meet. They had been first, but slid down three spots in the final poll due at least in part to a knee injury sustained by middle-distance runner Sarah Quinn.
Here’s one of the most amazing statistics of all. The women’s track and field team at MIT has a combined 4.63 GPA on a five-point grading scale, with more than half the squad double majoring. Head coach Halton Taylor estimates that his student-athletes spend sixty to eighty hours a week just on academics.
“Kids around the country, and indeed the world, want to come here,” Taylor begins. “If you threw track and cross country away, most of these kids are going to want to be here because of the school. The little extra draw that of the success that the track team has had is certainly enough of a pull sometimes to steal a kid away from the Ivy League or maybe a local Division I school. We’re very fortunate.”
For the student-athletes who compete for Taylor, it’s not an either-or choice between academics and athletics. It’s both, and in a big way.
“MIT is not going to do us a disservice by admitting anyone who is not academically qualified amongst the very best,” Taylor adds. “You have to have passion. You have to show academic initiative. You have to be really top-notch. When you have those kinds of motivated people, it’s not that big of a challenge. Do they struggle? No. They are incredible at time management."
The goal for his team this week is a relatively simple one. They want to collectively wind up fourth or better as a team, and for each student-athlete to finish better than their individual seeding.
“If they’re ranked eighth, I expect them to place higher than eighth,” Taylor says. “From a team perspective, we would love it if the women could get on the podium. We’re just trying to do the best we can.”
A national championship would be the first in school history, in either indoor or outdoor competition. Taylor, of course, wants one for his student-athletes.
“It is one of my personal goals,” he concludes. “This group of young women has worked so hard, I would like them to feel like all that hard work has come to fruition into a championship. But … it’s not the end-all, be-all. It’s a goal I’d like to have before I retire, but it’s not the most important thing by any means.”