Stanford: "Home" of Champions
- by Kelsey Gerhart, '13 Engineering Stanford Softball
February 11, 2011
It was 7:30 in the morning. I double-checked my luggage, ensuring that my uniforms were packed and ready to make the trip to Arizona. In a few hours I would be on my way, with the Stanford softball team, to the Kajikawa tournament, looking to start off our 2011 season with a bang.
Randomly, I received a text from my father asking me to call him. Uncharacteristic of him, this text worried me. I called him and was greeted with terrible news. My grandfather had died. The flames of emotion overwhelmed me like wildfire. My sister, Teagan, was standing by my side and watched as I went from casually conversing with my father to sobbing uncontrollably. My throat constricted as I struggled to find the words to tell her what had just happened.
I hated the world for taking my grandfather. But more than that I regretted not calling my grandfather, not cherishing our last phone conversation. I was worried about how my mom, siblings, and grandmother were dealing with the news. Stricken with grief, all Teagan and I wanted was to see our family. Reuniting with them in Arizona twelve hours later was not soon enough. I felt alone, miles away from my family members. I didn’t think that anybody would understand what I was going through except my immediate family–but oh, how I was mistaken…
My name is Kelsey Gerhart, and I am a student-athlete enrolled at Stanford University. As far back as I can remember, our weekends as a family began at sunrise, with eight frantic individuals scurrying to grab some food before parting ways for practice or games. My mom would take a group of three and my dad the others. We would buy two separate newspapers so there was a sports page for each vehicle to fuel our morning discussions as we made our way to either the softball field, the gym, or to a football field. The dynamics of our family were built around sports; we were coached into the responsible individuals we have now become. To me, family has become synonymous with sports, and now that I am playing in college, away from home, this feeling still holds true. I am blessed with the opportunity to participate on the same collegiate team as my sister, Teagan. Although I have family here, I have become a part of a new family, a Stanford family.
Stanford University allows its students to form and develop relationships with one another through fraternities, sororities, student organized groups, clubs, athletic teams, etc. Aside from these close knit groups formed on Stanford’s campus, the students have an extended family in the form of the Stanford community. This is a community where ties and connections made with students, faculty, and alumni last a lifetime; where we enter college as a teen, and leave as well-educated young adults prepared to maintain a stable life and make a difference in the world; where we are molded through successes and failures in the classroom, through the social aspects of college, and through interacting with the diverse population that makes up Stanford’s campus.
One evening my coach, John Rittman, opened our post practice meeting emphasizing the fact that the season was starting soon and that we needed to prioritize our lives. “First comes family, second comes school, and 2a (stated jokingly) comes softball.” I left the field thinking about how the familial bonds we share with our families play a large role in our growth and development into adulthood prior to attending college. But most importantly, these relationships help mold our identities and act as a support system, guiding us through the struggles we face along our journey through life. Although students are often separated from their biological family nine months of the year, they are not left without a support system. For college students, the establishment of familial bonds with other students plays a large part in helping us remain sane, create and establish an identity, and build a stable future over the course of four years. This is Stanford. This is the Home of Champions.
…after hearing the news about my grandfather, I needed my family, my support system. I walked into the locker room in silence. A teammate walked over to me, saying nothing, giving me the hug she knew I needed. She didn’t ask what was wrong, knowing that sometimes talking only makes it worse. She wasn’t there because she had to be; she was there because she cared. People always say that your team is your family, but, for me, it wasn’t until tragedy struck that I realized the truth behind this claim. My teammates and my coaches were there for my sister and me. Surrounded by their love and care, I felt my sense of loneliness lift. And I had realized for the first time that Teagan and I were not alone, that we had never truly been alone.
Stanford Family Albums
The Stanford Athletic program houses a large number of sibling pairs, athletes fortunate enough to establish bonds with immediate family as well as with the Stanford community. Some of these student-athlete siblings include: Andrew Luck (football) and Mary Ellen Luck (volleyball); Toby Gerhart (football), Kelsey Gerhart (softball), and Teagan Gerhart (softball); Karissa Cook (volleyball) and Brian Cook (volleyball); Ryan Valdes (cross country) and Tyler Valdes (cross country); J.T Sullivan (cross country) and Riley Sullivan (cross country); Danny Diekroeger (baseball) and Kenny Diekroeger (baseball); Eric Whitaker (football) and Nate Whitaker (football); Chiney Ogwumike (basketball) and Nnemkadi Ogwumike (basketball); Shelby Payne (soccer) and Sydney Payne (soccer).
In what follows, we glance into the family albums of three Stanford sibling pairs: the Diekroegers, the Gerharts, and the Cooks.
Born a year apart, Kenny and Danny grew up in Northern California, each aspiring to one day attend and play baseball for Stanford University. According to Danny, they grew up participating in “T-ball, little league, Babe Ruth, high school, you name it. Almost always on the same team too.” Kenny and Danny were close growing up, granted their age disparity is quite small. Kenny shared, “We have home videos of us playing all different types of games with each other since we were babies. Even though we were one year apart, I think the competitions still brought out the best in us.” Being so close in age, one would expect a large amount of rivalry between the two. Instead, through this sense of competition, they have pushed each other to become great at what they do.
Kenny Diekroeger is a junior, majoring in Management Science and Engineering (MS&E), and plays shortstop for the Stanford Baseball team. Right out of high school Kenny was drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Rays, but chose to attend Stanford University before pursuing a career in the MLB. For the Cardinal in 2011, Kenny batted .293, had 31 RBIs, and 2 homeruns. He has been named a preseason second team All American by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. Kenny Diekroeger helped lead the Stanford baseball team to a 2011 winning season, advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals. The team is currently off to a great start in 2012 and hopes to end the season with a trip to Omaha for the NCAA College World Series.
Danny Diekroeger is currently a sophomore here at Stanford and, like his brother, he plays for the Cardinal baseball team. Danny saw limited action in 2011, appearing in 19 games, and hopes to find more playing time in 2012.
Toby and Teagan each spent their childhood participating in as many as three different sports, feeding their hunger to compete that was inherently passed to them through their parents (both former athletes). Teagan comments on her childhood experience by stating, “Life growing up was centered on athletics and academics. The competitive drive our parents instilled in us pushed us to excel in both the classroom and on the field.” Toby parallels her response by stating, “We were always competitive in every aspect of life. Sports, school, for food at dinner (laughing). I think it’s that competitive drive that has allowed us to succeed at all levels of sports and in life.” There is no doubt that these individuals come from a close-knit family, and both of them stated that attending college together has only brought them closer.
Toby Gerhart attended Stanford University from 2006 to 2009. Toby was a unique and ambitious collegiate athlete who participated on both the football and baseball teams here at Stanford. He finished his career on The Farm rushing for a total of 3,522 yards and 44 touchdowns, resulting in the honor of the 2009 PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year. At Stanford, he holds the record for career touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, rushing attempts, and he possesses the two top single-season rushing marks. Gerhart was the recipient of the Doak Walker Award and runner-up for the Heisman trophy. He remains a well-respected player who was part of the class that put Stanford football back on the map.
Teagan Gerhart is a member of the graduating class of 2013. She currently is the pitcher for the softball team majoring in Human Biology. Teagan earned a position on the Stanford pitching staff her freshman year, but her season was cut short after an arm injury. In the 2011 season, Teagan Gerhart made 47 starts in the circle, gathered 250 strike outs, had an ERA of 1.74, and was named NFCA First Team All-West Region and First Team All-Pac-10.
Growing up, Karissa and Brian did not only share a common love for the game of volleyball, but they shared the dream of attending Stanford University as a collegiate athlete. Why Stanford? Karissa Cook responded, “I decided to go to Stanford because it has been my dream school since I was young. My brother and I always used to drive to Stanford from Santa Cruz with our family to watch the volleyball matches, and after idolizing the team forever, all the pieces just sort of fell into place.” Brian and Karissa Cook grew up playing volleyball; over summers they were able to participate in co-ed beach volleyball tournaments together. Brian states, “We have always been competitive in everything we do together, including academics and athletics … I enjoy this competition and believe it is the reason we are successful thus far.” Brian and Karissa’s shared love for the game and collegiate experience thus far has brought them even closer to one another. Brian states, “Being a D1 collegiate athlete at Stanford University is a remarkable experience that I feel blessed to share with my sister. Without her being here with me, I believe the entire experience wouldn’t be as special.”
Karissa Cook is a junior setter for the Stanford Women’s volleyball team. Prior to participating on the team at Stanford, Karissa was chosen to compete at the World Championships with the USA Junior National Team. Her junior year she appeared in 113 sets, averaging 11.32 assists and 3.14 digs per set. She led the Pac-12 with 20 double-doubles.
Brian Cook is part of the graduating class of 2014. He represented the U.S. at the FIVB Junior World Championship in Brazil (August 2011) and at the NORCECA Junior Continental Championship in Canada (August 2010), winning gold in the latter. In his freshman season, Brian started 22 matches and averaged 2.24 kills per set. In 2012, he has started 26 of the team’s 28 matches, hitting .308 and averaging 3.50 kills per set.