Mule basketball? Of course, but only in the summer when Coach Dave Madeira leads one of his triennial trips abroad for players and alumni.
There is a small core group of loyal basketball-loving alumni to whom the hiatus between the Centennial Conference championship playoffs and the next Scotty Wood Tournament is just too long. They have criss-crossed the globe with the team since 1985, still willing to share travel experiences laced with pre-season basketball. This summer, three alumni from the class of 2000--Chris Kenny, Scott Nielsen and Matt Schneider--joined their undergraduate teammates for one last chance to wear the Mule uniform. This was their second adventure in team travel, having toured Germany and Austria on the previous trip as sophomores. Given this unique perspective of a different status on each journey, I asked them to compare their opinions with those of the older alumni.
All three shared the feeling that they were still students, although one thought that it felt "weird being older; the other seniors seemed old on the last trip!" None felt that much different as an alumnus; it will probably take a longer degree of separation to inspire the feelings of connectedness to their Muhlenberg past that mean so much to the older alums. However, they did note that they felt a certain responsibility to "set the tone" for the younger players and enjoyed being with a different group of teammates than before.
Unanimity prevailed again in their opinions about the trips: All thought the general population in Germany and Austria was friendlier to tourists, but shared the conviction that our Spanish host teams and fans were enthusiastic and generous. (Adults cheered for us during the games, and children clamored for autographs, photos and even 'Berg jerseys!)
Each senior had his "best moment" to remember. For Nielsen, it was the social given by the team in the seaside town of Aguilas. Kenny thought Spain had the most beautiful girls, except for the United States, and Schneider said that "being back with the guys" after summer break was great. The members of the Class of 2000 were all glad they had both trips to remember, each in a different way.
What do we adults gain from tagging along on these trips, in addition to extended basketball games and the historic, scenic, culinary, cultural experiences sought by all travelers? The three who visited Spain were unanimous on the reinforcement of the connection to Muhlenberg. (Who else but alumni would respond to an offer to test the acoustics in the Alhambra by singing the Alma Mater?) A friend of the College who joined us and who helps to support Muhlenberg basketball considers herself a representative of the community that appreciates the "Caring College" and enjoys the opportunity to share the pride in and support of the College when questioned by other tourists. We're also challenged to be more patient and gracious as travelers, remembering that we represent both our College and our country abroad. Finally, we all enjoy getting to know the players better as individuals, which reinforces our support during the playing season. They hear us cheering for them at home and away games, as we did on the trip, and know that their place on the team is valued and appreciated. ¡ Olé, guys! ¡Viva el baloncesto!