A little over four years ago, I sat in front of my computer and typed out my final piece for the Medaille Perspective Newspaper: “A Letter From the Editor – Thanks Medaille.” 

While much of my time with the newspaper was spent capturing the stories of our student athletes, faculty, and staff, I wanted to take some time to carve out some thoughts of my own. Not because I wanted people to know I was leaving – but because I wanted to take the time to thank the people I was leaving. 

Over my four years as an undergraduate student, I met probably a dozen people who have changed my life forever. Many of those I still keep in touch with today. I had the opportunity to pursue my childhood dream of playing collegiate baseball. I matured and grew in ways I never could have imagined when I first stepped foot on campus as a freshman in August 2015. 

Which is why I have a heavy heart – and a lot on my mind – knowing Medaille will be closing its doors at the end of this month for good.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Outliers, Gladwell begins the book with a small group of Italian immigrants that settled in a small town on the eastern border of Pennsylvania. It was renamed Roseto. Most probably would have never learned of Roseto’s existence if it weren’t for a mid-western physician that later discovered an eye-opening trend: People from Roseto under the age of 65 rarely suffered from heart disease.

It went further. Inside the town there was no alcoholism, suicide, drug addiction, and very little crime. No one had ulcers. People didn’t live off welfare. But here’s the really interesting part: The people of Roseto drank like fish. They also smoked like chimneys, cooked with lard, and many struggled with obesity. Nothing they did resembled what we would expect from a community where the large majority of its people died of old age. 

Until people started to examine the town itself.

Roseto was a close knit community, many immigrating from Italy to the states around the same time. People frequently visited one another and took the time to chat in the streets in passing. It was common for three generations to live under the same roof. Elderly were respected and revered. Bragging about wealth was discouraged. All attended church.

We think of health as it relates to diet, nutrition, and exercise – not community. But that is exactly how the people of Roseto, PA beat the aging curve. They designed a community of close knit people that fostered life saving relationships which helped them live longer and happier lives. 

Which is the same thing I miss the most – and will remember the most – about my time at Medaille College. 

Looking back, there wasn’t much attractive about Medaille itself. We had two academic buildings and one athletic building. My longest walk between facilities lasted about the length of two football fields. The baseball field was off campus at a local community park in a bad part of town. One evening, someone broke into our baseball shed. When they learned they couldn’t steal our new tractor (we didn’t get a lot of new things), they decided to light the gas can on fire outside the shed. Like I said, it wasn’t a great part of town.

The weather was bad. The baseball team, outside of my sophomore year, was also bad. I had four pitching coaches in four years. The last one was fired days before my senior season because he tried to sell adderall to our team. My first class in college was taught by a professor who let my friend into class one day to take an exam. He signed his name Mickey Mouse and turned it in blank. When he handed the test papers back the next class, he asked if anyone by the name of Mickey Mouse had turned in a blank exam. When he couldn’t find anyone, he wanted us to find him so he could let him know he didn’t do very well on the exam. 

But here’s the funny part: Despite everything Medaille was not, I never once in my four years imagined going to school anywhere else.

Maybe it was the fear of uprooting and starting somewhere else. But when I think about it further, I realize the Roesto effect was what kept bringing me back to Buffalo, NY every fall. And it’s not just the life long relationships I created there. It was all of the micro interactions I had on a daily basis – from the conversations with cooks, custodians, public safety, teachers, faculty, coaches, staff. I knew almost everyone in that building by their first name, and they also knew mine.

I never felt like I was a number in my four years at Medaille. I felt like a part of a close knit community – just like the Italian immigrants that settled in Roseto, PA. Some days it felt like high school. But I never once felt alone. I always felt I had someone I could talk to, share a cool story, or have a good laugh with. But now that community will only be a memory.

In the world of the transfer portal, it seems the days of student athletes spending four years at the same school are archaic. Power five universities are in the midst of an arms race in which boosters are flexing their financial muscles – thanks to NIL – to allure players to their respective universities. The transfer portal is giving athletes the ability to change schools without penalties from the past. Gone are the days where you had to grind to the top of the depth chart or get along with a coach you didn’t see eye to eye with.

Didn’t play this season? Transfer somewhere else where you will. Hated your coach? Go find one that will promise you the world. It’s not you. It’s the situation, and you have the right to find a new one. Which would suggest more players are finding better situations.

But are they?

For everything that’s advertised about schools these days, I think the things that should be advertised have faded into the background. Because being able to talk to your cooks about the game last night while they make your omelette in the morning isn’t as cool as having a separate athletics only dining hall. Building a relationship with your professors and getting to know them on a first name basis isn’t as appealing as being able to do all of your school work from the comfort of your computer. Being a part of a community of people who are like you and make you feel at home isn’t as exciting as competing for a conference championship every spring. But everyone has a unique journey, and our respective journeys are the culmination of the decisions we make along the way. Until we re-examine the decisions we are making about the schools we attend, I think we are going to continue to run into this problem where more kids are entering the portal than exiting. 

The most important things we take with us at the culmination of our college careers are not the superficial things that initially allured us to them in the first place. Because when our time on the diamond is up, we can’t take the weight room or the baseball field with us. That program and those facilities will endure long after we are gone. But we can take our experience with us: The relationships we built, the memories we made, and the lessons we learned along the way. Those can never be taken from us, which means they need to be closely guarded – and considered – when selecting a school we would like to represent beyond our time there.

Our four year degree does not end after four years. It sets up our experience for the 20 years that follow. Which is often – but not always – a reflection of how we crafted the first four. 

Of all the things I take pride in, none compare to how I feel about my time living in Western New York. My father was born and raised there. When I first stepped foot on Medaille’s campus, I felt a strong connection not just to the school – but to the city of Buffalo. In a lot of ways, I felt the people of Buffalo represented myself. It’s a hard working city filled with men and women who are tough, resilient, look out for each other, and take a ton of pride in knowing most of the world does not view us or our football team fondly. We like it better that way. 

When I saw the prejudice and record setting snow storms that ravaged the city this past year, my heart broke. Buffalo was my first ever home away from home. It’s the kind of place you don’t appreciate until you’ve been there and experienced it for yourself. I’ve lived in Southern California – one of the most beautiful parts of this country – but I’ve never felt more connected to a place and a group of people than I was when I was living in Buffalo. I would have traded the weather and beaches for those cold fall days in October any day of the week. Buffalo was home, is home, and will always be home – largely because of the people I met there who made it feel that way.

And I met the large majority of those people at Medaille.

Since graduating in May 2019, I’ve gained a much different perspective on my time as a student athlete at Medaille. When you’re in the middle of it, you’re consumed by the superficial elements of it – who’s leading the team in batting average, who’s got the most wins, most errors, or who’s closing in on a career record holder. But when you get further away from your senior day, these accolades start to mean less and less.

Because as I look back on my experience, the days that once felt like the end of the world no longer mean so much. The bad moments aren’t the ones you remember with crystal clear detail. Instead, you remember the good moments. Those small slivers of greatness are the moments I feel I could recreate as if they happened yesterday. The feeling of pride that you contributed to the efforts of a group of people that accepted you, supported you, and brought the best out of you. And maybe that’s why it stings a little bit to write this. Because a place I once felt so strongly connected to will no longer be able to recreate that feeling for other people.

All this time we thought we were writing a script for something that would long out-last our time at Medaille, only to realize we were actually writing its final chapter. 

While I cannot speak on the decisions that were made that lead to this point, I do know this: I met a lot of people during my time there that would have done everything they could to continue to make this a special place for students going forward.

But that’s the tough part. A lot of the people from Medaille who I grew to love and appreciate moved on. Teachers I grew close to were furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. Other faculty and staff moved soon to find different jobs because of pay. Classmates and former teammates graduated. One by one, it started to look and feel like a completely different school very shortly after I finished school.

The facilities improved, courtesy of a multi-million dollar sports complex. The vision for the school seemed to grow by the day. But the people who made that place a special and unique environment during my time there were no longer there. And I have a feeling that’s why we’re at where we’re currently at right now. Mistakes, poor decisions in hindsight, and difficult circumstances have created a situation in which my alma mater will be a thing of the past.

But to me, it is still very much alive.

I recently went through an article on The Athletic detailing the chronicles of Greg Popovich – one of the most successful coaches in the history of the NBA. This past August, Popovich was rightfully inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His accomplishments as a basketball coach are second to none – 5X NBA Champion, 3X NBA Coach of the Year, 2020 Tokyo Olympics Gold Medalist – to name a few.  Which is funny, because out of all of the places he’s been and the athletes he’s coached throughout his 40 years in the game, Popovich to this day proudly calls himself a “Division III guy.”

Popovich got his start in basketball as an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy – where he attended school. After five years, Popovich wanted a change in scenery. A friend recommended him for the head coaching vacancy at Pomona-Pitzer College – a small Division III school located in Claremont, CA at the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. Popovich gladly accepted. 

In Popovich’s first season, the team went 2-22 – the group barely a step up from their intramural basketball program. In their second season, Pomona-Pitzer won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship. In his third season, they had their best record in 68 years and repeated as SCIAC champions. Five years later, Popovich was sitting on the bench for the San Antonio Spurs.

One of the greatest coaches we’ve ever seen – someone who year in and year out got more out of his teams than any other coach in professional basketball – got his start at the lowest level of college athletics. And after all of the success he’s had in his career since then, Popovich still views that period of his life as one of the most important of his career.

Well, I can also proudly say I too am a “Division III guy.” 

Because when you go to a small Division III school, you appreciate things a little differently. If you didn’t get money for your grades, you were paying full tuition because there were zero athletic scholarships. Our athletic budget wasn’t more than a few thousand dollars. For our annual Florida spring break trips, we went door to door selling raffle tickets, organized pancake breakfasts, and hustled Sabres 50/50 raffles. When we were in Florida, our hotel served microwavable omelets for breakfast. The outdoor pool made our clothes smell like dead animals. We did our own laundry to save money, only to discover Florida clay and white pants do not mix. Three hours of scrubbing on our hands and knees later. 

Leading up to the season from January to March, Saturday mornings were spent waking up at 4:45 AM to practice in an inflatable golf dome from 6:00-8:00 AM. It was the one chance we had to take ground balls and fly balls in a space bigger than a basketball court, because we were already doing that three times per week from 6:00 – 7:30 AM. Of course, working around the schedules of five different sports at once because no one could get outside. That meant if we had to shovel snow off our field in April to play a conference series two days later, we got our shovels, gloves, and went to the field.

To put it simply: If you didn’t truly love the game of baseball, you would have never lasted in a small school Division III environment. Which is why I am unbelievably thankful I got the chance to play in one.

Because I knew if I could embrace everything that sucked about playing for four years at a small school in bad weather with underwhelming facilities, I could take on anything that stood in my way after playing. Nothing seems impossible, because you’ve already done the impossible: You’ve outlasted an environment and a situation designed to make you quit.

There is nothing glamorous about walking to the gym at 5:45 AM for practice Monday morning with six inches of snow on the ground and the season two weeks away. A lot of bad thoughts are going through your head those mornings. But you still show up, because you understand there’s fine print to the dreams you chase. And our fine print just seemed to run a little longer than the rest, but the experiences you need are never the ones you ask for. We only realize them when we look back on them.

All my life I dreamed of playing ball south of the Mason Dixon line, but the experience I needed was destined to take me in the opposite direction. My time in Buffalo fortified me in ways that will have a long lasting impact on my career in baseball. And while I do not know where the game will take me over the next ten years, I know at my roots I will always be a Division III guy. 

And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The thirteen aces of land Medaille stands on now was purchased in the late 1800s by Reverend Mother Mary Ann Burke – a devoted member of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Sisters – a group of women who devoted their lives to Christ and the service of other people – needed a place where they could educate members of their community to teach in parochial schools. The Sisters came to North America from France in 1836, its origins dating as far back as 1643. The founder of the group was a French Jesuit priest named Jean Pierre Medaille. 

The land purchased by Reverend Burke turned into a school for the Sisters – teaching the same lessons Father Medaille once passed on over 200 years ago. It was called Mount St. Joseph Normal Training School for Teachers. In 1966, newly appointed president Sister Alice Huber recognized a changing landscape in education. A new charter was drawn up, allowing the school to start accept lay men and women for undergraduate and post graduate programs. It would take on a new name: Medaille College, in honor of its originating founder.

For everything that would change about Medaille over the next 50 years, Sister Huber wanted to make sure the spirit of Father Medaille never did: “Serving our dearest neighbor, each and every one of them. A service that consoles, relieves, and unites.” It is my hope that spirit will continue long after Medaille closes its doors.

When I recapped the history of Medaille and Father Medaille’s influence on the school for my final article as Editor of the Medaille Perspective newspaper, I connected with the school on a very different level. I had conversations with people who attended the school several decades before. And throughout all of the stories they shared, I started to recognize a theme within them: Medaille wasn’t just a school. It was a place that cultivated and nurtured a close knit group of kids that ultimately became its own little community.

Most of the people I met during my time at Medaille had no idea who was behind the name of the school. It’s a big reason why I decided to find out for myself. But as I think about it, people didn’t have to know who Father Medaille was to appreciate his influence on the school. Because if people who attended Medaille 30 years ago felt the same way that I did when I was an undergraduate student there, I know Father Medaille’s spirit was within those halls all along. That community will no longer exist in just a few short weeks, but I have a feeling in my heart we can keep that community in tact beyond its doors. And of all the things that disappoint me about this situation, that is the one thing that gives me comfort.

People might not be able to share or experience what we did here in the future – and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel better about that – but we have the opportunity to carry that spirit in our daily lives going forward. In our thoughts and in our actions. In our friendships, relationships, and work spaces. We all have the opportunity to leave our own legacies that will help us reflect on the good we saw, experienced, and recognized in a small pocket of Buffalo just off the 198 expressway. And I think that is the perfect way we can always remember Medaille College, so I’ll end this the same way I ended my original Letter from the Editor back in the spring of 2019 – but with a different twist to it:

To the people who captured my heart during my time at Medaille – thank you. Thank you for the good times and bad, for the heartbreaks and laughs, for the memories we have yet to make, but most importantly the ones we will never forget. 

I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. 

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