Students celebrate athletic achievements at Homecoming

by Saba Nejad | 10/9/17 2:15am


Mark Morrissette '93, a former heavyweight rower, attended the homecoming ceremony with his family.

by Saba Nejad / The Dartmouth

While members of the Class of 2021 were gathering on the Green to circle the bonfire, another longstanding Dartmouth tradition was on display on the chests of current and former Big Green varsity athletes. The varsity letter sweater — knitted in Dartmouth green with a white “D” on the front — is awarded to each student-athlete after earning his or her first varsity letter.

“The sweater has been essentially unchanged for many decades,” deputy athletic director Robert Ceplikas said. “It’s one of the many things connecting student-athletes across different sports and over many decades.”

According to Ceplikas, the sweater tradition dates back to at least the 1940s. Following the Homecoming parade and before the bonfire starts, seniors, captains and coaches — many sporting the “D” across their chest — assemble in front the steps of Dartmouth Hall for the Dartmouth Night Ceremony. Other team members are encouraged to be present in the roped-off sections in support of their upperclassmen teammates. The ceremony includes student speeches, an address by College President Phil Hanlon and recognition of senior athletes by athletic director Harry Sheehy. This year, rugby player Danielle Ramsay ’19 and football captain Jack Heneghan ’18 discussed their experiences with their respective teams.

Heneghan expressed how thankful he is to Dartmouth and the athletic program for introducing him to a great community, made up of talented and supportive teammates and classmates. His speech was inspired by the friends and memories he has made throughout his time at Dartmouth.

Ramsey structured her speech around rugby’s culture, legacy and values. She mentioned how well the team embraces walk-ons and sees players not as merely athletes but also as people.

Scott Ortlip ’17 was recruited for heavyweight crew and spent four years on the team. Unlike many student-athletes at Dartmouth, Ortlip received his varsity sweater at the end of his senior year after completing his final season at Dartmouth. Heavyweight rowers earn their sweaters in one of two ways: by racing in the 1V boat or spending four years on the team. Ortlip said he specifically wanted to get the sweater for his time in the first varsity boat his senior season.

“My sweater means a lot to me because it symbolizes the summation of all the work I’ve put into my rowing career,” Ortlip said.

Mitchell Tevis ’18 had a different experience than Ortlip. Tevis was also recruited for heavyweight crew and has spent the last four years on the team. However, he got his “D” sweater when he was a first-year. One of the few freshman to earn a spot on the 1V boat, Tevis was honored to receive the sweater as a result.

“I think it’s really nice being part of a larger group, having the sweater and being a varsity athlete,” Tevis said.

The sweater has a more personal meaning for Casey Smerczynski ’20, who plays lock on the rugby team.

“It’s really important to me because my dad has his varsity letter sweater from Harvard [University], and it’s a great memory from college for him and we’ve been able to get closer through this shared experience,” Smerczynski said. “He can wear his, and I can wear mine and we can be a father-daughter duo.”

For Zainab Molani ’18, one of the co-captains for women’s squash, getting the sweater meant that she had upheld the values of a Dartmouth student-athlete, something she hopes to maintain in her adult life.

“Getting the green sweater at the end of the year banquet was special because it meant that I had fulfilled the goal of being a teammate, survived my first year of college and accomplished feats that Dartmouth was proud of,” Molani said.

Nejad is a member of the rugby team.