ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, Journalism ’93, stood onstage in Roone Arledge Auditorium at Lerner Hall on May 1 and recalled a conversation he had had several months prior with Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart.
Rinaldi described going into the Georgia locker room after the team had just lost the College Football Playoff National Championship and asking Smart what the team’s next steps would be. Rinaldi recalled Smart saying that any athletic pursuit was a matter of inches and that, “If everyone can find their inch, that will lead us back here … with a different result.”
And thus began Columbia Athletics’ 97th Annual Varsity C Celebration: an event which looks to celebrate the collective achievements of the school’s various athletics programs over the course of the past year.
Modeled after ESPN’s annual ESPY Awards, the evening featured current and former student-athletes presenting and receiving a multitude of awards in fields ranging from leadership to community engagement. The proceedings were interspersed by commentary from Rinaldi and a handful of other speakers.
The first awards to be given out were the Marion R. Philips and Dwight D. Eisenhower Watches, awarded to both the male and female athletes who had achieved the best academic record and were varsity athletes for at least two seasons. The Marion R. Philips Watch was awarded to senior Abigail Sharkey of the women’s track and field team, while the Dwight D. Eisenhower Watch was given to senior Mitchell Tuckerman of the corresponding men’s team.
The next award presented was the Lions Cup, given to the winner of a competitive event between all of Columbia’s varsity sports teams in which student-athletes compete on behalf of their team for points. It was awarded to women’s cross country and track and field.
The next award, Rookie of the Year, was presented by Columbia Athletics alumnus and current New York Jets linebacker Josh Martin, CC ’13, and current Columbia senior Lord Hyeamang, who recently signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent. The award was granted to first-years Sylvie Binder of women’s fencing and Jonathan Suckow of men’s diving.
Varsity C Club President Noah Cooper, CC ’08, then presented the Athletics Alumni Awards to Kyra Barry, CC ’87, and John Vaske, CC ’88. Barry was a member of the women’s soccer team while Vaske competed for both men’s basketball and men’s track and field.
The Karen Blank Award, given to the best Barnard student-athlete, was presented by Barnard Dean of Studies Natalie Friedman to senior Katie Angen of fencing.
The Paul Fernandes Community Service Award, conferred on the team which makes the most notable contributions to both Columbia and local communities, was presented to women’s soccer.
The coed Leader of the Year Award was presented to senior Madison Gott of the softball team.
The next award was the William V. Campbell Performer of the Year Award, which is delivered to the best male and the best female student-athletes who demonstrated superior athletic ability in the past year. Presented by University trustee Orlando Orcosta and Dean of Columbia College James Valentini, the men’s and women’s awards were given to senior Arthur Bosua of men’s soccer and junior Iman Blow of women’s fencing, respectively.
Blow said that her nomination was a surprise and that her win was even more surprising, especially considering the fact that, “there were so many incredible athletes who’ve had so many incredible accomplishments.” She went on to say, “I’m very proud of myself and also my team that supports me through every single day of practice and competition.”
Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education Peter Pilling and Executive Director of the Ivy League Robin Harris presented the final award of the evening, the Connie S. Maniatty Award, given to one male and one female senior student-athlete who has achieved the greatest athletic career during their time at Columbia. The men’s award was given to men’s squash player Osama Khalifa.
“To end with this award is very special, and I’m very grateful,” Khalifa said. He attributed his success to the “absolutely outstanding support” of his teammates, coaching staff, and team alumni.
The women’s award was split and given to both senior Sarah Hardie of women’s cross country and track and field and senior Camille Zimmerman of women’s basketball.
Columbia women’s basketball head coach Megan Griffith, CC ’07, accepted the award on Camille’s behalf, as Zimmerman is currently attending training camp with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. Following the ceremony, Griffith referred to Zimmerman as “a trailblazer.” She went on to say that Zimmerman “fell in love with being great,” and that “[the] program and our staff are just beyond excited for her.”
The event ended with a message of unity for all student-athletes as members of the Varsity C Celebration student-athlete planning committee said that the purpose of the event was to celebrate the present and act as a reminder that the alumni community is “committed to sustaining a lifelong partnership to Columbia athletics.”