Each sport at Yale has a single captain. (Thanks to Roger for pointing that out in our previous discussion.) More background:

All [Yale] captains know that he or she must shoulder much responsibility both on and off the playing field. The captain must be the mouthpiece for the team and the coach, walking the fine line between leader and friend. The captain must harness the spirit of a team and channel it towards intense play, and must act as the essence of the team–its true heart and soul.

Yale’s varsity sports feature a tradition unique among all other Division I NCAA schools: teams are led by only one captain. At the conclusion of the season, team members vote for whom they wish to be captain during the following year’s campaign. The captain must win a simple majority–a feat not so easily achieved. Some teams have been known to hold as many as seven rounds of voting before a majority is determined.

Yale Athletic Director Tom Beckett said of the unusual policy, “The practice of having one captain per team…is a very strong and honored tradition, and a great source of pride for the University. When a person is selected as the sole captain it creates a very strong role for them, and in the process it validates and re-emphasizes the importance of their position.”

The age-old captain-selection practice has defenders as well. “Although having two captains might be easier and wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings, when you have one guy, he is the boss of a united group,” Keefe said. Rubinstein added, “You don’t need to be a captain to be a leader on the field. Everyone respects that. Having one captain is unique–it’s Yale.” Ferraro said, “This tradition is never going to change, and it’s the tradition that makes being captain so special to me.”

Indeed. Read the whole thing, including some negative comments. I would like to see the Williams community (perhaps led by Gargoyle) have a thorough discussion/debate about this topic. I would be interested in hearing from players, coaches, faculty and alumni. Some initial thoughts:

1) For Williams to be successful over the next 50 or 100 years, there is nothing more important than binding the alumni to the College, making them feel a part of something larger themselves, giving them a reason to donate and volunteer, to care what happens at Williams long after they have left the Purple Valley. Williams already does this well, but we could do so much better.

2) The central dilemma involved in the number of captains (like the number of JAs, the number of Summa graduates, the number of Record editor-in-chiefs, et cetera) is that, the more people who are awarded position X, the less special that designation becomes. If there are 4 captains on the golf team, or 15 on the football team, then being a captain is (obviously) nothing special. It doesn’t really mean anything (much). And that is a shame. The best way to bind an Eph to Williams forever is to give her a responsibility that means something, that is special, that matters. One that provides her with a link to the Ephs that came before (and who held that same position) and the Ephs today, especially that one Eph who has the very same role, who confronts the same difficulties and deals with the same problems. That Eph is her sister in spirit. Connect them and Williams as an institution can only benefit.

3) Nothing prevents an individual coach or team at Williams today from adopting the single captain policy. Yet the policy would be all the more special if it were College wide, if being a Williams captain (like being a Williams JA or being a Williams Phi Beta Kappa) were a special designation, a recognized status, a role with a history behind it. There should be a “Captains’ Dinner” at the end of the year with President Falk for the 30 or so sports captains. There should be a special sash to wear at graduation day. There should be special lunches at reunion week-ends.

4) One nice aspect of the single captaincy (and the team voting which underpins it) is the distinction it creates between the role of “captain” and the role of “best player.” (Full disclosure: I could be reading too much into the Yale article.) My sense right now is that on, say, the Williams basketball team, if you are a senior and a star (starting?) player, you get to be captain even if you have no leadership abilities or interests. In that context, “captain” is just another word for “star.” But, at Yale, it is clear that the captain has much wider responsibility and that, therefore, the captain is not always, or even often, the best player.

If Gargoyle (or the Yale equivalent) solicited your opinion on the topic, what would you say? Which policy is better: Yale’s or Williams’?

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