Athletes in the Arts

By Cal McNellie

In popular culture, there is often a portrayal of a tension between athletic and academic pursuits. Every movie about high school or college has a token band geek and a cool jock and they never get along. They are portrayed as different, separate, and in conflict. While this trope may hold some truth in some parts of the country, it does not play out at Hillsdale College. The liberal arts philosophy of Hillsdale creates an environment that attracts well-rounded individuals and encourages all students, including athletes, to study the subjects they see fit. This is especially evident in students like seniors Nate Chambers and Madie Schider. 

Nate Chambers is a football player from Otsego, Michigan. On Saturdays, you can find him making plays for the Chargers as a starting defensive tackle. During the week, though, Nate takes voice classes with a tutor. He has been taking lessons all four years he has spent at the College. Before choosing Hillsdale, Chambers looked into many college’s music programs but was unable to find the right fit. He discovered the requirements for being a music major in college “Were virtually the same as being a student athlete. As much as I love music, my first love is football,” Chambers said. He was disappointed because the schools he was looking at were asking him to decide between the two activities that mean so much to him. After choosing Hillsdale, Chambers describes the College as “the perfect situation.” He is able to earn a degree in financial management, play football at a high level, and continue to develop his vocal talents. 

For Chambers, football and singing have both contributed to his growth as an individual during his time at Hillsdale. When asked about the correlation between the two, Chambers pointed to the confidence he has developed because of his singing. “Singing in front of people forces you to deal with the butterflies in your stomach and the nervousness. That translates to all sorts of things like public speaking and definitely football.” Instead of separating these two parts of his life, Chambers allowed them to influence each other and used skills formed in one to help the other. 

At the beginning of every football banquet, Chambers sings “God Bless America”, and this is how most of his teammates learn about his talents. He remarked how accepting and supportive the Charger athletic community has been after learning about his passion for music. For him, this type of support has been an essential part of his Hillsdale experience. When describing the culture of the people that make up Hillsdale, he noted, “There is an intensity here. Not from the sense that they are forcing something on you, just that they demand your best, whatever that is. They demand that from you and do what they can to help you get there.” 

Chambers is not the only athlete involved in the arts on campus. Maddie Schider is a senior volleyball player who is majoring in biology and art. Schider is a native of North Carolina and first heard about Hillsdale when she was invited to a volleyball camp on campus. Schider developed her passion for art in high school, but was unsure if she could continue it in college. She was worried about the viability of art as a career and the practicality of balancing athletics and the demands of studio time. After committing to Hillsdale, Schider planned to major in biology and minor in art. Even with art being her minor, Schider still had to get used to going to the studio before and after practice. This presented an interesting challenge for Schider because the pace of the two activities is so different. Volleyball is a sport of a couple of seconds of intense action and then a break. To have a good studio session, one must sit for hours and patiently work on an image present only in your mind.The two demands were initially hard to reconcile, but now are just part of the pie for Schider. 

During the Covid-19 quarantine, Schider decided that she would upgrade the art minor to an art major. It is truly what she is passionate about, and, with the blessing of her parents, she decided that she was going to pursue it fully. Schider also began to form her post graduate plans during this time. In 15 years, Schider sees herself creating art surrounded by the vineyard she owns. Born in Oregon, Schider remembers the wine country of her youth, and how the vineyards “are correlated with art and the love of nature” in her mind. She plans on attending graduate school and learning the necessary skills to create the perfect business and environment for her to create. 

When asked if there was something special about Hillsdale that allowed her to pursue both of her passions She pointed to the relationships she has built at Hillsdale. “Coach is my second dad and my teammates are my sisters,” Schider said. “My professors will drop everything to help me.” At this point in her career, Schider also feels she is able to find inspiration for her artistic pursuits on the volleyball court. She recounts how “there have been so many ideas that have  just occurred to me at practice”… “it’s a different way of looking at things.” 

What does it say about a place like Hillsdale that its students are able to excel in seemingly very distinct fields at the same time? For me, Chambers and Schider are examples of the power of a liberal arts education. Students are given a foundation and then encouraged to spread their wings and strive for greatness in whatever field they see fit. There are no boundaries, no conflict that can stop a determined soul from reaching its full potential. Things that seem opposite or contrary work together to create a well rounded, whole person. The student is the master of their own destiny. This is the “challenge” in the “strength rejoices in the challenge” motto of the College.

Calvin McNellie, ’21, studies finance and politics. He resides in Cleveland, Ohio. A member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity and the Hillsdale College football team, Calvin’s interests include politics, fitness, woodworking, and jean shorts. He considers himself extremely blessed to be a student at Hillsdale College and a citizen of the greatest nation in the world.

Published in June 2021