The first team on the field today at the University of Rochester was the Marines.

At Zero Six Forty Five, 19 member of the ROTC unit arrived at Fauver stadium to scramble through the orange-coned obstacle course under the lights and then run some laps carrying 45-pound packs, lead by their instructor, Capt. Chapman.

Among the the camo-ed runners was David DeLong, a freshman from Philadelphia who is majoring in mechanical engineering. With captain’s permission, he held himself out of the laps because he has a big race Saturday, the U of R Blue and Gold Invitational.

Next up, the Rochester field hockey team, which took the field at zero seven hundred. They are coming off a come-from-behind, OT win against Ithaca College on Wednesday.

As Einstein would have said, operating the athletics program at Rochester is all about time and space.

The field of Fauver Stadium, built in 1930, is used nearly around the clock by the football team, both soccer teams, field hockey and intramurals. And ROTC.

When I went to sleep in Honey about midnight, the lights were still blazing while about a dozen kids played recreational football.

Rochester is my fourth stop on a 4,200 mile trip to visit each of the schools in the University Athletic Association. Every one is my favorite. Earlier in my trip I loved NYU, Case Western Reserve University and Carnegie Mellon University.

Today, I love Rochester the bestest.

From the notebook

Yesterday, I attended a graduate level course on the films of Andy Warhol with Lindsay Macaluso. She’s from Amherst, N.Y., and plays shortstop (or anywhere she’s needed) on the softball team. She has a tiny stud in her pierced nose. Mac is fired up every minute of every day. She hit .331 last season and scored 35 runs.

She wasn’t that crazy about softball when she was 11 or 12, so she worked her way onto the boys Little League team (she has four brothers). Caused quite a stink, and the coach even quit the team over it, but she held her ground.

Yesterday, she held her ground in film study. Among the birkenstocks and beards, she was the only student wearing the deep blue and yellow warm-ups of Rochester sports during the screening and discussion of Warhol’s two-reel film, out of focus, black and white “Poor Little Rich Girl” with Edie Sedgwick. Her professor is Douglas Crimp, an expert on Warhol and former managing editor of October, the influential journal of postmodern art theory. Warhol, by the way, attended Carnegie Mellon, but didn’t play sports.

Like Warhol, Lindsay has range.

Undefeated

Mike Neer would never describe himself as a legend, but everyone who knows him would.

He coached men’s basketball for 34 years at the University of Rochester. His team won the D3 national championship in 1990. They reached the NCAA playoffs 12 times and the Final Four four times.

Neer was here when the UAA was founded 24 years ago, and the conference philosophy of academics first suits him perfectly.

He’s a coach’s coach, with a bag full of one-liners and swear words, such as “cheese and crackers” and “son of a biscuit eater,” which he adopted from Sleepy Thompson, his coach at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Alexandria, Va., in the ’60s.

As I travel around the UAA collecting stories, I have a growing sense of responsibility for getting it right. Mike Neer’s story is one of my most precious bundles.

I met Mike, who is 6-7 and thin as a lamppost,  outside my RV, Honey, in the parking apron next to Fauver Stadium. A grounds keeper saw him arrive from a distance and came up to us quickly, his hand extended to Neer, who announced his retirement in May.

“How’s it going coach?”

“Undefeated,” he said.

Today, Oct. 15, is the first day of basketball practice, the first day in 34 years that Mike Neer won’t be on the court.

Big weekend at Rochester

This weekend the campus population nearly doubles from 9,500 with 7,000 people expected for Meliora Weekend — Homecoming, parents weekend and reunions. There are huge white tents everywhere and the campus is totally spruced up. It’s a beautiful setting without the sprucing. Classic red brick buildings, criss-crossed quads, red and gold trees, energetic and optimistic students and the Genesee River curving along campus.

Above it all rises the dome of Rush Rhees Library, named not for a donor but for Benjamin Rush Rhees, the university’s third president. Russ Rhees sounds as good as it looks, with a 50-bell carillon that chimes every fifteen minutes.

Meliora — even better.

Sports in the right perspective

The athletics director at the University of Rochester is George VanderZwaag (wonder if he’s Dutch). When I talked to him Wednesday, he put sports in perspective. While kids are practicing or playing games on the fields, the scientists and researchers on campus are looking for cures to cancer or solutions to energy needs. Relatively, sports is play time. The real world comes first. That’s how they do it at Rochester and around the UAA.

Game day

The soccer teams from the University of Chicago are already in town. Flew in Thursday. That’s another thing that makes the UAA unique in the world of D3 sports. Today at 5:00 the women play Rochester. The men’s match is at 7:30. Weather forecasts earlier this week called for a 70 percent chance of rain, 20-mph winds and temperatures in the low 50s. But right now the sun is coming up and the skies are only partly cloudy (in relative, Rochester terms.) As every person in every part of America likes to say about their own climate, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

It’s good to be king

The folks at Rochester are treating me like royalty, as have NYU, CWRU and CMU. Lisa, the kindly neighbor lady back in Atlanta, thinks I like that, and as usual, she is right. I’m parked outside the tunnel of Fauver Stadium, where I can see all the athletes coming and going for taping, untaping, suiting up and practicing. They even let me do my laundry in one of the huge industrial washers under the stands. Provo, king of equipment, calls me sir and can’t stop asking whether he can do anything for me. I am grateful.

Writer Kevin Austin and Honey, his untrusty 1984 recreation vehicle, are touring universities for Austin’s upcoming book on the University Athletic Association.  If you see him, stop and help him work on Honey, or at least wave.

Excerpted from Kevin Austin’s blog:  2010 UAA Ultimate Road Trip

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Kevin Austin

Kevin Austin

Kevin S. Austin is from Poncey Highland -- and proud of it, Atlanta, GA, United States. Reporter, writer, newsman, clown. Hail fellow well met.  He recently embarked on a 45-day road trip to visit each of the eight universities in the University Athletic Association and attend soccer matches at the schools for a book he is writing.