320 Challenge Eludes Athletes, Non-Athletes Alike

Swarthmore has been engaged in a fierce competition for several years now, but that doesn’t mean it is well-known. Each year, the Garnet take on Widener University in every sport the schools share in the 320 Challenge. The 2012-2013 season marks the fourth annual round of this competition, and Swarthmore, which won last year’s 320 Challenge by a score of 13-6, looks to begin a winning streak.

The competition itself is fairly straightforward. The Garnet and Pride meet in nearly every sport, from  baseball to volleyball. The winner receives one point, while the loser receives zero. In the event of a tie, each team receives half a point. Last year, the Garnet won 13 of the competitions and lost six. This season, Swarthmore currently holds a narrow 2-1 lead thanks to wins in field hockey (4-0) and men’s soccer (2-1). Widener’s score came from an overtime stunner over women’s soccer (1-0).

Not every sport is represented in the competition. The perennially strong Garnet tennis teams have no Widener counterparts, and so cannot participate in the Challenge, denying Swarthmore a potential win. This goes both ways though — with no Garnet football team, the Pride loses what would probably have been an easy victory.

According to Athletic Director Adam Hertz, he and Widener AD Jack Shafer began the competition after Swarthmore and Widener had played each other in most sports on a regular basis. “We thought that … [since we] were just down the road from each other [on Route 320], that maybe a spirited competition between the schools might develop into a friendly rivalry. Our hope was that it would become a game that we could mark on our schedules as something a little more meaningful.”

Hertz added that the competition serves to complement the longer-running and more visible rivalry with Haverford, as it gives every team in the school a game on the schedule to focus on. For example, Haverford does not have a swim team, but Widener does, giving those squads a highlight meet in theory.

Although the program is in its fourth year, Hertz said that the schools were still easing into the competition, as neither of the ADs were sure if the Challenge would be close enough to be worth it. “Both schools wanted to see whether we were actually competitive with each other across the board [before promoting it].” That concern was alleviated in the first two incarnations of the Challenge, when Widener won by only one or two contests. Furthermore, he added that geographical proximity does not necessarily make a rivalry: “There is also some question of whether we have enough in common with each other to make this a meaningful rivalry.”

Because the athletic department is not actively promoting the competition among the student body, the onus is on coaches to build the games against Widener up as something for the players to care about. This has had a mixed outcome, according to athletes. While some coaches heavily promote the games, others do not, and some of the details have been lost in translation.

For example, according to Elyse Tierney ’15, a member of the women’s soccer and lacrosse teams, “The 320 Challenge is extremely important to the women’s soccer team. Last year we beat Widener in the pouring rain.” She added, “I don’t know if the coaches necessarily know what the Challenge is, but the players like to make a big deal out of it. We talked about the 320 Challenge during lacrosse too.”

For other sports, the competition against Widener is important, but not necessarily in the context of the 320 Challenge. John Flaherty ’14, a captain on the men’s swim team, said, “I do see the Widener meet as important. The swim team always gets pretty fired up for this one. I don’t know if that the phrase ‘320 Challenge’ is thrown around that much, but we make it very clear to new swimmers that this is a big rivalry. Widener is always our season opener and we view it as an important launching point for the rest of the year.”

The competition has not reached every team that participates, though. Cross country, which competes in large invitationals, has no reason to specifically focus on beating the Pride.  Jacob Phillips ’13 said that although he knows what the 320 Challenge is, “I honestly wouldn’t even know which race would be the challenge itself. I guess it would be the NCAA Regionals, where we run against 47 schools in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. I don’t think that the 320 Challenge is terribly important to us as a team at all. I’ve never heard it mentioned in any context concerning our team.”

With such mixed views among the student-athletes, it is no surprise that the student body in general is largely unaware of the competition. Several students said they had no idea what it is, while others like Ben Schwartz ’13 knew a little about it, although, he said, “The details are entirely beyond me.”

Hertz said he is still not sure if the rivalry will develop into what he and Shafer envisioned, but admitted it is time to begin promoting it among students, with the goal of creating an exciting atmosphere around the games. This may just work; both Flaherty and Tierney said they liked the idea of having an important non-conference game and that the 320 Challenge was a way to make the games more fun for the teams. Non-athletes also thought the competition could be exciting. According to Emily Rosen ’13, while she did not previously know what the 320 Challenge was, “Now that I know Widener’s a huge rival, I do want to go to the games against them.”

There are still many games to play in this year’s 320 Challenge. The next round takes place next week on October 11, when the teams meet in volleyball at Tarble Pavilion. The match starts at 7 p.m.  Looking ahead, the Garnet will host each round of the winter season competition as well, beginning with men’s and women’s swimming on Halloween night, followed by women’s basketball on December 3 and men’s basketball on January 2.

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