May 2, 2011
Buckinghams Backstage | Watch the Show
MADISON, Wis. -- Just to be considered for the award was humbling and gratifying for Tim Aghai. But he didn't give much serious thought to winning given the strength of competition and the modest profile of his sport, rowing. Being overshadowed comes with the turf; or the water in his case.
All of which was fine with Aghai, who was cognizant of how much work each of the candidates had put into balancing academics and athletics on the Madison campus. In the end, though, it was Aghai who was singled out by his peers as the UW's male student-athlete of the year.
"It was a surprise; a complete surprise; I never thought it would happen," he said.
Aghai, a senior from Skokie, Ill., was recognized last Monday night at the Overture Center during the third-annual Buckinghams, a showcase for academic excellence - and special achievement beyond the scope of athletic competition - co-hosted by the Office of Academic Services and the National W Club.
Brianna Decker, a sophomore from Dousman, and a member of the national championship UW women's hockey team, was the recipient of the female student-athlete of the year. Decker was not present because of her participation in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Women's Championship in Zurich, Switzerland.
Aghai was more than happy to accept his award on behalf of everyone in his sport. "Just because we don't have the posters or the TV exposure," he said, "it doesn't mean we're not putting in the time and are working our butts off representing the Badgers and Wisconsin."
Although the red carpet was rolled out for all of the student-athletes as they made their way into the Overture Theater - to the accompaniment of freshman quarterback Joel Stave playing Billy Joel on the piano - there was the realization that there's no such grand entrance to academic and athletic success.
No short cuts, either.
"Rowing is really a big commitment," Aghai said. "It's tough to be good because you have to be there every day, two times a day, all year. It's sometimes overlooked but the season is all year; summer, fall, winter, spring. It's nice to be acknowledged for putting in that time and actually being successful."
To make necessary gains, especially in the classroom, there are necessary sacrifices. "It's giving up weekends," said Aghai. "It's giving up social life to get school done and rowing done. I've tried to be involved with SAAC; I'm also a life skills leader. I try to do as much as I can with as little time as I have."
But there's no greater feeling than the payoff, he agreed. "Success is directly correlated to the time and work you put in," he said. "We all do it because we love it - we love to work, I guess."
Aghai was speaking for all the student-athletes who walked across the stage Monday night - and all those who socialized backstage between awards; an ancillary benefit of the Buckinghams - and all those who hooted and hollered from the lower seating area and the upper balcony during the show.
They were all dressed for success, too.
"It's pretty cool to bring people together like this," said A.J. Fenton, a sophomore linebacker from Erie, Pa., "and recognize academics and other things beyond sports that don't usually get recognized. And it's pretty cool to see people from your sport and other sports perform."
While Fenton played the guitar - he's self-taught - Kendall Grimm showed the range of a budding Broadway singer. Grimm, a sophomore on the UW softball team, sang in her high school choir in Overland Park, Kan. "It's nice to get everyone together for this one event," she said.
That was the aim of Doug Tiedt, the assistant athletic director for academic services. Bored with the traditional script for an academic achievement banquet, he entertained other options - with entertained being the operative word because he was looking for an "Academy Awards'' feel.
Most importantly, Tiedt and his staff wanted everything FOR the students to be driven BY the students; ranging from student performers to student presenters to student organizers. The ultimate purpose was to recognize achievement. "But we also wanted to recognize the whole person," he said.