This month marks the renewal of an annual American tradition unlike any other — the men's and women's collegiate basketball championship tournaments, known by many simply as March Madness. 

Every athlete may not receive the opportunity to perform on the national stage, but this time of year provides a great opportunity to focus on and appreciate the benefits of athletic and extracurricular participation at colleges and universities across the country — benefits that extend far beyond the pinnacles reached on the court or even on campus. 

For the third time in four years, Waubonsee’s athletic teams combined to win the 2012-13 Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference’s (ISCC) All-Sports Trophy, which is awarded based on each college’s record in each conference sport. Like other academic institutions, we are proud of the “hardware” displayed in our trophy cases, but we are even prouder of the soft skills gained by our student-athletes, skills that include leadership, teamwork, discipline and sportsmanship.  

Scott Miller, a 1984 Waubonsee graduate, recently reflected upon his days playing both baseball and basketball for the Chiefs. While he never played organized college athletics after WCC, Miller, who is now Head Boys Basketball Coach and Department Chair for Physical Education and Drivers Education at Glenbard East High School in Lombard, said the knowledge and wisdom he absorbed from coaches and teammates have helped him in all his pursuits since. 

“So much of what I learned at Waubonsee, I’ve carried it into my profession,” Miller told us in January. “It’s built around my time at Waubonsee.” 

Of course, not all students build their college experience around athletics; there are plenty of other ways to get involved in campus life — art, literature, film, languages, service clubs, honor societies, professional organizations, etc. — and they all pay dividends. Our athletic conference is unique in that students may also compete in a number of ISCC events in music, literature, art and science. Indeed, a number of studies have demonstrated that students who participate in extracurricular activities perform better academically and are happier, precisely because they engage more with their fellow students, faculty and others.

Skills like organizing an event, developing an interpersonal communication style and serving others don’t leave students once they leave campus. These are lessons that stay with them and aid them throughout their lives, no matter the pursuit in which they ultimately “go pro.” 

So as you study the NCAA brackets, watch the games and celebrate the teams who ultimately bring home the championships, keep something else in mind: all of those students, from the athletes on the court to the musicians in the bands to the student government officers in the cheering sections, have already won something. They have won the opportunity to take extracurricular lessons learned on campus and use them to make their dreams come true, for themselves and their communities.