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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bluffton University May Day 4-Miler

This week's Sports Illustrated has a great article on Bluffton University, its baseball team, and the deadly bus crash. Its emphasis is on how the university community dealt with the tragedy (extremely well) and how people all over the country came to their aid. Throughout there is a strong implication of "why can't we all act like this?"

The article underplays the importance of Bluffton's Mennonite identity. Partly, this is because Mennonites get no attention. Even among the "peace churches", the Amish are a cultural icon and the Quakers won a Nobel peace prize, but the Mennonites simply and quietly go about their lives. These days Christians in mass media are the type who try to fix others and help themselves, but Bluffton's mission has it the other way around.

Nor are they full of themselves; a friend who worked there told me the big social event among administrators is a weekly gathering at Arby's. Many D-III schools are populated by the children of privelege, but people like that are generally not attracted to this kind of place. Even the architecture is simple and understated, taking effort to leave the beauty of nature undisturbed. Fawns run through campus because they can.

Mind you, if you're looking for excitement this is not the place to be. But these people always recognized just how much of a curse it is to live in exciting times, and they know it more now. I guess what I'm trying to say is Bluffton University is a group of people who value understanding, love, community, and a simple life. Like the Nickel Mines School shootings, it would only be surprising if the community didn't deal with the tragedy in a positive way.

I'd planned to do this race months before Bluffton became famous. I was going to use it as a tune-up for the Cleveland Marathon, but I bailed on that race once it became obvious that I wasn't going to get a Boston qualifier. I also thought I'd have a shot at winning this thing when I saw last year's times, but the size of the field increased at least threefold. I did beat last year's winning time but only ended up third in my age group ("male, mildly old").

The race is part of May Day which is a really big thing at Bluffton, owing to its strong German heritage. It's graduation, too, but the whole weekend appears to have an unusually large alumni involvement in an average year, and this one is anything but normal. I expected some sort of mention of the baseball team and probably a moment of silence before the race, but there was nothing. They've accepted it and moved on.

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