Tree sanctuary is English for the Latin word arboretum. Folks around here call our tree sanctuary the Arb.

Paul Wong
David Den Herder

I”ve never been to the Arb. Not to eat, to nap or play Frisbee that was one of the conclusions that came from last night”s staring contest I had with the ceiling.

Of all the things “I”m not going to lose any sleep over,” this final column was supposed to be one of them.

Things didn”t work out that way, of course. I”m not sure how many things actually do work out “that way.” But trying to capture your college experience frame it, comment on it that is a difficult thing.

Mine is a story that begins in 5007 Hinsdale and ends 12 days from now, somehow.

Somewhere along the way, somebody decided that I should have a weekly column. And so I”ve tried to use it appropriately and to its fullest.

People sometimes ask if it”s frustrating to be bound to the sports page. I understand their question this column, and the job that once came with it, have led to my passion for athletics much more than the other way around.

In the end, I certainly learned enough about Michigan sports maybe more than I wanted to.

I learned that the line between celebrity and anonymity is a negligible one in Ann Arbor, and that folks on both sides can be equally inspirational. Or detestable.

I learned that the people who got paid to “know best” many times did not, and that authority didn”t always translate into rationality or respectability.

It was certainly a unique time to have a voice in Michigan athletics. I saw, as a freshman, the Wolverines experience their best season in recent history: A national football title, a national hockey title, an exciting basketball season. It was perhaps a boisterous faade to internal deterioration, but still a very proud year for the University.

Then I watched the department collapse on itself a low point in the tenure of University president Lee Bollinger and in the history of Michigan athletics.

It is still no exaggeration to say that in February of 2000, Michigan”s athletic department was in utter disarray. Bill Martin, the man called in to restore order, spent his first few weeks in office simply calming the panic among his own staff. It”s clear though, one year later, that the department is back on track. The recent appointment of Tommy Amaker to men”s basketball coach is a sign that Martin is the perfect man for the job.

No, the sports column was never frustrating. Because I”d discovered that college athletics are really nothing more than a window to college life the same life I spent all night last night trying to define.

Some people have told me the best way to define college is by the moments you can replay in your mind. I suppose there are plenty, some of them connected to this paper, some of them to sports in general:

Halftime standing on top of the Purdue press box the air so lucid you can see forever, so crisp you can inhale deeper than you ever have in your life.

Midnight in muggy Atlanta after a basketball game, watching your colleague drink rum as it pours off the bare midriff of a southern belle.

Faceoff at Yost Ice Arena on opening night, screaming in your friend”s ear just to be heard over the pep band, trying to cover the excitement on your face with a mask of intent professionalism.

Walking for the first time into the Michigan Stadium tunnel.

To be honest, I don”t want it to end that”s the other conclusion I came to last night, staring the ceiling into blurry submission. Because as of today, there is no longer such thing as Dave the columnist. And in 12 days, no such thing as Dave the student or Dave the anything else.

Everything that has more or less defined me in the last four years becomes officially history, and it”s time to start all over like it or not.

But as Tommy Amaker packed up to leave Seton Hall and begin anew at Michigan last week, there was considerable public outcry due to his departure. As the story goes, he was distraught until his local barber mentioned this:

“Well Coach, the fact is that maybe people are upset and disappointed, but it beats the heck out of people throwing a party that you are leaving.”

And maybe that”s the way to look at college.

No, I don”t want it to end but it sure beats the heck out of whining, wishing it were over.

And until it is over officially I plan on doing everything I haven”t done, everything I”ll never get the chance to do again.

Tomorrow, I”m going to the Arb.

David Den Herder can be reached at dden@umich.edu.

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