Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I'm sure that I wasn't the only one surprised Saturday evening during the Callahan ceremony - twice. I felt confident, after hearing Gibson's name called as second runner-up, that Jolian Dahl had just won the Callahan. Indeed I saw a few of my Colorado buddies begin a premature celebration the moment Gibson's name was read over the P.A., only to sit hushed moments later when Jolian became runner-up to Kershner.
Similarly, as Kira Frew's name was read in the runner-up position, I wasn't even listening for Courtney Kiesow's name to be mentioned, hadn't detected its absence. I only saw the look of dejection and shock on Kira's name as she descended to the field prematurely, and then heard the Wisconsin Belladonnas erupt in joy as their candidate won.
Now RSD is alive with chatter about who was more deserving and who should have won, some appalled their horse didn't win, others defending the winners. Having seen Kershner play at Vegas, Stanford, and Nationals, and having seen Kiesow play numerous times in her career and at Nationals this year, I can attest to their skill. And as a people's choice award, you can't argue that they didn't deserve it; the voting public did chose them, after all. But even among their fans, most agree that this year's Callahan winners were not the best players in the pool. So why did they win? I think their victories were driven by two main elements, and I can't say the influence of either one in the selection of the Callahan is a bad thing.
Old and busted: No More Mister Nice Guy
New hotness: Good Karma.
For all the cordial criticisms of Kiesow's or Kershner's abilities as players in company of their competition, not one person has found a blemish in their spirit and sportsmanship. While I think Sherwood, Dahl, or Gibson are better players they were soured by anecdotal evidence (some anonymous and some not) that questioned their ability to play this game fairly, in control, or with the highest respect for their opponent. In contrast, Kershner had people in queue to discuss how great a leader and opponent he was.
Kiesow also escaped any repudiation from her peers, and people discussed her personality with the same importance as her stellar play. Kira Frew, for all her skill and incredible throws, is known as a fiery competitor and demanding, type A personality. She need make no excuses for herself, but in a sport that seems to demand Spirit from its ambassadors, she may have lost those few crucial deciding votes to someone with the temperament of a teddy bear, Kiesow.
Our demand for a spirited candidate already noted, each of the Callahan winners also benefited greatly from video exposure. Though I was impressed with Arizona's athleticism, I never fell in love with the team the way others did. Their risky play told me they'd end the season right about where they did, getting blown out in quarters at best. But the ultivillage clips of Kershner running amok in Vegas became some of the most watched on Rob's website, and people ran with what they saw. That it was Wisconsin's first time outside in 4 months, that Florida was just beginning its rise toward Nationals, that the tourney was as close to home-field advantage as Arizona was going to get was not evident on those clips. Kershner doing athletic things is. And in the climate where would-bes salivate at the thought of doing what they can't, dethroning the giants Florida and Wisconsin, the voter was hungry for a hero that could do that. In the footage they saw their man, and it happened in the first major tourney of the year, early enough that his name could grow familiar in the tongues of players across the country.
While Kershner's victory was helped by being the first to blow up on video among the male candidates, Kiesow's campaign was undoubtedly aided by being the only major candidate with her own campaign highlight reel, showing a wealth of photographic and video evidence showing that she can, in fact, ball up. Just shy of 700 viewings online, that number is more than enough to influence the outcome of such a tight vote. That there were other women who were as good as Kiesow was not as readily apparent; without footage to make it real to the voting public, how could they really know?
The selections made this year I think point to two trends in future winners. It seems we the voter demand two things from our Callahans. We want them honest and likable, allowing any character flaws or lapses in spirit to act as a veto towards a candidate. And we want to see them on video, to witness the hype personally and allow ourselves to be caught up in it.
That Spirit still holds trump in deciding the Callahan should be lauded; we should demand the best sportsmanship from our representatives. That future Callahan campaigns use multimedia to push their candidate seems a foregone conclusion in this age of input and technology, and I doubt anyone will win ever again before voters from California to Maine can see them with their own eyes.