Superstitious athletes will do anything to get an edge

As Renaldo Woolridge ’08 darts down the hardwood court of Taper Gymnasium,  something separates him from his teammates on the varsity basketball team.

While the forward certainly has a distinct style of handling and shooting the ball, running down the court and getting into his defensive stance, what sets Woolridge apart is not anything that has to do with his game. 

It is not even the  sweatbands that tightly wrap around his wrists, forearms, elbows and biceps, which is somewhat commonplace among his teammates.

What does set Woolridge apart is the two thick strips of white athletic tape that bundle the shoulders of his uniform, pulling it tightly into his neck.

The club team that Woolridge played on this summer, Pump ‘N’ Run, has a tradition of engaging in this practice, teammate Gaven Lucas ’08 said.  Woolridge confirms this tradition and says that the unusual custom is to pay homage to his teammates outside of school.

He said many other players on the team have interesting customs and even the team has a pre-game ritual prior to tip-off, but he does not necessarily buy into them.

“For some, it might help, but as for me, it doesn’t really affect me,” he said.

The notion of athletes being instantly identifiable by a superstitious aspect of their game or accessory is not uncommon in sports.

The plush Bengal head that rests on the face of Tiger Woods’ club bag, the New Zealand national rugby team’s Maori tribal dance prior to kickoff, Michael Jordan’s wearing University of North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls game shorts, even Brandi Chastain’s famed black sports bra — all of these trademark looks, moves and athletic accessories have been defining features of the athletes who possess them, and they all have attested to the power of mysticism helping them achieve a better state of mental readiness for games.

Many of the Wolverines’ own athletes, like Woolridge, have toyed with superstitious practices  of their own, similar to those of their professional counterparts.

Woolridge’s bunched-up jersey is not the only aspect of his on-court wardrobe that has a deeper meaning.  He wears a total of three sweatbands, two that encompass his wrists and one that wraps around his head.  They are all emblazoned with a red and black insignia with the number three — the same as Woolridge’s.

He also claims that his practice of wearing three pairs of socks every game has deeper spiritual meaning.  When the Wolverines wear their home white jerseys, Woolridge sandwiches a pair of black socks, the traditional color of an away uniform, in between two pairs of white socks — a practice that yet again obeys by the junior forward’s rule of three.  He does the opposite when the squad dons the black uniforms for road games.  By putting the team’s uniform color as his predominant sock hue, he is displaying his team’s ability to dominate an opponent, Woolridge said.

Lizzy Danhakl ’07 and Shannon Hart ’07, members of the varsity girls’ soccer team, have their own ritual when they enter Ted Slavin Field.

“It’s hard to explain,” Danhakl said.  “But we do a little chant, kick each other’s opposite feet twice on each side and then bump chests.”

Danhakl and Hart, who both play on the left side of the pitch, simultaneously give alternating cries of “Left side!  Strong side!” as they line up on the field.

“We’ve been doing it since ninth grade when we were on varsity, but we added the chant this year,” Danhakl said.

“It’s just superstition.”

As feet are the most necessary body part for a soccer player to focus on, Hart plans accordingly with another superstition.

“I wear two pairs of socks, one being my wolverine paw print socks,” she said.

Avery Rosin ’09, who plays both football and volleyball, affirms these motives for doing or wearing something unusual.  While he does not personally wear or do anything out of the ordinary to get him “game-ready,” Rosin is aware that many of his peers and fellow athletes engage in such practices.

“If it leads to success, then more power to them,” he said.

While Cassidy Horn ’08 does not necessarily believe in the power of superstition, she says that she must wear three Adidas items on her prior to departing for a match.

“It can be a skirt, shoes, socks or simply even a hair tie.  I don’t think it helps me before a match,” she said.  “I just like Adidas.”

While Chris Okano ’08 does drape a “lucky” shamrock necklace around his neck prior to cross-country races, soccer games and track meets, he also has a more practical reason for his superstitions.  Underneath Okano’s wristbands during soccer games, he wraps his wrists tightly in athletic tape.

“It helps me make sure my wrists are safe when I dive on the field,” he said.

The firmly-wrapped athletic tape aids him in his effort to stay safe after engaging in his fishy practice of feigning injury on the pitch, also known as “diving.”

As Danhakl puts it, whether you believe it or not, there is one reason for an athlete to uphold his or her superstition:

“It’s tradition.”