By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – Last week’s annual Oscar Geballe Awards Luncheon was one of many examples of the type of student Cal can produce. Three undergrads demonstrated their intelligence, work ethic and vision at the event in the Cronk Room at the Simpson Center.
The academic accomplishments of these three students is impressive enough on its own. Now throw in the fact that each of them demonstrated the commitment, sacrifice and hard work that is required of a Division I student-athlete, and one walked away from the luncheon with a hefty dose of admiration.
Football’s Mitchel Bartolo, crew/track & field’s Maggie Simpson and women’s soccer’s Kathleen Messinger were the recipients of this year’s Oscar Geballe Postgraduate Scholarships, given to student-athletes that combine scholarship and athletics. Each was awarded a $5,000 stipend to continue his or her education at the postgraduate level.
The award was created by Dr. Theodore Geballe to honor his father, Oscar Geballe and his devotion to Cal. Dr. Geballe was on hand for the luncheon.
“I don’t think I could have visualized more talent than is here today,” Dr. Geballe said. “I think it’s wonderful for the university to show that it can be done athletically and academically. I think it’s important that the academic side of Berkeley culture be emphasized in athletics.”
All three student-athletes took distinctly different paths to success, but each also shared much in common, including the inspiration gained from the student-athlete experience at Cal. Bartolo and Simpson didn’t arrive in Berkeley necessarily expecting to play college sports. Messinger planned on making a big impact on the pitch before a couple of devastating injuries limited her performance.
Bartolo came to Cal and landed a spot on the football team after a tryout as a true walk-on. As a student, he became interested in water issues after taking part in a weeklong research expedition exploring the ocean’s response to greenhouse gases and climate change via robotic sensing data. Bartolo will do his postgraduate work as a research assistant at the University of Texas, where he will study water treatment quality and work on issues such as drought and pollution.
“Carrying the flag for this institution was the best choice I ever made,” Bartolo said. “I’m so fortunate for the opportunities that Cal has provided me over these four years. The Geballe family truly embodies the spirit of greatness of the Cal community, a community that I’m forever grateful to be a part of.”
Simpson had no experience as an athlete when she got to Cal but decided to take her shot at rowing. She ended up as part of the Bears’ varsity 8+ boat that won last year’s NCAA championship and was a three-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection. After completing her rowing career, she decided she wanted to try her luck as a thrower on Cal’s track & field team this season. She ended up with one of the top-10 best hammer throws in program history and will participate in this weekend’s Pac-12 Championships in Pullman, Wash.
“When I walked on to the campus, it was the athletic program that gave me a chance and opened up their arms and said, ‘You can become whatever you want to be’,” Simpson said. “Every step of the way, it’s been infused with passion and hard work, but none of that would have been possible had it not been for the people who gave it to me, the people who saw not what I had been doing because I had nothing in sports to offer, but saw the potential that existed within me.”
Messinger had grand plans for her athletic career at Cal but they started to get derailed when she broke her foot playing in a flag football game on her last day of high school. After recovering, she was ready to compete for playing time but then severely tore ligaments in her knee. She came back to start two games as a senior, but all the while developed an interest in the classroom in reproductive justice. Now, Messinger plans on attending law school and pursue a career in public interest law.
“Things didn’t really work out athletically for me the last couple years, which I’m really grateful for,” Messinger said. “Having not been injured, I would have never been forced to find a different identity. I think too often we feel like we have to have one identity or the other. You can have both. You can be both a student and an athlete. I feel fortunate that I’ve found that passion. The school and the support system that I have here has enabled me to really want to do that.”