More than just a number

For some athletes, jersey number has meaning

Athletes have long been identified in three ways: their name, the team they play for, and by the number they wear. Some could say that the jersey number is an identifier or even a way to avoid confusion. Despite how spectators look at a player’s jersey number, many Cobber athletes consider the number they wear on their back as a way to represent the team they compete in.

For athletes here at Concordia College, the process of picking their number differs from one individual to another. Some athletes have a profound reason regarding why they choose the jersey that they do. However, for some athletes such as cross country runner, Kristin Westermeier, plays a sport where jersey numbers are more of an assignment than a choice of the athlete.

“We don’t really have a choice,” Westermeier said. “If we have five people in the race, our numbers might just be one, two, three, four, five.”

According to Westermeier, although jersey numbers can change throughout the season, the number on their back depends on player performances in each competition.

“A lot of time it’s based on our time,” Westermeier said. “So the fastest girls are going to be one, two, and so on.”

Even before college, Westermeier recalls that in high school, her team did not get to pick numbers for their jerseys.  Being in cross country for so long, she has gotten used to having a different number assigned to her every competition.

“It’s just a way of keeping track of us,” Westermeier said. “And they’re just stickers that they put on us, so nothing too fancy.”

In the middle of the spectrum, there is the soccer player – the goalkeeper, Liz Bitzan. The women’s goalie for Concordia’s squad had a choice dating back in high school – between three forms of numbers: “0”, “00” and “1.”

Bitzan decided to wear zero.

“I don’t like two zeros because that’s just – why not just have one?” Bitzan said pausing. “And then I didn’t want to be one because that’s cocky, so … I [kind of] like zero; that works!”

Since high school, “[kind of] like zero” was a little bit of an understatement for Bitzan, who later revealed her fascination with the number grew when she learned about the Mayan’s use of zero.

“They were actually the first people to come up with zero,” Bitzan said. “But, they hated the concept of nothingness.”

Bitzan explained that for a people who did not view zero as we do today, the Mayans used zero as a placeholder. According to Bitzan, the idea of the nonexistence zero represented was a progressive one at the time. At this point, it might also be wise to mention that Bitzan is a math major.

“So zero is kind of like Cantor’s infinity because everyone hated the concept of infinity,” Bitzan said. “Zero was kind of like that in the olden civilizations.”

For a math major with a new found love for the number zero, Bitzan is happy she decided to wear this number.

From one math lady to another, Olivia Johnson doubles as a member of Concordia women’s basketball and track and field teams. According to Johnson, her choice in jerseys had to do with a little bit of math and family history.

“When I was younger, one of my parent’s friends was a big basketball fan and she had number twenty-four and I [kind of] wanted to be like her,” Johnson said. “And so I started liking it really young.”

Johnson also mentioned that one of her older brothers also had a jersey with the number 24 and the love for the number grew. Upon arrival at Concordia College, Johnson had to part with her jersey from high school and pick a new set of digits.

“My freshman year, twenty four was taken by a senior, and so I just thought I’ll take it next year” Johnson said. “Then we got new jerseys, and twenty-four was not in my size.”

It was time to make a decision for the rest of her college basketball career. According to Johnson, her fascination with even numbers narrowed down her list of choices.

“A lot of our jerseys are even numbers anyway,” Johnson said. “Twenty-two seemed like a nice round number. So I went with it.”

Now after finishing her third season on Concordia women’s basketball team, Olivia Johnson is still wearing twenty-two.

For some of these ladies, it was not why they choose the number they wear, or whether they got to choose it at all. That number may or may not become a way of identifying one of them on the court like Johnson, or a designated player like Bitzan. Even for Westermeier, a number might not stick, but in cross country, a small number taped on the jersey means something great was accomplished.

According to Bitzan, who ended up appreciating her jersey number years after she picked it, you can make of it whatever greatness you want your jersey number to represent. As a goalkeeper, she could have switched to the “00” or “1”  jersey, but was happy that she stayed with zero in the end.

“It’s like this grand mathematical concept all wrapped into one oval.” Bitzan said.

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