By Tyler Sakalys-Moore '22
For Chris DeVito, Kalamazoo College was probably the least likely destination for him. He grew up in Florida and transferred twice in the process of making his way up north to Kalamazoo. He never even knew of the college until a chance encounter that would end up leading him to the school that completely turned his life around.
Chris began his freshman year in 2018 heading to Florida Gulf Coast University after being recruited to play soccer there. It was a great opportunity for him as soccer had practically been his life up to that point, volunteering and playing any chance he had.
Still, he ended up getting cut from the team just before the preseason, and his Division I dream began to look a little less likely. He decided to still work with the team in the offseason so that he could stay with the sport.
A little over halfway through the school year, Chris got word from a few of his classmates that something had happened back at his high school (Marjory Stoneman Douglas). He rushed to call his family, but couldn't get ahold of them. Eventually, he got in contact with them, and he found out that his high school had been through a shooting.
"I found out that the kid who was the prime suspect was someone I went to high school with," Chris said.
He decided to head home to be with his family. He'd spend the rest of his semester there as his teachers were understanding enough to do whatever he needed from them at that time.
Back at home, he found things to be much more stable. He had a job coaching soccer and was more available to be with his family. He decided to make the transfer over to Florida Atlantic University, as this would allow him to live at home while still being able to attend a university.
That summer, he decided to attend a soccer camp with his brother so he could get out and play once again. About an hour into the camp, the head coach came up and asked Chris where he was playing. When Chris explained that he wasn't playing anywhere, the head coach decided to get him in contact with the current Kalamazoo College head coach, Lumumba Shabazz.
After a few FaceTime calls with Coach Shabazz, he remembers getting particularly excited about being able to better pursue academics first at K, as that had never really been an option before. The financial side of things was where he worried, but after some conversation with the financial aid team at K, he sent in his application to the school.
The day after receiving his essay on what changed his life, Coach Shabazz called Chris and offered him a spot on the team. Finally, after this long and challenging process, Chris was going to be able to make it all work.
Moving ahead two years, Chris is also a part of the Kalamazoo College men's lacrosse team. He had never even watched the sport before coming to K but gained an interest in it after befriending a few guys on the team and attending a few games. With the help of his friends on the team, he began playing through the spring and summer and began to get the hang of it.
After an injury-filled sophomore year, Chris emailed the lacrosse coach, Vince Redko, and after some conversations, he felt as though Chris could be a good addition to the team. Chris worked out all winter to prepare for the season, and when it finally was time to compete, he was able to make an impact.
"I played in all five games this year, and I had never played the sport. So to play as much as I did and to grow that much in the sport, in general, was incredible," Chris said.
Looking back on his experiences from Division I to Division III, Chris enjoys how he is treated as more than an athlete in Division III. Previously he experienced the perks you are given as a Division I athlete, and as wonderful as all of that is, as soon as he got here, he was put into a system that put academics first. This was all very new for him, but he talked about how he feels like he's now able to become an individual outside of his specific sport. He's been given more freedom to pursue things such as internships or a study abroad program. Overall, he feels as though he's looked at as an adult rather than a kid playing a sport.
"I feel like we're given the opportunity to make more connections with people. I don't know one person at this school who only has friends within their own team. I've made friends with swim, with lacrosse, both women and men sports, football, basketball, softball, it doesn't matter. Our athletic program is so tightly knit that we really are a big family."
Chris also spoke about how he appreciates the way that Becky Hall, Kalamazoo College's athletic director, puts in an effort to meet all of the athletes on campus. It's more than a job to her, and she cares about how everyone is doing. He also enjoys the way that professors and staff are receptive to all students rather than just making things easier for the athletes on campus. Even through this current pandemic, they are still holding office hours and reaching out to him and all other students to show that they genuinely care.
"That, to me, is huge, because it helps build you as a person. It helps build your esteem to show that you do have a support system. That's what K is. It's a huge support system for what we want to do."