May 21, 2014
Link: Minnesota's Big Ten Medal of Honor Winners
Link: B1G Medal of Honor Memories: Bill Baker
Link: B1G Medal of Honor Memories: Jayson Ness
Link: B1G Medal of Honor Memories: John Roethlisberger
Link: B1G Medal of Honor Memories: Carol Ann (Shudlick) Smith
The Big Ten Conference is celebrating 100 years of the Medal of Honor in 2014. Minnesota will announce its 2014 male and female winners on June 4. Until then, we will look back at some previous student-athletes who were bestowed with the Big Ten Medal of Honor, which is one of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." It was the first award in intercollegiate athletics to demonstrate support for the educational emphasis placed on athletics and was acclaimed throughout the nation, and in particular by the NCAA "as one of the significant gestures yet made in college sports."
Rochele (Goetz) Williams received the Big Ten Medal of Honor award in 1988, the second Gopher volleyball player to ever receive the award. A former team captain, Williams was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and played with the Gophers from 1984-97. As a senior, Goetz posted career highs in digs (213) and aces. Following her playing career, Wililams graduated with a degree in journalism in 1988, married Gopher football alum Brian Williams and moved to New York as he played in the National Football League (New York Giants) for 10 years. They have three children, one of which is current Gopher football standout, Maxx Williams.
Gophersports.com: What did winning the Big Ten Medal of Honor mean to you?
I was so honored when I received it. I did not expected it at all and I was very proud to receive this award. It validated all the hard work you put into it. Going to school and being an athlete, it was a great feeling.
GS: How would you rank receiving the Big Ten Medal of Honor among your collegiate athletic career accomplishments?
RW: There's no comparison. For me, it was my top accomplishment. I played a lot, but I didn't really receive any other honors so it was really a highlight to my whole volleyball career and it capped off a great season. I think the Medal of Honor is such a prestigious award. I feel so proud to be a Gopher and to receive that honor.
GS: What have you been up to since you've left the University of Minnesota?
RW: I graduated with a degree in journalism in 1988. I started out in engineering, switched to journalism and ended up working in tax preparation. My life took a different curveball when Brian started his NFL career. We moved out to New York, have three kids. My oldest, Danielle, just graduated from Bemidji State and played hockey there for four years. That was a lot of fun watching her play. Maxx is obviously at the U of M playing football. We also have a sophomore in high school, Michaela. When we were in New York, I was a stay-at-home mom. Since Brian retired from football and we moved back, I have a tax preparation business with my mom. I've been very fortunate as I got to see all of Danielle's college games and I can attend Maxx's games. Not everyone gets to do that and it's been really fun.
GS: What are some of your favorite memories from your time at the U of M?
RW: I have a lot of great memories, but some of my best weren't even on the volleyball court. When we put out our media guide every year, we did a spoof or a theme to all of them. Those were really fun and I think it was such a great team bonding event that we just had a blast doing those. In my senior year when we did `Murder She Wrote' with Sharon (Oesterling) and I, we were the captains and had a great time. Steph Schleuder (former coach) had such a great sense of humor. It was just really fun to have that team atmosphere and bond.
GS: What is the biggest lesson you took away from your time as a Gopher student-athlete?
RW: Hard work, perservence and learned that everything isn't always going to go your way. You have to stick with it and go day by day. If you have a bad day, hope the next day goes better. As a student-athlete, I think you learn to apply that to your everyday life. That's the biggest thing, perseverance. You don't give in and you just never give up.
GS: You and your husband are both U of M former athletes. He had a great NFL career, but never won the Big Ten Medal of Honor. Do you remind him of winning this award?
RW: (Laughing) We jab a lot about that in this family. It's funny because he obviously had a wonderful career and it was neat to be a part and see that, but there is a lot of jabbing done in this family. We even jab about where our kids get their traits. The fact that I got this, it's kind of fun.
GS: Your son, Maxx, is a Gopher student-athlete. As a former Gopher athlete, what qualities do you try to instill in him?
RW: You have to work hard every day. You can do what they tell you to do, but at the end of the day, you have to do extra. We've done that really with all three of our kids. The one thing that we tell them is that they have to want it and they have to pursue it. We will be there to support them 100 percent. However, I'm not going to push you, unless you really want me to push and ask me to do it. They have to want it. That's how we've raised them since they were little and when they started in athletics. Maxx really has this drive and I didn't have to push him, he just has it in him. You have to work harder than the next person and show that you want it. I think he does that.
GS: Do you still follow the Gopher volleyball team?
RW: I didn't at first because we went out to New York. Football season is the same time as volleyball so it was pretty hard to come back to go to games. Once we came back to Minnesota, I brought my girls and Maxx to at least one when they were young. The last three or four years, I've been able to go to more games and I've always followed them online. They have the alumni event every year, but this last year was the first I was able to make. It was really fun and I was probably one of the oldest people to come by far (laughing). This year, the closest was three or four years after I graduated, but it was still fun.
GS: How much has the game changed since you played?
RW: My senior year in high school was the first year in Minnesota that you could play volleyball the whole year. When I came into the U, most of my teammates were from Chicago and surrounding areas. They were able to play volleyball all year when I came into the program. Now, playing all year, it has changed tremendously in the state. So many things have changed. One of the biggest changes now is going to rally scoring; when I played, you had to serve to score. I think that is a great improvement because it keeps the game going. We couldn't hit the net on a serve and now you can, the libero addition, there's so many ways that the game has enhanced. I had daughters that played volleyball in Junior Olympics and to see the amount of girls that are involved in the game now is good. It was a rarity to find girls in Minnesota when I played. The level of play here is just tremendous now.
GS: In closing, what would you say to future Medal of Honor winners or student-athletes in general?
RW: I hope athletes still realize that getting that award is such a validation of not just being a great athlete, but a great student. That is such an important part. Athletes have so many opportunities than we did when I was playing. I tell Danielle and Maxx that all the time. You have so much more than we did. Don't let it go to waste because who knows what tomorrow will bring.