Berklee Student Earns Male Athlete of the Year Award

Kyle Oppenheimer, an electronic production and design major in Berklee’s current graduating class, recently received the 2013 Male Athlete of the Year award for Emerson College.

May 8, 2013

When Kyle Oppenheimer crosses the stage to receive his diploma during commencement this coming weekend, it will be just one of many finish lines that he has crossed during his time at Berklee. Oppenheimer is an electronic production and design major in Berklee’s class of 2013 and a cross-country runner who recently received the 2013 Male Athlete of the Year award for Emerson College.

One of 35 students from Berklee who participated in official college teams at Emerson this year, Oppenheimer says he was pleasantly surprised to learn about the award and the resulting awards ceremony at Berklee on May 1 for him and other student athletes. “It was cool to have Berklee recognize me, but obviously I’m not doing it to get recognized,” he says. “Anyone at Berklee who does athletics at Emerson is getting up at six in the morning, giving up their Saturdays to go to meets or games—it’s another level of dedication that I feel like we all have to have as musicians.”

Graduating students and others are encouraged to share photos, thoughts, and memories on social media using #berkleegrad2013, and then watch the action unfold on Berklee Live. Read 2013 graduate profiles here.

For those who may be unsure of how a Berklee student winds up with the highest athletic award from a college he does not attend, the answer lies in a partnership formed between Berklee and Emerson in 2003 that allows Berklee students to try out for Emerson’s Division III teams. But Berklee students have done more than just try out. In many cases, they have made the team and excelled. According to Stan Nance, interim athletic director at Emerson, “The Berklee student athlete is thought of very highly in the Emerson athletics department because they are some of our very, very best student athletes.”

This year, male and female Berklee students played on several Emerson teams, including the baseball, cross-country, soccer, tennis, volleyball, and lacrosse teams. While many of these Berklee student athletes have made impressive contributions to Emerson squads, Oppenheimer’s performance on the men’s cross-country team stood out.

“Kyle came in first for Emerson in every single meet this year,” notes Jane Stachowiak, director of student wellness and health promotion at Berklee. He also finished second overall at multiple cross-country meets in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) in which Emerson currently competes, including the GNAC championship race, which included approximately 90 runners. Oppenheimer finished the race with a time of 26:37, running about a 5:30 mile.

Emerson is now moving up to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) so, starting in the fall, Berklee student athletes at Emerson will take on tougher competition from the 10 other colleges in the conference, including Babson, MIT, and Wellesley. Although the Berklee/Emerson athletic partnership has been in place for almost a decade, Oppenheimer’s impression is that some Berklee students still may not know that this opportunity is available to them. Nance says that’s what he wants to work on: “What we don’t want is for a Berklee student to say, ‘Oh wow, I’ve played soccer for 10 years. I didn’t know I could play at Emerson.’”

Oppenheimer hopes that his experience and his award will help inform other Berklee students—particularly those who were active in sports in high school—that they can remain involved even though Berklee has no official athletic teams of its own. For Oppenheimer, who hails from Kingston, New Hampshire, the process began in his senior year of high school, when he emailed Emerson cross-country coach John Furey to express his interest in joining the team. Oppenheimer had been running every year since he was in sixth grade. He ran a 4:28 mile his senior year of high school and he was happy to learn that he could continue running cross-country at the collegiate level while attending Berklee.

According to Stachowiak, this level of interest from Berklee students is increasingly common. “Our students coming in are looking for sports more than they were 10 years ago,” she says. “I think students are more well-rounded now than they were 10 years ago.”

It’s probably fortunate that Oppenheimer is a strong runner, because his schedule demands that he move quickly. He plays harp, guitar, and bass and performs in shoegaze bands Infinity Girl and Winter. While he enjoys performing, his primary interest is in sound design and contemporary music production, which he studied at Berklee and which he plans to pursue as a career in New York City in the fall. Between attending classes, running cross-country, performing, and production work, Oppenheimer admits that “balancing everything can be challenging.”

That balance can involve playing with a band late into the night and then waking early to run on little rest, but he says the arrangement forces him to work more efficiently and he adds that any inconveniences are more than overshadowed by the rewards of competing and being part of a team that became like a family. In fact, his athletic and sound design worlds collided when he became friends with teammates who are filmmakers at Emerson. Oppenheimer has since collaborated with these teammates on film scoring projects.

In this way, rather than viewing music and athletics as competitors for his time, Oppenheimer sees them as a complementary duo, with each reinforcing the lessons of the other. He finds that the focus one must bring to playing a live concert is similar to the focus one must summon for a cross-country meet. He mentions another core point of commonality between the two: “If I want to improve, I have to practice.” While he loves making music and running, Oppenheimer acknowledges that there are times when “practicing isn’t always fun,” but he says, “I know that the end goal is more important than what I might rather be doing in a given moment.”

It is this level of dedication that helped Oppenheimer win the 2013 Male Athlete of the Year Award at Emerson. He is only the second Berklee student to win the honor (the first being Eric Dabdoub ’11, who took the GNAC by storm with an impressive flurry of goals and assists on the men’s soccer team at Emerson). Says Nance, “Kyle’s a phenomenal, phenomenal person and his athletic ability matches the person.”

Nance hopes to mine Berklee for even more outstanding athletes moving forward. “Berklee has been a major, major part of our success at Emerson,” he says. “Berklee students are usually some of our best players.”