Admissions officers at the California Institute of Technology celebrated last year when they landed a major recruit. This student was not the 7’0, 260 lb. inside post presence that could help transform their basketball team from the most notorious loser — they had not won a single conference game in 26 years, since before the fall of the Berlin Wall — into an NCAA contender. This student was not the next great QB with remarkable foot speed and throwing accuracy to invigorate Caltech’s football squad and lead them to the Rose Bowl down the street. That team was eliminated long ago.
The student that the admissions officers at Caltech landed was the winner of the Intel Science Talent Search, the most prestigious science competition for high school students in the country. At a school that boasts 31 alumni and faculty members who have won the Nobel Prize, 65 who have won the coveted National Medal of Science or Technology, the highest average starting salary in the country, and the Sheldon character from CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, the Intel winner is always the golden prize for the Caltech admissions office.
But on Tuesday, the fate of Caltech’s beleaguered basketball team changed. In what has to go down as one of the great upsets in the history of sports, Caltech upstaged conference rival Occidental in the closing seconds of the game when senior Ryan Elmquist sunk a free throw and Occidental’s half-court heave fell short. The ecstatic fans in attendance immediately rushed the court and celebration erupted all across Caltech’s Pasadena campus. On that particular day, we were all Caltech fans rooting on the underdog. As they say, when the underdog has its day, there is no greater story in sports.
In a few short months, Ryan Elmquist, the hero of Caltech, will move to Silicon Valley where he will work as a computer software engineer for Google as so many bright and motivated Caltech students have done before him. And, of course, admissions officers at Caltech are now clicking their way through applications in the hope of finding their next Nobel Prize winners.
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