MADISON, Wis. -- Spencer Bell likes sports, enjoys playing video games and believes that Kraft Easy Mac is the greatest invention of the last 100 years.
Sounds like a typical college freshman, right?
So, why write about Spencer Bell?
Because Spencer Bell is not a typical college freshman.
In fact, if Bell were just a typical college freshman, life would likely be a whole lot easier for him. But, it’s not, and that’s just fine by him.
A native of Maple Grove, Minn., Bell came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a great education, the sense of community and a love for the Midwest.
“It’s definitely a big step up,” Bell said. “Coming from high school straight to college is a big difference, but I think I’ve adjusted well.”
Adjusting to new life as a college student is tough enough alone, but Bell has been juggling a couple extra-curricular activities as well.
No, Bell didn’t sign up for an intramural sports team or join one of the 800-plus student organizations on campus--though he likely could have found a club devoted to fellow Easy Mac lovers, like himself.
Instead, Bell signed on to manage a first-year college schedule that includes being a full-time student, a walk-on student-athlete with the Wisconsin men’s hockey team and a cadet in the Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
The decision to tryout for the hockey team may have been the easiest of the three.
“I was coming here anyway for school,” Bell said. “So, I thought I’d give one of the coaches the call and just see. I’ve got nothing to lose, you know?”
The resume was certainly there. Playing prep hockey for Maple Grove Senior High during the 2011-12 season, Bell tallied 19 goals, 26 assists and 45 points in 30 games. Bell also scored four goals in the Section 5AA championship, helping to lead the Crimson to a stunning 15-1 win over Blaine High School and clinch Maple Grove its first trip to the state tournament in school history.
A thrilling end to his prep career, Bell would later make a phone call to former UW assistant men’s hockey coach Bill Butters about the prospects of him walking onto the team.
“I called up Coach Butters,” Bell said. “They had an open spot and they didn’t have time to bring in a new guy and get him enrolled. So, I called at just the right time and got pretty lucky and they brought me in. It was really exciting for me.”
The next decision, joining the ROTC, wasn’t made quite as simply.
“I had thought it over for a couple of months my senior year of high school,” Bell said. “I had always wanted to serve in some way, shape or form. I applied for the program and then they gave me a scholarship to come to school here.”
The decisions made, the plans in place, Bell moved to Madison, Wis., with his new responsibilities and schedule. Understandably, it took a little adjusting.
“I don’t have a lot of free time,” Bell said simply.
Have him walk you through a typical day and you understand why.
“I’ll usually get up around 5:45 a.m. for (ROTC) workouts,” Bell said. “A lot of the ROTC stuff is in the mornings. Then, the hockey stuff is in the late afternoons and I have my classes in between.
“It’s worked out alright, but like I said, I don’t have much free time.”
It’s typical for many freshmen to begin college undecided on an exact study or unsure of where they’ll be five years later. The same can be said for Bell.
“I have no idea,” Bell said of his future. “I’ve always also been interested in the medical field. I planned on coming here for pre-med and then maybe going to medical school after. With the Air Force and being a rescue officer, we get that medical training too and then you’re saving people and that’s kind of a good mix for me.”
A hefty mix of things taking place in his life already, no matter what happens along the way or the decisions he reaches, Bell has set himself up to take on a number of his passions--as cumbersome and daunting as the ensuing schedule may be.
Search through all the classes, practices, meetings and commitments, however, and somewhere buried underneath it all you find an individual who believes things couldn’t make any more sense, resulting in what he calls a “win-win” situation.
“It’s kind of a win-win getting my school paid for and getting to serve my country,” Bell said. “The idea of coming here and getting to play hockey at Wisconsin at a Division I college right out of high school is pretty cool, too.”
What others see as loads of labor, Bell sees as labors of love.