Record Breaker W&L Law student Charles Scharf '25L ran school best times in the 5K and 10K, all while dealing with the rigors of 1L year.
Charles Scharf didn’t come to W&L to run.
In fact, his decision to run cross country and track for the Generals was not all that different from the same one he made in 2018 before going on to a stellar undergraduate running career at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.
“Small, historic town. Small classes. Academic fit was really important,” said Scharf. He and his twin brother Christopher walked on to the cross-country and track teams at Dickinson, soon becoming the top two distance runners in the program. On the academic side, Scharf focused on philosophy and ethics. An upper level seminar on the philosophy of punishment piqued his interest in studying the law.
His brother, an All-American steeplechaser at Dickinson and now a law student USC Gould, put W&L on Scharf’s radar screen as both considered law school. W&L Law checked all his boxes, and after attending an admitted student open house, he knew it was the law school for him.
The global pandemic wreaked havoc on college sports, with many schools postponing or cancelling entire competitive seasons. Because of those disruptions, the NCAA granted all college athletes an extra year of eligibility. However, it was only after making his law school decision that Scharf began to consider using that final year at W&L.
“I had a successful career at Dickinson, but not the career I think I could have had were it not for time I lost to an injury and COVID,” said Scharf.
Scharf reached out to Coach Brandon Spalding, and after clearing the compliance hurdles and getting approval from Athletic Director Jan Hawthorn, Scharf was all set to compete for the Generals. He would be the first law student to run for the program since Sandy Hooper ‘97, ‘03L ran track as a 1L, finishing second in the 1500 meters at the 2001 ODAC championships.
“Charles carries himself with a calm demeanor, and his work ethic is unmatched,” said Spalding. “It is rare to have an athlete in any sport step into your program from day one and immediately be a leader.”
Scharf knew going into the cross-country season in the fall that managing school work and training would be a challenge, but long-distance runners are nothing if not disciplined.
“It was tricky at first to make sure I was balancing everything,” he said. “The workload is significantly different than undergrad. But I have done a good job using my time during the week to get ahead on law school work when we have competitions so I can be the best student I can be.”
Scharf got off to a quick start in September, winning the Shenandoah University Twilight Opener with a time of 15:22 over a hilly 5K course. He went on to earn All-Region honors in cross country, following a seventh-place finish in the South Region Championship. At the Division III Cross Country National Championships, he finished 52nd out of 292 runners. This was the best finish at nationals by a W&L runner since 1991 and the third best in program history.
Along the way he was also named a W&L Scholar Athlete and received USTFCCCA All-Academic honors for maintaining a high level of academic achievement. And Scharf was just getting warmed up.
During the indoor track and field season, Scharf focused on the 5,000-meter run. His time of 14:37.51 at the David Hemery Valentine Invite at Boston University was the fastest 5K time in program history, indoor or outdoor, and earned him All-Region honors for the season. He also earned Second-Team ODAC honors for second-place finishes in both the 5,000 and the 3,000-meter runs at the ODAC Indoor Championships.
Heading outdoors, Scharf lowered his 5K school-record to 14:32.81 in late March at the Colonial Relays hosted by William & Mary. He then set his sights on the 10,000-meter run—one of the most grueling events on the track. Competing at the Bucknell Bison Outdoor Classic on April 15, Scharf took down the program record with a time of 30:09.75 and also won the 10K at the ODCA Outdoor Championships. His 10K time is the 26nd best in Division III this year.
Despite the demands of the track season—or perhaps because of them—Scharf continued his excellence in the classroom as well and also landed a summer fellowship at Yale Law School. He will work in the Ludwig Center for Community & Economic Development providing transaction legal services to clients seeking to promote economic opportunity and development.
With his eligibility used up, Scharf hopes to stay involved with the running program in some fashion, perhaps as a volunteer assistant—a development that Spalding would surely welcome.
“Charles has easily put together the best year a distance runner has ever had at W&L,” said Spalding. “Our team will continue to benefit for years to come because of the impact Charles has had on W&L running.”
Looking back on the season—and his first year of law school—Scharf believes his competitive running helped him maintain focus on his studies while also providing an outlet to manage the stress of the academic program.
“I think being successful in both demonstrates that you do not really need to forfeit your personal interest or things that you enjoy in order to be successful,” said Scharf.
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