Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Right Way

We find ourselves at the end of the fall athletic season and the beginning of the winter season. I had the opportunity on Friday night to talk briefly with the football team after the game, because I think despite their won-loss record, they’ve really represented our school with dignity and class, and they competed with pride in their team and school from the beginning to the end.

As you know, we’re celebrating our tenth year as a school this year. High school athletics has changed a great deal in those ten years, and not for the better.

• Those of you who are athletes—in any sport—know that it’s a now year round commitment: In addition to weight-lifting, you’re supposed to be playing club ball in the off season, and in some cases, even play club ball during the high school season. Too many give lip service to the idea of “student-athlete” but then expect you to play on two different teams simultaneously, with a demanding practice schedule and travel tournaments every weekend, and expect you to perform at your best in the classroom. Something's got to give; there's only so much of you that can go around.

• Too many of you are also under pressure to “specialize” in one sport by your club coaches, who are telling you it’s the only way to get a scholarship, but the cost is you don’t have a chance to join other clubs and participate in other extra-curriculars at the school, much less represent your school on other athletic teams. And no matter how much you love a sport, if that’s all you’re doing year round, year in and year out, it gets boring at best and stifling at worst. I heard a comedian once say: “My wife was in labor for 30 hours before the birth of our first baby. I don’t even want to do something that feels GOOD for that long!” But some adults expect you to start playing year round ball when you’re 8 or 9, and find it mystifying when you’re ready to quit and do something else when you’re 16 or 17.

• Schools, too, are to blame. Too many are importing athletes, giving them what can only be described as “pay for play” scholarships, simply for the purpose of winning. When we were interviewing candidates for athletic director last year, I asked each candidate what steps he would recommend to improve our athletic program. One candidate said simply: “Give out more athletic scholarships, lower your academic standards, and hire tutors to help the athletes you bring in. “ I appreciate this coach’s candor—we often try to politely avoid being so blunt—but that’s exactly the formula some of our competitors have adopted. And to what end? So that we can feel good about having the best team money can buy? Is that really going to make us proud?

That's not who we are.

I am as competitive as any person in this school, but if we sell our soul for the purpose of winning we have betrayed our school’s mission and the higher purpose of high school athletics. Instead, we will continue to build our program the right way:

• We will continue to seek students who are committed first to receiving a first tier education in addition to the opportunity to play for their school and seek out families who support that goal. That will always be an important priority. If you’re only interested in coming to JPII for a sport, you won’t make it through the academic program. We are committed to the Renaissance ideal here, where you develop the whole person: your minds, your artistic abilities, your faith and your athletic talents.

• We will continue to hire excellent coaches who are similarly committed to the school’s mission, who care about you and your development as young men and women as their highest priority. Our coaches are quite good—show me better lacrosse coaches, for example, or a better weightlifting coach, or a more credentialed high school football coach, or more successful soccer and cheerleading coaches. I don’t think there are any, and I only mention those few to make the point.

• Yes, we will continue to accept with gratitude gifts from donors such as Mr. Carell, who has now allowed us to have one of the nicest facilities in all of middle Tennessee.

• Coach Zazzaro, your coaches and I will lobby the TSSAA for more control over our schedule, so that we have more flexibility to schedule teams who share our philosophy concerning high school athletics, rather than be forced to play too many games with those who do not. We will do our best to encourage reforms within high school athletics that discourages importing of athletes for pay. We will continue to give financial aid to the best of our ability to ALL families who need it, whether or not their children are athletic, because that’s who we are and what we believe.

• And we will continue to celebrate the successes of the MANY athletic teams who win the right way here. Let us not forget, we are the reigning state champions in lacrosse. We are perennial contenders for the state title in hockey. Our soccer teams, boys and girls, typically go deep into the playoffs each year. Our baseball team has been to the play-offs for two years now. Our swim team dominates Sumner County and has individual athletes who are tops in the state. Our golf team has been to state for consecutive years. Our bowling team has won a state championship. Our women’s basketball program is very competitive.

All of us, whether we’re “in” to athletics or not, should be proud of our players, our coaches and teams. Similarly, all of us, whether we’re “in” to the arts or not, should be proud of the quality of our choral, theater, visual arts and instrumental program. We should be proud of our math and science teams, our Model UN teams, our Youth in Government teams, our Forensic team—any group that represents us against other schools. We are proud of the accomplishments of our students and our classmates where-ever and however they shine.

JPII is an excellent school. We are the Knights. I am proud to be your principal.

No comments: