The team gathered for a meeting. I stood up and looked them in the eye.
“Guys, I have to apologize. I will be missing one practice a month to work on The Sagamore,” I said. “I know I am letting you down and am sincerely sorry if you lose out because of my absence.”
Apologize? Because I have an academic responsibility?
I had made serious sacrifices to be on my team. Instead of receiving positive encouragement, I had to explain why I would miss as many practices as the typical teammate who got sick once, visited a college and had an unavoidable doctor’s appointment.
I was in an impossible position.
My job on staff at The Sagamore necessitated after-school time one week each month. My membership on a sports team also demanded near-perfect attendance, six days a week, every week.
Missing one of 24 practices per month is relatively minor. Spending 23 of the 30 or so days in every month in practice is a huge deal. My entire life does not revolve around sports, yet I take pride in committing to something such as this. Our coaches should recognize and praise us for such dedication.
Our athletic opportunities here are phenomenal: participating on a sports team is great, and our coaches are incredibly dedicated. However, the expected commitment is beyond reasonable; it is excessive.
Our teams are neither NCAA Division I, nor are they about making it to this level for most athletes.
The Common Application has 10 possible slots for extracurricular activities. We no longer live in a culture where participating in one or two activities is enough. But, with athletics especially, coaches seem to think their activity is the only one that matters, even over academics.
Though I understand everyone’s presence affects the team as a whole, no activities other than sports have the audacity to handcuff their participants.
Due to my membership on a sports team, I often feel pressure to put athletics over making up tests or meeting with teachers after school, sleeping as much as I would like, vacationing with family or meeting for other academic obligations. And my coach is more understanding than most.
The athletics department espouses the reasons to do sports, including doing better in school. I have interviewed Athletic Director Pete Rittenberg many times. He, like many coaches and athletes, mentions the leadership, dedication and determination athletics help to teach.
If a programmatic goal is to develop positive personal skills and qualities, we cannot afford to lose sight of this.
First and foremost we are students. Then we are athletes. High school is about a diploma, not a varsity letter. It is time to fall in line with the athletics department’s mantra that academics come first. No one should have to suffer academically because of a single activity and its inflexibility.
Family relationships should not be harmed by athletic commitments. I must prioritize being at practice over my vacations or risk losing out on opportunities to play and compete. However, I am about to leave my parents’ home for the rest of my life. Never again my vacation schedule line up with those of my two younger sisters.
If we travel together as a family this February or April, I will hurt my team and my own ability to compete. While I love my team, I lose out on building deeper relationships with family.
No teenager should be asked to choose between their sport and their family.
We must remember what our school’s leaders and administrators preach: balance. Dedication to a sport is important, but it should never come at the expense of academics. Practice is essential, but it should not intrude with restorative vacation time. We must rein the expectations placed on student atheletes.
High school sports teams should return to their roots. They are centered around improvement, fun and friendly competition and not world class athletic training that consumes every member’s entire life. That’s called the Olympics, and it is not for high school students.
Coaches, athletes, parents and teachers all cheer for the same team: us, the students. It is time we recognize how awesome it is to work together and build a team of caring, studious and dedicated individuals.
The last thing the athletics department should stand for is asking athletes who prioritize sports over academics or family.