by David Hermanson, Staff Writer, December 2021

In a speech this past November, Head of School Catherine  Hall, Ph.D., stated that Nobles embraces athletics as a means to teach teamwork, interpersonal skills, and leadership ability. Sports at this school, she argues, are about more than just what position you hold on the field, but about connecting us as a community and striving for our personal best. However, this does not accurately portray the athletic experiences of many students. For many, being on a varsity sport does matter, and it has larger implications than just being respected by their peers. Sports, it seems, have become more about these larger values.  

As with a variety of other facets of the high school experience, such as club attendance and student leadership, it is inarguable that sports can play a huge role in college admissions. This factor alone, given the competitive nature of Nobles, means that students often place a large weight on their athletic performance, so much so that many consider dropping sports altogether if their abilities are poor in relation to their peers.

But are students’ college fears warranted? Studies suggest that they may be. In one such study by The Atlantic, for example, it was found that Harvard and a great many other Ivy League schools significantly rewarded applicants that demonstrated remarkable athletic ability. The Atlantic explains, “All applicants to Harvard are ranked on a scale of one to six based on their academic qualifications, and athletes who scored a four were accepted at a rate of about 70 percent. Yet the admit rate for nonathletes with the same score was 0.076 percent—nearly 1,000 times lower. Similarly, 83 percent of athletes with a top academic score got an acceptance letter, compared with 16 percent of nonathletes.”

Given these statistics, it is no surprise that many see sports as a means to “balance out” poorer performance in other areas. Even for athletes that are not necessarily looking to be recruited, having years of high level dedication to a particular sport looks good on a resume and often distinguishes you from other applicants with similar academic performance. Having athletics, or some other extracurricular, such as theater for that matter, as a so-called ‘tie-breaker’ can prove to be useful. 

According to the College Board, “Athletics show that you’re able to make a long term-commitment,” and extracurricular activities as a whole can “help you show colleges who you are.” Passions, the College Board alludes, help you come off as a more rounded and capable individual. 

Eva Midura previously pointed out the fact that JV teams often feel underappreciated (“JV: Overlooked and Underappreciated,” The Nobleman Vol. 111, No. 2), and, given this context, a culture of superiority has emerged amongst students on varsity teams, similar to the idea of being in honors or AP classes. It follows that these feelings are a sign that Nobles Students believe that being on a Varsity team is indicative of some sort of larger success in the long-term. In a private school world in which everything is an opportunity to bolster one’s resume, why would sports be any different? 

Yet perhaps this is the wrong approach. JV sports as well as other lower intensity activities do serve as a means to bolster community spirit and they allow students to meet new peers in settings outside of the classroom. In addition, playing sports is genuinely fun for many and can lead to a variety of mental and physical health benefits, regardless of skill level.  

As with many topics and activities at the school, Nobles needs to reconcile with the fact that competition, at it’s core, is about bringing people together. It seems that the fundamental issue with varsity sports that has caused distress for some is that they become a means for students to push other kids down. Instead of worrying about the implications of our current performance, it would do many a much greater service to simply enjoy the moment that they are in now and understand that we are all on our own track to improvement.