Everyone should play a sport at GDS, regardless of their athletic ability. While I recognize that some see little appeal in such activities, the importance of sports in high school extends far beyond practicing and competing. Sports in high school provide a necessary framework to engage in fundamental experiences like friendship and competition. They also serve to help feel a part of the GDS community, one that can often be overwhelming, especially when first entering high school.
Upon the recent completion of the cross country season, I witnessed firsthand the power of high school sports, even as someone who is not on the team. After the season ended with the MAC and DC state championships, many of the senior runners posted odes to their cross country experiences on Instagram. One such senior was Jamie Zimmermann, who captioned his post “best four” in reference to the four years he was on the team. In an interview, Zimmermann admitted to not loving running itself, yet still called running cross country for GDS something he “loved doing.”
The traditions that are built into high school sports are part of what makes them uniquely special. Activities like psychs, where an entire team wears coordinated outfits to build excitement before a game, exemplify the jovial atmosphere of GDS sports. Irreplicable bonds are formed through things like team dinners, and through the distinct cultures of each team—Zimmermann called the cross country team, which has about 80 people, “the biggest family outside of my own family that I’ve ever encountered.”
One of my favorite sports-related memories is a longstanding tradition on the GDS baseball team, which I am a part of. One night on the annual spring break trip to Florida, the entire team congregates in a single room, and each grade level is assigned a short skit in response to a prompt that the seniors on the team devise for them. The seniors then act as judges and award a prize to the winner. These skits bring the entire program together and create an almost familial environment as we all pack into one hotel room to laugh together.
When reflecting on his GDS sports experience, alumnus Ken Bailey ’22 told me the trip to Florida we took last spring was one of his best high school memories. In the last conversation I had with Bailey before he went off to college, we sat and reminisced about the trip, laughing and fondly remembering the joy and tradition we were lucky to be a part of.
Little traditions like the skits serve to bring students from different grade levels together to form connections that would likely not otherwise exist. Interactions between underclassmen and upperclassmen are far rarer during a regular school day, as they would likely not share many classes, than in an athletic environment after school. Juniors and seniors on teams are often quick to reach out to younger kids and are at times able to act as role models. “So many seniors would say hi to me in the hallway, and while that seems small, as a freshman coming into this big high school community that was really major,” Zimmermann said.
The friendships formed through spending multiple hours practicing every day in pursuit of a common goal are uniquely strong. Even only including practice time, you are spending a minimum of ten hours per week with the same people, meaning you are bound to build substantive connections to your teammates—connections which often transcend the cliquishness that can characterize high school social life.
As someone who has played competitive sports both in and out of school, I can say with full confidence that nothing compares to high school sports. I have traveled across the country, stayed in countless hotels and spent many hours at practices with club sports teams, but have never come close to the level of camaraderie with teammates that I have through GDS athletics. There is a level of allegiance to your community and closeness to your team members evident in school sports that is simply not present outside of school, and those feelings come to define the sports experience at GDS almost as much as playing the sport itself.
There is a reason why I look forward to playing baseball for GDS all year, and because of that, I address this piece to anyone debating whether to sign up to play a sport. I strongly encourage you all to try it out.