In the fall of 2014, current senior Kaitlyn Yang was a freshman at Redwood High School. Although she swam competitively for about six years prior to entering high school, jumping into the pool at her inaugural tryout was Yang’s first time ever playing water polo. The sport felt difficult in the beginning, but she pushed through and, after much time and practice, even made it onto the varsity squad. Throughout her water polo career, Yang developed a strong work ethic and formed lasting friendships. But none of this would have been possible were it not for the existence of a freshman water polo team the year Yang tried out. Without it, she might never have even made it past that first day in the pool.
According to the Tamalpais Union High School District website, our district’s student population experienced a 16 percent increase in the past two years. The class of 2021 is the largest class in decades. Course offerings have expanded and Redwood provides more sections of most classes in order to account for this growth. Athletics, however, haven’t followed suit. As a result, tryouts sometimes feel as though athletes are competing for space in a bird bath that’s meant to hold last generation’s population. More opportunities should be available for students wishing to participate in Redwood athletics, either by adding more sports or by adding more levels to already existing ones, because it is in the students’ best interests academically, competitively, and socially.
While the media still perpetuates the “dumb jock” stereotype, studies have shown that athletics actually improve grades. In a study from the University of Kansas in 2014, researchers compared academic performances of athletes to those of non-athletes across the state. The study discovered that students who participated in school athletics often had higher assessment scores and lower dropout rates than their counterparts.
Speaking from experience, my sports teams have provided me with the basis of a strong physical work ethic, which easily transfers into a strong mental drive. This could be one of the reasons for the results of the University of Kansas study. If academic excellence is valued by the Redwood community and participation in sports has proven to increase grades, why would we not increase the number of spots available?
Some may say that an increase in available spots on teams decreases competitiveness, but in reality a larger team would only increase competition. This past year, 11 freshmen, eight sophomores and four juniors made the girls junior varsity (JV) water polo team. At 23 athletes, the team surpassed the average size of past years. In order to fit the large quantity of players, the coaches created a freshman team. Water polo is played less by youth than other sports, such as soccer or basketball; therefore, introducing more girls to water polo during freshman year creates a broader field from which a varsity team can be formed in future years.
In addition to increasing competitiveness, participating in high school sports builds community. Yang attributes this to the consistency athletic teams provide.
“[Being on a team] provides a place you can go and see the same people every day that’s outside the classroom. Having to work together as a team [consistently] definitely made us a lot closer,” Yang said.
Bringing people together over a common interest creates an authentic community of people who might never have met each other if not for the sport. For example, I played JV soccer freshman and sophomore year. Even though my team was not competing at the highest level, we still bonded over our common goal of winning and improving, which eventually created friendships I don’t think I would have made if not for the sport.
Another argument against broadening athletic opportunities is that Redwood doesn’t have the facilities to support them. While it may be impossible to increase available space, time is something that can be controlled. By purchasing portable floodlights for Ghilotti (Lacrosse) Field similar to the ones used on the football field, practices could take place after the sun goes down. This solution would be especially helpful for winter sports, when the sun sets before 6 p.m.. By ending practices before 8 p.m., community concerns about light pollution would be solved.
Many athletes have one moment from their high-school careers that they remember for the rest of their lives. Whether that moment is hitting a buzzer-beater shot, scoring a game-winning goal, or, as it was for Yang, finally melding with her team during an important game, most of those people wouldn’t trade that moment for anything. By increasing the athletic opportunities at Redwood, the district would provide more students with these kinds of memories, increased academic success and an improvement to their high school experiences as a whole.