NEPSAC Ruling Prevents Preseason Basics Citing Disappearance of Three Sport Athlete

A new regulation enacted by the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council in December prohibits specialized sports training out of the designated seasons. This rule will affect all specialized basics groups on campus, including crew, hockey, lacrosse, swimming and basketball. NEPSAC was established in 1942 as an association of athletic directors representing different New England independent schools. Although NEPSAC has no authority to enforce their recommendations, it is in good faith that schools are expected to abide by NEPSAC’s proposals. According to the definition provided by NEPSAC, the factors that determine an athletic practice are the involvement of student athletes, adult coaches, and equipment. The new regulation prohibits any sport-specific training involving these three defined practice characteristics that takes place outside of the regular season. Instructional level sports will be allowed to continue, since varsity athletes of a particular sport are not allowed to participate in the instructional level of their sport, and these programs are not seen as competitive preparation. One exception to the out of season training guideline is fall instructional crew. NEPSAC classifies crew as a two-season sport because of the competitiveness of fall crew in other schools. The Andover athletic board fully supports NEPSAC’s decision, because the intent of the proposal is to eliminate specialization among high school athletes to one particular sport. Kate Dolan of the athletic department explained that every single spring sport requested a winter basics program. The athletic department fears that these requests for sports specific basics have gotten out of control. Coach Leon Modeste, also of the athletic department, defends NEPSAC’s new rule, believing that by discouraging specialization, the athletic department is upholding Andover’s goal to promote well-rounded and diversified students, athletes, and people. Coach Modeste also emphasized that it is a great learning experience, both athletically and personally, for students to participate in a variety of sports. He argued that students can learn just as much from being the backup in one sport as they do from being the starter in another. Specialized sports basics encourage athletes to dedicate their time to one sport in which they excel, without challenging themselves with the opportunities of another sport. Justin Yi ’06, who participates in crew year round, disagrees with the school’s belief that students who specialize in one sport are missing out by restricting their athletic focus. Said Yi, “Last year I had the chance to try a sport different from crew, and crew wasn’t a sport of mine before I came to Andover, so it’s not like I have specialized my whole life.” Some students see the specialized basics programs as just a way of making focused atheletes better. Yi continued, “I feel we have a right to specialize in a sport if that is our focus, and although the school does not have to encourage it, they can at least allow us to pursue our own athletic interests.” The new NEPSAC regulation has also frustrated many athletes who believe the new rule has put them at a disadvantage compared to athletes elsewhere in the country who are not under restricted practice schedules for their particular sport. Rower Jasper Perkins ’04 commented, “Reality is, athletes everywhere are becoming more and more specialized. The new regulation puts athletes who have to abide by the NEPSAC regulations at a disadvantage compared to those athletes who condition year round.” Kevin McGravey ’04, head of the baseball basics program, added, “There are definitely benefits to participating in different sports, but as athletes get older, it becomes necessary that they specialize in the sport they are interested in developing a future with.” Andover has been the only school out of its peer schools to provide students with the opportunity to participate in preseason basic groups. Other NEPSAC schools have resolved to provide court and ice time, with no organized direction. Although the elimination of all specific basic groups will not be officially enacted until next school year, Andover’s athletic department plans to start reevaluating their basics programs this year. Martha Fenton, Andover’s Athletic Director, explained, “We are looking into providing other options for challenging and beneficial sports basics for students who have traditionally participated in the sports specific basics.” One solution the athletic board is exploring is the possibility of separating regular basics groups into different levels based upon the level of physical training the participant is hoping for. Some students believe this solution would add to the stress of athletes who wish to continue to dedicate themselves to one sport. Perkins explained, “By forcing athletes to participate in the regular basics program, it would put unfair time constraints on them because students who are dedicated to their sport will continue to train at a high intensity on their own, in addition to participating in a required sport.” If students choose to pursue their own athletic plan, it might bring about a dramatic increase in the number of students who “slide,” choosing to exercise their option to take one term without sports between Upper Winter and Senior Winter. The athletic department has not yet reached their final decision and will continue to explore all of Andover’s options. There continues to be much debate on campus between those who benefit from the sports specific basics, and those who feel it is contradicting our school’s mission. Ultimately, the athletic department will have to decide whether or not the benefits of the sports specific basics outweigh the benefits in promoting a diversified high school experience.