Rowers Struggle For Balance Between Sports & Academics

While students struggled to deal with the stress of Advanced Placement examinations during the past two weeks, members of Andover’s Varsity and JV Girls’ Crew and Varsity Boys’ Crew also had to contend with early morning practices. Many rowers say they would not trade those practices for anything in the world. Others say they feel torn between their desire to train for a sport they love and their need to perform well in their classes and on AP exams. Some rowers, feeling the impact of morning crew on their academic lives, also said they are fearful of raising their concerns because coaches presented morning practices as a privilege that rowers needed to protect by not complaining to teachers, skipping classes, or using the Isham sleeping room. “What we say is that this is a privilege… If you cut a class and blame it on morning practice, the deans will say no more practice,” said the Girls’ Varsity Crew coach, Instructor in Mathematics Kathryn Green. “We don’t tell them to be quiet [about the practices], just not to make a big deal about them.” The Boys’ Varsity Crew Coach, WQS Cluster Dean and Instructor in Mathematics Peter Washburn, declined to comment. The early practices were approved by Director of Athletics Kathryn Dolan. Dean of Students and Residential Life Marlys Edwards said that when the time allowed to leave a dormitory was changed from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., she allowed for two exceptions, crew and The Phillipian. Ms. Dolan said, “I haven’t heard a single kid or parent complain about it. It’s up to the students and the parents. If someone has a problem, they should tell me.” Of the rowers interviewed by The Phillipian, many expressed their adamant support for morning practices. Those who felt they were paying an academic price for the rescheduled practices asked to have either their names or stories withheld because they did not want their dedication to crew, or their boat positions, to be called into question. School policy states that students who take APs in the morning are excused from classes all day. Those taking the tests in the afternoon are exempt from some classes and afternoon commitments, usually athletics. However, rowers do not get a break from sports. The first three girls’ boats and first two boys’ boats practice either at 5:00 a.m or in the late afternoon on days when any of the eight rowers in the boat have afternoon AP exams. The crew program, in the midst of a successful season, does not want to sacrifice two weeks of training, and it is difficult to conduct effective practices with boat members missing to take exams, members of the program said. However, juggling early or late practices, classes, and APs is taking its toll on some rowers. Several told The Phillipian they are struggling. For example, one student said he was so exhausted from his morning practice that he had difficulty staying awake during an AP. Another used the Isham sleeping room. A third student sought personal time for class after an early rowing session. Garrett Kirk ’04, who captains the Varsity boys’ team, said he heard a coach tell students not to “make the practices an issue.” “I feel that it is the right thing,” Kirk said. “If someone has a problem [with the practices], then they should talk to the coaches before they complain to their teachers.” Many rowers say they do not mind morning practices. Chris Zegel ’05 said that when his boat, B2, was given the choice of holding practice either post afternoon AP or in the early morning, his boat chose the morning practices. Dean Edwards said, “I don’t disapprove about them going out and doing their morning practices as they have done for a long time…G1 is undefeated this year and they want to go through their race this weekend and through Interschols undefeated. I think they are all pretty passionate about getting out on the river in the morning.” Dean of Studies Vincent Avery said, “It’s a difficult situation students face but the problem is not unique to crew. Music, plays and other extracurricular activities present the same difficulties. That’s just the nature of the academy, because we don’t limit what students can do.” “The practices aren’t really voluntary day to day, but it was voluntary to sign up for crew,” he said. “With crew, they know they will face this situation if they’re going to be doing the APs.” JV Girls’ Crew coach, Instructor in French Robert Moss, said that on some days during AP week, practices have to be held in the mornings to avoid changing boat lineups. “To preserve boat cohesion, we need to keep from altering the lineup,” explained Mr. Moss. “We wouldn’t be able to race well on Saturdays without lineup consistency throughout the week… If at all possible, we hold the practices in the late afternoon, but sometimes morning practices are the only way to make it work.” While Moss says that the practice schedule can be difficult for some students, he pointed out that students who are not taking APs have the afternoons free to sleep or catch up on studying. And he said, in most cases, the students want to come to the practices. “Students really don’t ask for time off because they are committed to crew. Ninety-nine percent of the time, rowers just say ‘I’m not going to let the boat down.’”