‘LIFE’ Sports Struggle to Attain Varsity Status

Not all fitness activities can transition to become a varsity sport. Andover currently has 35 varsity teams, as well as 17 “Lifetime, Fitness, and Sports Education” (LIFE) activities that do not have the status of a “sport” and typically do not compete interscholastically. Many students involved in LIFE activities would like to see their sport become varsity-level. However, according to the Interscholastic Coach’s Handbook, one requirement for a varsity sport to exist is interscholastic competition. Unfortunately for these aspiring varsity athletes, it is difficult for a new sport to acquire varsity status, said Michael Kuta, Andover’s Director of Athletics, because there is a rigorous set of standards listed in the Interscholastic Coach’s Handbook. Many of the LIFE activities or proposals for new sports meet certain criteria, but are lacking in other areas. For example, a rugby team could satisfy the competition requirement, but might not meet safety requirements, Kuta said. Winter Search and Rescue, currently a LIFE activity, hopes to one day become a varsity sport. According team leaders Adam Tohn ’10 and Mollie Lee ’10, Search and Rescue is essentially a climbing team that competes interscholastically in climbing competitions. Both Tohn and Lee believe Search and Rescue meets varsity sport guidelines. Tohn said, “I don’t see a distinction between climbing and a normal varsity sport.” Lee agreed, although she said that not many schools have a climbing program at the same caliber as Andover’s program. According to Kuta, however, there are some fundamental differences between Search and Rescue and a sport, let alone a varsity sport. Kuta said that he supports Search and Rescue but not as a sport. Kuta said that Search and Rescue is not meant to be competitive but rather a bonding exercise. Kuta agreed with Lee that there is not enough major interscholastic competition for Search and Rescue. Budget is another criterion mentioned in the Interscholastic Coach’s Handbook. Kuta said that in order for Search and Rescue to become a varsity sport, it would require more coaches, equipment, funding and safety precautions, all of which are fairly expensive. Kuta said that he must also consider the popularity of the sport and how much the activity “enhances the nature of the entire athletic program” when considering the creation of a new sport at any level. If the making a new sport does not improve the overall athletic program, then it will not become a sport, said Kuta. “We have to be very careful in moving forward,” Kuta said. “[Andover] would have to remove something from the current program to add new sports.” Non-traditional sports have greater difficulty transitioning to the varsity level. “It’s easy to add a traditional sport, but it gets more difficult when the sports are not recognized by NEPSAC [the New England Prep School Athletic Council],” said Kuta. Ultimate Frisbee is the only non-traditional varsity sport offered at Andover that is recognized by NEPSAC. It is also the most recently added sport. The NEPSAC board is currently evaluating Ultimate Frisbee as a sport at the request of Kuta, since many other prep schools compete in the New England Prep School Ultimate League.