With bold white letters spelling “Andover” across the shoulders of their jackets, varsity athletes can easily be spotted at Andover. When I see my peers sporting these navy windbreakers, I immediately have respect for them, but varsity sports at Andover are just one of many ways for students to find this “respect” on campus – failing to reach the varsity level of athletics is not an end all. We should learn to appreciate Junior Varsity (JV) and Lifetime, Instructional, and Fitness Education (LIFE) sports to a greater degree.
Bill Littlefield ’66 spoke at All-School Meeting last week to give insight into what it is like not to reach the varsity level. After failing to make the Varsity Football team, he was left only with the option of playing soccer, a sport in which he had no interest. I related to Mr. Littlefield’s disappointing experience with athletics in many ways. It can be very defeating to know I will probably never participate on a varsity team. From a young age, my parents had signed me up for teams and lessons, but I was never exceptionally coordinated. Even with private lessons, it became clear that I was not a natural athlete.
Before coming to Andover, my lack of athleticism never seemed like that big of a deal to me. At the start of my Junior year, however, I quickly realized that the majority of students had at least one sport for which they were determined to achieve a varsity letter. Juniors who had already made a varsity team immediately became the center of social culture within the grade. The overwhelming pressure to be on a varsity team exposed me to the idea, for the first time, that varsity is the only respectable level at which to play.
Sports play such an important role in our lives at Andover. Other disciplines such as art and music are required for a few terms, but we are required to participate in an athletic activity for every single term of our Andover careers. We scream and cheer for the varsity teams on Andover/Exeter Day, and “The Weekender” is packed with athletic events every week. These factors emphasize the importance of athletic excellence, which can be demoralizing for students who have been doing drills since childhood and simply cannot reach the varsity level.
I am not suggesting that everyone should be able to play Varsity, nor do I believe that there should be no varsity teams. Instead, I would suggest that JV teams and LIFE sports be treated with more respect by students. Thus, we would be able to ease away from the idea that achieving the varsity title is the only way to be athletically successful. Varsity sports build character, leadership and an appreciation for teamwork, but we need to acknowledge that JV and LIFE sports can do the same thing.
In LIFE sports especially, steps need to be taken to maximize students’ options. One improvement could be increasing the availability of more popular LIFE sports, which includes dropping the rule that limits students from taking Yoga multiple times that was exposed by Olivia Michaels in her Commentary article in the January 9 issue of The Phillipian. Another important step in the expansion of the LIFE sports program could be the addition of levels based on intensity. Hopefully our community can stop dismissing LIFE sports as simply athletic requirements.
If we are able to gain appreciation for and improve the JV and LIFE sports programs, we will have a much healthier state of sports like the one that Littlefield advocated for in his presentation. No student should ever have to participate in an athletic activity at Andover feeling entirely defeated or miserable.