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Athletic Exemptions Out of Control?

The beginning of each new school year brings with it a unique set of changes. These changes can seem awkward and unfamiliar at first, but more often than not, come mid-October, that which felt so foreign to us in early September is woven seamlessly into the fabric of our everyday lives, and we can hardly remember a time when things were different.

For example, the flashy makeover of the Greer Store and Fitness Center has certainly touched most, if not all, of our daily lives. With new equipment, machines, training rooms, and experienced staff, students reap the benefits of the new facility; it would be difficult to deny that the upgrade has changed the face of Deerfield athletics for the better.

Despite these obvious changes, along with their benefits, a more subtle change to the culture of Deerfield athletics has caught the attention and concern of members of our community.

As in the past, many students have been allowed to train for their respective “main sport” in their “off-season.” Swimmers, squash players, and hockey players, to name a few, sign up for community service or Special Exercise and are permitted to train with external coaches either on or off campus.

For upperclassmen who can choose Recreational Tennis or Special Exercise, such co-curricular exceptions do not change much. However, there are a number of underclassmen students who have now also been allowed to participate in this off-season training.

Though we strive to achieve excellence on the playing field at the varsity level in particular, I believe that the school has also fostered a strong tradition of athletics at the sub-varsity level. Time and time again tour guides tell prospective students that everyone, no matter his/her athletic abilities, can (and will be required to!) play on a team.

Many believe that, for underclassmen in particular, the community bonding that athletic teams foster is an intrinsic piece of our tradition and a defining factor of our sense of community.

For new students in particular, a teammate can act as a fast friend, someone to sit with at a walk-through meal or walk with between classes, easing the awkwardness or loneliness of those first couple of weeks at a new school.

Of course I believe that athletic excellence is an important goal to pursue. Deerfield’s numerous successes in interscholastic athletics have helped to define us as the prestigious institution that we are. However, I think it is important to consider and discuss carefully whether allowing students to focus on just one sport for the majority of the year, and foregoing the experience of new teammates and new athletic experiences, reflects Deerfield’s community values.

If we fail to reflect on the small changes that often alter our community dynamic in significant ways, it won’t be long before they themselves become woven into the fabric of our daily lives and we forget the old traditions that make Deerfield a place we cherish.