Have Deerfield sports declined over the past 20 or 30 years?
“Yes,” said J.J. Briones ’82, assistant director of admissions since 1996.
“If you look at the win-loss record,” said Nick Albertson, history teacher and assistant varsity football and varsity golf coach since 1978, “we are not as successful as we used to be.”
Many people, like English teacher Mark Scandling, coach of varsity boys and girls water polo as well as varsity wrestling, argue that the success of sports should not only be measured in victories. “For me,” Scandling said, “it has always been about participation, sportsmanship and competition. That is how I measure success.”
Scandling, who first arrived at DA in 1987, feels that even when defining success in terms of participation, Deerfield may be on the decline. He explained, “The main decline is in participation. The number of students who play two or three sports is very small, and although a good majority play two, there is a significant amount who only play one sport.”
English teacher Frank Henry ’67, who began teaching at Deerfield in 1982, agrees with Mr. Scandling. According to Mr. Henry, “The raw truth is that far fewer students play as many competitive sports as they did when I was a student. There are so many new programs that compete with the student-athlete, most notably exemptions of one sort or another.”
Another possibility for the decline is the ever-increasing “specialization” culture, in which many varsity athletes will concentrate only on their primary sport during their off seasons, rather than play a different sport. Mr. Albertson confirmed that athletics as a whole are being hurt by specialization: “Specialization works against our competitive ideals. There used to be athletes whose goal was to play football at a collegiate level but [who] also played a winter and spring sport. Now that is very rare.”
While these down sides may be true, many people still argue that specialization is necessary to prepare the next generation of athletes. Mr. Henry stated, “The world of college has asked us to prepare athletes for collegiate level athletics.”
Some believe the answer to our problems lies with the Admissions Office. R.J. Shamberger ‘16 asserted, “Our admission directors need to acknowledge that we need more players to compete within our intense league. When our historically great JV football team has nine players, there is an obvious problem.” Many students fear that a continual lack of performance will deter students from choosing Deerfield.
Nonetheless, Deerfield teams are still performing at very high levels. In recent years boys and girls crew, boys lacrosse, boys and girls water polo, and girls cross-country, among others, have enjoyed high success.
The development of the arts program —and the need to maintain it with the completion of the Hess Center for the Arts—has brought an influx of talented dancers, musicians, and other artists. This change could explain a slightly decreased emphasis on athletics in the Admissions Office.
As noted by many, balancing success in various sports, academics and the arts is always going to be a difficult proposition for a community as small as Deerfield. Mr. Scandling would like to remind the community, “If decline is measured in terms of wins or losses or even participation, there is no question that the success of sports, in recent years, has declined. But has the experience of being on a team declined? No. In the end, that is what is most important.”