Club or Sport? Why Not Both?

     We really love sports here at Oyster River. In fact, over 70% of Oyster River High School students participate in a sport. They build team communities, keep athletes in shape, and can even provide high level athletes with scholarships. JV athletes also benefit from playing sports, but some might argue JV sports are too restricting for developing high schoolers.

     High school is the best time to find out what you enjoy. Since my freshmen year, I’ve found I’m passionate about many things like music, track, theatre, cross-country, writing, hiking, and photography to name a few. During the seasons I play sports, I never have any time to pursue my other hobbies, so I think at least JV sports should allow flexibility in athletes’ schedules, so that they have time to explore their other interests.

     I’m not ashamed to say I’ve run on the JV cross-country team for three years, and I enjoy it every year. I think the reason I didn’t make varsity this year is because instead of giving cross-country my full attention, I attempted (and mostly failed) to pursue my other interests. I understand why coaches want their athletes’ full attention, and I’m a good example because if I was completely focused on cross-country I would have improved much more. The problem is, alongside many other athletes, I am not concerned about becoming the best. We just want to improve enough with the added benefit of playing a fun sport.

     There are many student athletes who have missed out because of the strict JV sport schedule. This year was the first that Kate Stone (‘24) joined the cross-country team. She really enjoyed it and liked the idea of joining the indoor track team. The problem was that she’s also one of the vice presidents of the debate team and wanted to do that alongside track. She went up to the indoor track coaches and said something along the lines of “hi, debate team is really important to me and I’m a big part of it, but I’m [also] really interested in doing indoor track. I have to be able to do some of these [debate] tournaments, so I would probably miss one, maybe two meets.” Stone was told she could not run indoor track if she was also planning on committing to debate.

     I’ve never played a winter sport because of this. There are so many things I want to try, and I would never be able to try all of them if I played a sport for all three seasons. Last winter, because I wasn’t playing a sport, I got the opportunity to try clubs like ping pong, and rock climbing. I also had a lot more time to do things that I’ve loved for a while, like skiing and ice skating with friends and family. I even tried pond hockey for the first time! This year because I’m not playing a winter sport, I finally had the opportunity to join the winter musical, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

     Ulysses Smith (‘25), an athlete on the JV soccer team, loves to write. He wanted to join the writing club, which meets once a week, but he could not because of his strict soccer schedule. “I wanted to go to writing club, which happens on Thursdays. Since I had soccer practice right after school, I wasn’t able to go.”

     Smith explains how the varsity soccer team practiced at different times than JV. “They had practice from five to seven, so they could go to a club [after school] and then go to practice later, so I found that kind of unfair.”

     Stone thinks coaches should give their JV athletes time to participate in other activities. “I think [the coaches] should be a little more flexible with their JV athletes if they are passionate about the sport and the coach knows that, but they also have other obligations.”

     Smith felt similarly and thought that JV coaches should make that exception for their athletes that have multiple interests. “On a sports team you practice every day of the week, but [most] clubs only happen one day a week. […] I feel like it’s not that big of a deal to miss one practice and make one exception a week for you to go and explore different areas of life rather than focusing on sports all the time.”

     Being able to miss one practice a week sounds great for individuals, but missing athletes every practice would affect the team. Andy Lathrop, the high schools’ director of athletics understands the struggles of students trying to do it all, but brings up a good point. “It can be tough because there are other things that people want to do but when you have people coming and going it’s kind of disruptive to the whole team.”

     I completely understand this and know it’s hard to have a team when no one shows up. I think it will always be unacceptable to miss a practice for a club with no prior warning to coaches and teammates, but your team will be much more understanding if they know weeks in advance. “Coaches are willing to work with athletes, […] and there’s a lot more leniency and leeway when it’s done in advance,” states Lathrop.

     Stone decided that it wasn’t the coaches’ fault, but the fault of policy. “I’m not upset at the coaches for saying that because that’s sort of their overarching policy.” After I heard this, I read through both the NHIAA policy handbook and the official ORHS athletic handbook. The NHIAA said nothing about athletes missing practices, and the ORHS athletic handbook said: “participation in any sport requires that athletes adhere to attendance requirements specified by the coach. Disciplinary measures will be taken by coaches for missed practices.”

     This means that it’s up to the coaches to decide how they will handle the attendance policy for their JV athletes. I think JV athletes should be allowed to participate in a club or outside activity that they enjoy once a week, if their coach and teammates are notified about it at the beginning of the season. This way, athletes wouldn’t have to feel guilty for pursuing other interests, JV athletes would be incentivized to try new things, and students would be much more open to joining a sports team. If that was the rule, I might even be able to finally try a winter sport!

– Micah Bessette