Do sports have a part to play in a young woman’s education? At Oakcrest, athletics provide a way for our girls to not only stay physically fit, but also build character, develop socially, and become leaders.
While physical fitness and healthy competition are valuable, at Oakcrest these qualities work hand in hand with forming our students into young women who respect their bodies, rise to challenges, and lead with integrity. At Oakcrest we play to win, but if we lose we still consider ourselves winners in many different ways.
In keeping with Oakcrest’s mission and philosophy, our athletic department seeks to lead our student-athletes to value commitment, academic success, and health and wellness as much as athletic competition. We instill in each athlete strong leadership skills and a sense of teamwork, fair play, and respect. Overall, we promote a holistic approach to sports and physical fitness— healthy bodies go hand in hand with healthy minds and spirits, and we address all these aspects of the human person in our sports.
With around 85 percent of our students participating in at least one sport, there’s no question that athletics form an important part of Oakcrest life. We offer a variety of different sports with 19 different teams, giving students of all interests and skill levels plenty of options to choose from. Fall athletes play volleyball, tennis, cross country, or soccer. Winter sports include swimming and basketball. And in the spring our students play lacrosse, track and field, softball, or golf. We also have non-sports options through our athletic department—these strengthen our students and teach them about lifelong health by familiarizing them with exercises, weights and equipment that will be available to them in college and beyond. There are currently three fitness classes taught by faculty members: Strength & Conditioning, Triple Fit, and Fitness & Flexibility.
Our unique middle school athletics program accepts all students who try out to join the sports team. The middle school years are a time of moral and intellectual development and so teaching our girls how to exercise good sportsmanship, teamwork, and a positive attitude is as important as the game itself. We recognize that in these formative middle school years especially, an all-consuming emphasis on winning can negate the many other positive aspects of playing a sport. As an article in The Atlantic astutely pointed out, children and teenagers need spaces where they can “safely fail”— learning what it means to give your best effort regardless of the consequences, persevering when the going gets tough, and growing from loss—and in a culture that demands perfection, youth athletics can be one of the last remaining areas for this to happen.i
Athletic Director and Coach Caroline Heeter (’97) explains: “We encourage girls to go out for teams whether they have played [the sport] or not. As long as they are willing to commit and work hard our coaches are able to teach and incorporate students
into the program. With [enough] interest, we are able to field teams for every level which creates depth in our program and ultimately improves our varsity teams because the younger/ newer players are learning and playing instead of being cut.” With this policy, all middle school students can explore their strengths and learn which sports they truly enjoy and want to pursue. In practices they’re introduced to the fundamentals of their sport, working on proper movement and technique. They learn about commitment, structure, time management, and sharpen their decision-making skills.
By the time our students reach high school, growing in leadership is especially key. Athletes practice leadership in the way they respond to wins and losses, in how they shore up and help teammates who are struggling, and in their communication with each other, especially through encouragement. All student-athletes, not just the team captains, are expected to be leaders.
Whether students are in middle or high school, integrity and good sportsmanship are expected at all times. “Our coaches care about attitude and team play as much as they do wins on the field or court,” says Oakcrest history teacher and soccer coach Christine Nussio. “We encourage athletes to set goals for themselves, but also require every athlete to put first and foremost the success of the team in whichever way she can help.” Coach Heeter remembers a particular instance that exemplifies the type of sportsmanship our students practice. She says, “After losing the PVAC Championship game, one of our [varsity basketball] seniors went to the opponent’s best player and congratulated her and expressed how much she admired her style of play. It was a tough loss, and as a senior it was the last basketball game she would play but she could see beyond her disappointment in losing and recognize the importance of congratulating a young player.”
Even students who don’t play a sport at Oakcrest participate in the team spirit and morale that form such an important part of our athletics program. Opportunities abound for all students to show their school spirit. At the beginning of the year, the whole school divides into two teams— Green and White—which are involved in fun competitions for spirit points throughout the year. Pep rallies and Spirit Week honor our athletes and give all our girls the chance to engage in healthy competition, teamwork, and active fun. The spirit of hard work, dedication, fun, and fair play that our athletics program is founded on imbues the entire school.