Back in the ‘20-21 school year, when Bob (Middle School Director) was still in the classroom, he counted among our 8th graders a number of students who were passionate about sports, especially basketball and volleyball. While they demonstrated an impressive level of understanding about why they couldn’t conduct interscholastic sports that year, it was clear that for some of them achievement in sports was an important part of their identity. Maybe that’s why they played kickball every. single. recess. during that year.
When the last school year rolled around, the task before Duke School was daunting: how do we bring back sports in a way that ensured the health and safety of all? Particularly since one of the fall sports was indoors: volleyball.
New to the role of middle school director, and still adapting to the pandemic, Bob confabbed with athletic director Brian Greene and they hammered out a plan for fall sports. Masks for all, inside and out. Social distancing during huddles and timeouts. The bleachers were marked for social distancing and further sides were designated for home fans, visiting fans, and neutral fans. Fans were limited to parents and other adults. They posted guidelines for fans to read as they entered the gym. That all seemed to go well. During basketball season, they ushered fans for one game out the back door while spectators for the next game entered through the front. They felt for the players, who had to wear masks, and pondered whether to ask visiting coaches to get their players to cover their noses, too. They endured one visiting parent responding to a request that he wear a mask with, “For what?”
As Duke School reaches the end of this school year, the difficulties of staging an athletics program during a pandemic are largely in the rearview, but over these two years Bob, Brian, and everyone involved in athletics come away with quite an appreciation for what it takes to field 14 sports teams. To wit/here’s a partial list of what it takes:
- Hire coaches whose values align with Duke School's
- Order soccer balls
- Order tennis balls
- Order basketballs
- Order lacrosse balls
- Ensure there are enough uniforms for all
- Ensure that middle school athletes return their unis at the season’s end
- Request checks to be provided to referees
- See that fields are lined
- Monitor the weather
- Let teachers know what time teams should be dismissed on game days
- Secure drivers for away games
- Monitor the weather some more
- Reschedule games
- Rinse, repeat.
Add to that list the fact that surging girls' basketball participation meant that Brian needed to split the roster into two teams and quickly schedule a whole ‘nother set of games!
We successfully wrapped up the spring 2023 athletic season with over 60 middle school students participating in lacrosse, soccer, ultimate frisbee, and tennis. We are also excited to share that over 90 students participated earlier this school year in fall sports. Under Brian's leadership and organizing, Duke School coaches excelled at providing the opportunity for so many students to learn and grow in their sport and as members of a team.
Duke School has firmly re-established sports. Moreover, everything is going back to its original capacity (pre-pandemic): Duke School's theater program is robust, the band and orchestra and the Battle of the Books are thriving. It’s so great that DS students have so many avenues of identity expression available. We can’t wait to see what next year brings and to kick off the Fall Athletic season featuring volleyball, tennis, cross country, and ultimate frisbee!