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Sport and fitness at the Prep: Where preparation meets opportunity

St. John's Prep Mountain BikingOf the 12 men who entered the St. John’s Prep Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017, half of the honorees had been cut from what they viewed as their best and primary sport in high school. Of course, not every new athletic venture ends with a Hall of Fame induction. But the anecdote illustrates a greater truth: When it comes to personal growth in the context of physical movement, the Prep give students every opportunity to stay on top of their game.

For starters, more than half of the varsity sports offered at St. John’s (12 of 23) feature no-cut rosters. Add to that a trio of competitive club sports (Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo and powerlifting), along with 11 intramural recreational sports, including touch football, golf, squash and street hockey.

One of the things that makes St. John’s so progressive in this area is that we’ve built a structure that provides students so much opportunity both inside and outside interscholastic sports,” says Billy McSheffrey, the strength & conditioning coordinator at the Wellness Center. “There’s a reason this is called the Wellness Center and not the athletic center. Our job is about inclusion. We have a recreational sports coordinator whose full-time job is to provide all different types of recreational activities for young men who otherwise wouldn’t be active because they’re not playing one of the varsity sports on campus.”

By nature, the fact that some athletic teams do make cuts means a subset of student-athletes receive suboptimal news. So, what happens then?

“We have good experience here with one or more doors opening when another closes,” says Steve Brown, director of the Wellness Center. “Our first choice is to support a young man in making an athletic choice by finding another team or individual sport. It’s important for kids to embrace that their response is within their control. What’s the next step? Where are you headed? We’re looking to give them the understanding that ‘there’s more to you than any single sport.’ Who you are as a person and an athlete isn’t dependent on making that one team.

“So often, if they take a chance and step outside their comfort zone, these young men find something that suits them even better,” he adds. “If that’s not immediately evident, we have built-in recreational sports programs that they frequently connect with in a way they never did with another sport. And it’s just as gratifying to see an active student-athlete try a recreational sport during the offseason, which then becomes a second competitive varsity sport for them down the line.”

An added dimension of the Prep’s wellness initiative is giving freshmen the freedom to fulfill their semester PE requirement before, during or after school. Students in grade 9 can choose from PE options like mountain biking, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu along with indoor rowing, CrossFit training, Introduction to Strength and Conditioning and even a Couch to 5K course.

“We want the young man in Model U.N. or the robotics club, or the young man who’s fully committed to Campus Ministry or the one who’s never played a competitive sport in his life to feel just as welcomed here at the Wellness Center as any varsity captain,” says McSheffrey. “There is a physical aspect to every kid’s own personal wellness that should be just as important to them as it is to anyone here who plays a sport. It doesn’t matter what your chosen ‘performance’ is. You could be the lead in the school play or be playing a sport or participating in another school activity that gives you a competitive outlet; this physical piece of everyone’s personal wellness can help you prepare for that.”

To what extent can the sports and fitness philosophy at the Prep accommodate any student who walks in? This past semester’s Couch to 5K class, for example, included exactly one student.

“Every kid should feel like there’s a home for them here,” says Vin Miserandino, chairman of the Physical Education Department, who conducted the class. “We had a blast. By the end of the course, I couldn’t keep up with the kid.”
Posted by Mr. Chad Konecky on Tuesday January, 23
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