Did you know that Notre Dame Prep, in addition to its regular Open House for prospective students and their parents, hosts a second and separate Athletic Open House? Why is that? Could NDP possibly be guilty of catering to a youth sports culture gone awry or is there something far more purposeful and substantial going on here? Because it’s Notre Dame, the question is, of course, rhetorical. The fact is, Notre Dame understands the important role physical fitness and athletics (particularly team sports) can play in a developing life and knows that – perhaps more than any other extracurricular activity – sports, at its best, can cultivate in a child critical skills and invaluable qualities, which will serve her well on and off the field, in and out of the classroom, and throughout life. To that end, Notre Dame has built and maintained a state of the art sports complex and playing fields, expanded its athletic program, and recruited some of the top coaches in the area. In addition, NDP has the added benefit of a dedicated and parent-led Booster Club, which supports the athletic program whole-heartedly. The thing is, both staff and parents know that, if done right, sports is an extension of the educational experience with an emphasis on such concepts as discipline, perseverance, commitment, mental and physical fitness, personal responsibility, teamwork, healthy competition, and graceful wining and losing. All universally important concepts to understand, embrace, and develop. NDP teacher and cross-country coach, Tom Klein, explained it this way:
“It’s true what they say. Sport really is a great metaphor for life. Not only do sports help to bring out the best in yourself, but they also teach you how to work and deal with others and how to be responsible to and respectful of others. More than that, though, the challenges that you face on the field and in play, can help you immensely with the far more important challenges you will inevitably face in real life.”
NDP Director of Athletics, Jamie Smith, couldn’t agree more.
“Being part of a team, learning to give and accept support, overcoming hardships and challenges, understanding that you don’t always get your way, and learning how to make sacrifices…this is all part of the athletic experience,” Jamie said. When you ask Jamie about his vision for the athletic program at NDP, on his wish list is to “bring home more championships.” But when you ask him what a good day looks like in his job, without hesitation he says, “If I see the girls supporting their coaches and each other, and most importantly, enjoying themselves… to me, that’s a really good day.” These concepts, of course, are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the latter may be a prerequisite for the former.
“That’s why our affiliation with the IAAM (Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland) is such a good fit for us,” Jamie explained further. If you go on the IAAM website, its purpose is clearly stated:
The purpose of the IAAM is to provide structured and organized support for interscholastic competition for female students at member schools. To achieve this, we regard athletics and competition in the context of the educational process. The educational objectives of athletics in the IAAM include the promotion of the physical, mental, moral, social and emotional well-being for all students. The IAAM embraces the highest ideals of fair play, integrity, dignified and ethical conduct and respect for self, opponents and officials.
Their motto is:
“Let the athletes play. Let the coaches coach. Let the officials officiate. Let the fans cheer words of encouragement.”
All of which, according to Jamie, teaches the kids to respect the game they’re playing and in the end, enhances, not hinders, the competition.
“The teams we play against are deeply committed to their sport and have a real love for the game. That brings out the best in everybody. So it’s a challenge to remain on top. But that sort of competition also keeps us sharp.”
It seems to be working.
“We are the only school that participates in every IAAM championship, which speaks to the depth and breadth of our program,” Jamie said, proudly. Currently, NDP fields teams in all IAMM sports (approximately 14 to 16, by my inexpert count) and is ranked Division A (the highest division, based on a school’s competitive record) in all but one of those sports. This year, NDP’s volleyball team had an undefeated season. Many of NDP’s athletes go on to play sports in college and so far this year (and it is only November!), 10 girls have already signed with college teams for sports including lacrosse and swimming.
Pushing oneself to the limit, being the best, winning…there is no question these are some of the most satisfying aspects to playing a sport. And winning has its rewards, as well it should. Excellence, after all, is a noble concept. On the other hand, winning isn’t always about “bringing home a championship.” In the end, Jamie said:
“We always want to win. It goes with the territory. But, ultimately, our program philosophy is to develop and produce well-rounded kids. If we’ve done that, and done it well…we’re all winners.”