There are times durning a teenager’s school years when they have to choose which path to take. Will they take honors courses, join the debate team, act in a play, or try out for a sports team?
Clark School, a private school in Rowley, exposes students to a wide variety of opportunities. Some are looking for a more challenging, individualized curriculum—while others, who are professional dancers, actors, or athletes, need the flexibility to accommodate their ever-changing schedules. Clark’s unique learning environment also provides an education designed to help those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Since 1978, Clark School has been welcoming students who demonstrate high intellectual, creative, or leadership abilities. Clark School students respond to an environment that encourages them to develop their talents fully, in and out of the classroom. The school emphasizes positive personal values, high achievement and meaningful participation in the community.
It wasn’t until last fall, however, that the school was able to accommodate the needs of its student athletes. Because of its size, Clark School was not able to offer competitive high school teams in any sport on its own. “More and more we heard from our students and prospective students that athletics were important to them,” says Jeff Clark, head of school at Clark. “Because we want each of our students to be successful, we began to explore the ways in which we could provide athletic experiences to them.”
The process for Clark School, and any other school in the state in a similar situation, is to contact the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), a private, nonprofit association organized by its member schools to govern, coordinate, and promote education based programs for high school students.
The philosophy of MIAA matches Clark School?s focus on inclusion. It reads: “Within high school sport programs, young people learn the values associated with discipline, performing under stress, teamwork, sacrifice, commitment, effort, accountability, citizenship, sportsmanship, confidence, leadership and organizational skills, participating within rules, physical well-being and healthy lifestyles, and striving toward excellence. Ethics and playing within the spirit of the rules must be woven into the fabric of the high school athletic program.”
Upon meeting all of the criteria, and becoming an MIAA member, Clark School started reaching out to local high schools to find out if they would be willing to partner with them. The response was positive and the results fantastic.
Chris DiFranco, athletic director at Georgetown High School, remembers getting a call from Clark School asking about a partnership. “We had openings on the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams at the time and invited the students from Clark to try out.” Three girls from Clark made the junior varsity (JV) team. Placement is based on the number of slots available, but once someone makes a team, it is a no-cut situation.
“Since I also coach girls’ soccer, I was able to see firsthand that the Clark students quickly became a part of the team,” adds DiFranco. “They are really nice kids who want to learn. They contribute to the team and all play pretty significant roles.”
With a successful fall season, the partnership expanded with Clark students appearing on the Georgetown roster for basketball, lacrosse, and softball.
Poe Heckel of Boxford became a three-season athlete, playing JV soccer, JV basketball, and varsity softball at Georgetown High.
“My first interaction with athletics at Georgetown High was with soccer tryouts,” says Poe Heckel, a senior at Clark this fall. “I was nervous at first, but my team was very welcoming. It is a friendly community. The coaches do a good job of working you hard, but also leave time for goofing around.”
Nadia Sostek of Wenham and Sabrina King of Salem joined Heckel on the softball field this spring playing second base and pitcher, respectively. According to King, “It was a really good experience. We didn’t win many games, but we had a great time playing as a team.” The highlight of the season for King was the team’s one and only win against her hometown of Salem. “It was fun playing against my friends that go to Salem High. The last pitch I threw was a strike, and everyone immediately stormed the mound to hug each other.”
Rounding out the student athletes from Clark were Molly Balentine of Haverhill and Owen Foley of Lynnfield who played girls? and boys? lacrosse for Georgetown High.
T.J. Regan of North Andover was perhaps the most excited student at Clark when he learned the school had become a part of the MIAA. Regan has been playing hockey his whole life and was concerned that he was going to have to choose between getting the academic support he needs at Clark and getting to play the game he loves.
Fortunately, a call to Sean McInnis, athletic director at Triton High School, eased his decision. “The coach and three captains from the Triton hockey team came to Clark to meet me,” says Regan. “Then I got to meet all of my teammates and fit in well. I played on the varsity team as a freshman and we made it to the Division 1 tournament for the first time in four years.”
“Providing an opportunity for a student athlete to play a sport is beneficial for both the student and the school,” says Sean McInnis. “This is the first time a student from another school has played on one of our teams in the three years that I’ve been here, but when we can accommodate it, I look forward to keeping as many student athletes active as possible.”
This is great news to the Clark School student athletes as they all look forward to returning to the sports teams of their partner high schools during the 2016-2017 academic year and beyond.