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Saving A Life Saves My Game

Saving A Life Saves My Game

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 3.02.32 PMSaving A Life Saves My Game

By Carter Bell

It was the first time I saved a life and my second day of life guarding.

As usual, hoards of children poured into the pool. I looked at their faces; focusing on their eyes. They spoke to me: I trust you, they said. Maybe they trusted me too much. Why else would a 10 year old who could not swim jump off a diving board into 12 feet of water?

Billy looked like a swimmer. He climbed the diving board ladder assured, obscuring the fact the he was a novice.


The pool engulfed him. He could not swim. His hands ascended to the surface, while his head remained submerged. His frantic hands spoke to me: “HELP” they said. I responded immediately. I jumped in and swiftly paddled over to the hands calling to me in distress. I sunk underneath Billy to place the tube underneath him. His body rose with mine, as we gently floated to the surface. He coughed when his mouth hit the air, it was as if he had taken his first breath again — a sign that he was alive.  

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Silence marked his reply.

The cheers and laughs that I had known as the white noise had faded. All I heard was the ripples in the water and his breath as I looked around at a crowd devoid of sound — it was eerie.

I spent the remainder of my summer wincing at every splash. I couldn’t sit still. I must admit the image of Billy laying on the pool deck remained with me when my summer job ended and I began to hear the familiar chant of preseason football: “123 Knights 456 Win.”

I dreaded the thought of practice and the season. I no longer lived through the vicarious vehicle of my imagination: Peyton Manning was no longer a destination, he was just another icon reduced to the hall of my youth, as was the banter — the boyhood camaraderie — that came with novelty yet stayed past its due, like Grandy’s christmas present, a Manning Colts jersey I received at 10 but still expected to be worn at 15. Did football and I no longer fit?

Moreover, Billy’s near death experience highlights the fact that death can be quick and unpredictable; life is not promised or certain; why, then, should I waste time doing something I no longer love? Here I am, under the burning sun bombarded by “down,up, one; down,up,two.” Perhaps my passion for playing the game has fallen from me; perhaps this object of love no longer fits, like my Manning jersey; perhaps I have outgrown my zeal for the game; or perhaps sitting atop the pool is where I belong.

I am not a quitter. So I search for ways to make the game fun again and, surprisingly, Billy is my role model. Though I am not looking to do anything to bring me close to death, I decide to take some risks on the field. The biggest one is pushing my coach to allow me to change positions. For years, I played a smaller role on my team as an offensive guard. I decided to train harder to play both defensive end and right offensive tackle, both positions that I had never played before.  

During the off season, I continued to push myself. I entered and won weightlifting competitions and carried more confidence on the field: bigger blocks, bone crushing hits, and sacks for breakfast — lunch, and of course, dinner.

The water and Billy’s breath held my pool’s white noise prisoner, but the eerie proximity to death motivated me to take a chance with life.

Carter Bell, a graduate of Richwoods High School’s IB Program, will be a freshman at Harvard University in the fall.


From Football to Squash, Politics and Myself

by Ian Batts

By the time that I reached Ninth Grade, my ten fingers each had a story to tell. I had broken them all in different football injuries. They recovered stronger, and I always returned to the sport. Football had become my life starting in sixth grade. As a player and a fan (I loved watching my Redskins on Sundays) it informed my social world and identity. It was so much of my life that I became frightened when I no longer enjoyed playing on the team.

Freshman year: I ignored the impulse to quit football. At training camp in August, a revered senior player said to me: Nobody enjoys football, including me.” Surely somebody does. At least someone knew how I felt then, but for years of work, what had he gotten out of football? Soon afterwards, an injury–not the fingers but a herniated disc–forced me out for the rest of freshman year. I was slightly relieved.

As a sophomore, I was back on the field, but I realized why that senior kept playing a sport that he did not enjoy: his friends were his teammates, girls came to see him play, the school appreciated football, and freshmen aspired to be him. On the bus ride from an away game, I sat next to a rowdy friend who recounted the game’s highlights. He sensed my lack of excitement.

“Why aren’t you having fun?” he said with surprise. “You played well.”

“I just have had a long day.” Please let me be.

“Yeah, I hate away games,” he said.

I thought aloud, “Do you like practice? What do you like about the season?”

I shouldn’t have said that. Well, I might as well say what I really think now: “I think I should quit.”

He warned that I would lose friends and respect. Our definitions of respect are so far apart; I will always respect football players for character, but never for being popular. How can I respect those who play without a purpose beyond popularity? Is that not the opposite of character?

I quit. I won my independence, and a new world revealed itself to me. One day, a classmate asked me to play squash. I would have never had this opportunity before. Although my friends won’t understand, I ought to try it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game for its own sake; I had no external motivations. I signed up for lessons afterward. In my first squash lesson, the pro started off by teaching me that “you control the ball. The ball doesn’t control you.” This epitomized how I had changed my life. I did not fear my friends’ reactions to my debut in squash. Their arguments against anything that was not football, lacrosse, or soccer were weightless. Maybe it’s just me, but I wanted to try something new. For risking my social life, I found out that my closest friends, some of whom were most opposed to me playing squash, saw my happiness and were truly loyal. With a new passion and renewed trust in my friends, I began to see every day as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Letting go of football provided time for other interests like Model UN and other avenues to explore individuality. Most of my friends are devout Republicans. I followed my blue heart and became co-head of the Young Democrats this year.

Eventually, I saw a version of that old cliché: If you can’t beat him, join him, come to life. Seeing my happiness, some friends privately asked me if they could join the Squash Club. So I decided to start an official squash team at my school. I found the players, a place to play, and the coaches, but the school athletic director rejected the proposal, saying that squash would take students away from popular sports. He will never see a point in the proposal. I can’t change that, but I am so tired of people deciding what others ought to do. In a rare moment of insubordination, I suggested that students should be allowed to choose for themselves. He might have seen squash as a dead end or something obscure, but since that day I first tried squash, I realized that there are many ways to the same goal, football and squash being among them, and that each person might be fit for one or the other or something else altogether. In the end, the long process for me to define character, success, and fulfillment on my own terms produced the evolution of my individuality.

Ian Batts, a 2013 graduate of St Albans, will be a freshman at Harvard in the Fall, 2014, after a Gap Year.

1000 Characters on a Work Experience

1000 Characters on a Work Experience

By Ian Batts

I interned at Fletcher Asset Management, a New York hedge fund, for three summers. In my first summer of 2009, I did not know what to expect. I only knew the firm asked for evidence of my math proficiency. I was a small, coy, soon-to-be freshman, who had never lived on his own. I lived in an apartment of my mom’s friend. I had to adapt to commuting, managing money, cooking dinner, and dealing with unfamiliar people who were often impatient. Wall Street was hectic in the wake of the housing collapse. However, I enjoyed my job and became much more independent. In my second summer, the fund entrusted me to analyze the collateral value of defaulting mortgages and present potential investments. In my third, I studied the firm’s operations and the options market. Financial skills that I acquired helped me to serve Green Door, a mental illness center where I volunteered last summer. I helped patients sift through financial details about federally provided care.

Ian Batts will be a freshman at Harvard in September.


Fights and Lessons

By Ian Batts

Two friends became enemies. Eric claimed I fouled him in a basketball game during recess. He pushed me. I pushed back. Blows followed. Everyone gathered for the first of three major experiences that taught me what is worthy of a fight.

“Mr. Phillips is coming,” yelled Derrick.

That fight ended.

We returned to our Sixth grade classroom. The teacher left the room for a minute. Eric, humiliated by the laughter of others, demonstrated the foul in front of everyone and accidentally ripped my shirt open from the breast pocket. In this competition, the victor was the one who arose least embarrassed, so nothing good would come of it. The fight resumed.

Mr. Phillips returned and saw this misguided battle for respect and ordered us to leave with him. I felt, perhaps, as empty as the very idea of competition for the purpose of diminishing others. Outside, Mr Phillips laughed and shared stories of fights with his brothers that are  “jokes of his past” today.

Months later, I saw wisdom in Mr. Phillip’s words when Eric and I were friends again and paired on a team in a math contest against the two top math students in the grade.  In preparation, Eric and I huddled most afternoons over math problems discovering trick questions to come in a contest based on knowledge, not grades. In an upset, we won and the true victory was a new understanding of competition worthy of a fight.  However, the primary memory is learning together–“learning” being the operative word. I look back on learning with my friend as a lesson demonstrating that an “A” may not necessarily mean that I had absorbed concepts any better than if I had received another grade.  After all, we defeated A+ students in math. No victory is as meaningful as learning itself.

Years later, the lesson followed me to U.S. History. Initially I was quiet in this class, as I was always more interested in ancient eras in other parts of the world. The teacher pried open my mouth, stressing debate and discussion.  Five minutes into one class he asked me with a grin, “What was the role of the Republicans during the Gilded Age?”  My answer failed to stand his scrutiny. After a few classes of  “being grilled,” I went to his office after school to re-examine our debate. I was half-expecting a huge debate. Armed with new knowledge, I hoped for my first win. I knocked on his door and heard a welcoming shout of “Batts!” We laughed and debated far beyond class discussions and I learned.

Afterwards, I read everything to prepare for a class trial prosecuting Andrew Carnegie for “immorality and dishonesty.” I would be fighting in the classroom again–only this was a meaningful fight for truth. I represented the plaintiffs of the Homestead Steel Works. I  changed how I competed; I had matured enough to see my  purpose was to show truth rather than defeat my opponent.

As juniors, students are geared to focus on grades to suit college-friendly transcripts. History rescued me from that regimen with the wisdom that learning has multiple paths, including competition. I then added U.S. History to my passion list and found a class to be a model of a real education: a challenge and a dialogue that changes a student’s thinking and behavior.

Ian Batts will be a freshman at Harvard University in the fall, following his gap year.

My Favorite Cupcake

by Sydney Sykes

I invented a cupcake for a student business competition last summer and the creation best describes me: vanilla cake, chocolate frosting and Oreo ice cream filling. It is the filling–the inside–that surprises the cupcake lover. She may feel satisfied with the yummy rich chocolate exterior, but she really falls in love with the surprise inside–ice cream.

Perhaps the first time I really confronted the conflict of my own frosting and filling was in South Africa the summer following my freshman year. Susan, my classmate at LEAD Global at the University of Capetown, asked a question about Tyler Perry’s movie, Madea’s Family Reunion.

“Is that how people in the U.S. are? Or the black people, are they like that?”

I immediately felt ashamed. Yes, this is just a movie, but unfortunately entertainment largely shapes the international image of African Americans.

“No, no, no.” I tried to be the race superwoman to her misguided train of thought.

“What are most African Americans like?” she asked “Are they like you?”

I hesitated, caught off guard by the complexity of the question. “No, they’re not.”

At that moment, I could not run from what looked like a big conflict between my frosting and filling. I felt like I had been procrastinating my whole life, and finally Susan’s question forced me to face the mirror I avoided all those years. She compelled me to question how I fit into my race, something unfinished in the back of my mind ever since Aaron, a white student in my Kindergarten class who is still a good friend, told me I wasn’t black. I’ve always explained to people that despite the light skin and eyes, curly hair, education, manner of speech, hobbies, and, more or less, everything about me, I am African American. Still, you can’t reduce me or any African American to universal black frosting.

My love for baking began four years ago, with the first dessert I ever made from scratch: cupcakes, which are perhaps the best way for me to address Susan’s questions. So let’s start from scratch again. We begin inside before we get to the frosting, since the center is the base of the cupcake. A cupcake’s frosting is partially decorative and not totally informative, just as race is only one part of a person’s identity. Through baking, I discover part of the answer to Susan’s question: race is a small part of a person’s recipe or identity. In the case of my cupcake, the ice cream or, inside, heavily creates the flavor just as my filling strongly drives my passions and interests, many of which are not at all tied to race. You taste my filling when I draw, cook, tutor elementary school students, rush to the net to score in a volleyball game or represent the U.S. at the League of Historical Cities conference in Nara, Japan. My sweet tooth is also part of my filling and pushed me into baking, not my race. And like me, my cupcakes are defined more by their fillings. Let’s allow the surprise to happen, before we try to guess the composition of the filling. Neither the foil nor the frosting can tell the full story which unfolds more with the surprise inside–perhaps the very best part of a cupcake.

Sydney Sykes is a Freshman at Harvard University and a 2012 graduate of Milton Academy in Milton, MA.