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Essay of the Week: Football’s Unexpected Lesson

Essay of the Week: Football’s Unexpected Lesson

By Brian F Bond

“Hike”

My quarterback’s command became a magnet for butterflies in my stomach. I barely moved. It was my first time taking a hard tackle playing ‘Peewee.’  I was floored. But then my teammate pulled me up, patted me on the back, and I took a deep breath to regain my bearings. After a minute, I was raring to go again. The metaphor for life was obvious. It was one of the first of many life lessons from football.

Since I was 9, the sport became a defining part of my character, evolving into more than just a game for me. Football was the source of my drive, focus and posed the biggest test ever to my ethics and morality.

By 8th grade, football was the centerpiece of my reputation. The next step for someone in my position was to enroll at a private boys school known throughout the country as a premier football institution. I attended a friday night game on an official recruitment visit. I stood on the field with all the players, decked out in great gear, in a fan-packed stadium. It was like an SEC college game. I could already see myself in a year: lights on, people cheering and chanting. The allure was breathtaking.

Those Friday night lights flickered the next week on my tour at the school. I spent ‘a day in the life’ of a student-athlete with a freshman football player. In my guide’s history class, the teacher’s first move was to issue the detention slips. Then, he announced and passed out a pop quiz. The room simmered with tension, even animosity.

I watched awkwardly from my desk, which felt more and more like an island, as my guide struggled, often just fidgeting, staring at the blank page. Poor guy got caught off guard, I thought. But my empathy ended soon as he sat up, straining his neck to look at others’ papers for answers. He blatantly tapped the person sitting in front of him on the back multiple times signaling for answers as if they were audibles. Some demurred. Others slid their tests over towards him. A few whispered answers to him within my earshot.

“C, A, B” uttered one guy. They were not the only cheaters.

The teacher emerged down the aisle. He arrived at my guide’s desk.

“Prepared for this quiz? Because you definitely weren’t for the last ones. Not going to fail again are you?”

He chuckled knowingly, as if he knew what was going down.

This experience went against everything I learned about life. It actually contradicted the honor and values I acquired through years of playing football. Suddenly my academic life at  Montclair Kimberley Academy, where I never witnessed anything like this, looked more appealing. Lunch will be better, I thought.

At a table with a mixture of students, the football players — tall and muscular guys–stood out. They sat, turned, spoke, and even ate with chips on their shoulders. They were rude, treating others as outsiders at the table. I had watched these guys play with an expertise years beyond their actual ages. But this conduct showed me that maturity hadn’t extended to life’s playbook.

I walked away from the promise of brighter Friday night lights and discovered I was more than just a good football player. Remaining at MKA opened my possibilities to put more time into my other passions like playing the saxophone and to discover new interests like student government. All my dreams centered on the football field when standing on the sidelines with the players at the boys school. In that moment, I could not see myself in a campaign to become student body president. Yet three years later, I ran and won. Returning to MKA for high school created my path of versatility.

From that first “hike!” –I have transferred lessons from the sport to everyday life on and off the field.   

Brian F Bond, a graduate of Montclair Kimberley Academy, will be a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the fall.

 

Coming of Age

by Alec Harris

I entered seventh grade with a mustache that made me look like I was 30. My thin legs made me ripe for the nickname of Frog. Then my height turned me into Godzilla. I can’t forget the flat feet that forced my uneven walk. On top of it all, I had a stutter. I felt like a misplaced piece of a puzzle carelessly thrown in the wrong box.

The struggle to fit in left me on the edge of a cliff, and as J.D. Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, “Led me to a special kind of fall.” Every time I looked in the mirror, my seventh grade self hated the curse of puberty that turned me into a boy with the appearance of an adult.  But when I looked past my physical appearance, I saw something others could not see: the fear of being rejected for my true self. I pushed myself into conversations that did not really interest me: Gossip Girl and New York nightlife. There were those parties I did not attend, yet I found myself sharing the details of them as if I were The Man.  In order to feel a sense of association, I tried creating exuberant hand shakes when I said “Goodbye.” As I grabbed the hands of others, they would look at me with a stare that said:  “What are you doing?” I would respond by saying, “I don’t know.” What was I thinking?

I heard the words “boarding school” slip from my father’s mouth as my parents talked in the kitchen. My hands began to tremble. For the past ten years, I had grown accustomed to waking up each morning to the great smell of my mom’s breakfast. But, like Holden was told, it was time to take my leap of faith, and it would not be long until I hit the ground. My first boarding school was a single sex school like the one I attended in New York. It was not a new experience. I found a home when I transferred to Pomfret my sophomore year. I still remember my first step out of the car on Pomfret’s campus. I caught a glimpse of my reflection on the side mirror. I was ready to start over with a blank slate at a new school. As I shook the hand of my new dorm parent and prefect, they embraced me with only the knowledge of my name.

I was the only sophomore in a senior dorm.  I feared not being accepted because of my lack of maturity. Over time, I felt more comfortable, even though the seniors loomed over me with their strong physiques and their relationships with girlfriends which I had yet to experience. For the first time ever, I was in a coed educational environment and found the atmosphere more diverse and more humane in so many ways.

Unlike Holden, I embraced my life at a prep school. Outside of class, I defied my parents with a newfound independence and joined the football team. I truly discovered my position with the older guys at the school’s championship football game. The sounds from the crowd seemed to echo off the distant mountains and the ferocity of each play made it a game to remember. It was the seniors’ last chance to leave a medal in the school’s trophy case and it all came down to one play, in which Tony Campione made the game winning catch. As all the players raised their helmets up to the sky in joy, Tony ran over to me and lifted me over his shoulders. I began to tear up under the majestic stadium lights, because it reminded me of a feeling that I thought I had lost many years ago.   Many who saw my tears said, “That’s true school spirit right there!” But it wasn’t, it was me feeling like a kid again.

I also felt at home in the classroom for the first time in years. In Geometry, it was the transverse proof that made me fall in love with math. In Biology, I couldn’t wait for class each day especially as we dissected frogs. In English, I saw a part of myself as we read Catcher in the Rye.  “Its a process you cannot rush,” as J.D. Salinger wrote. “We will all fall off the Rye on our own time, and what is created when you land is the person you will naturally become.” During my first few months at Pomfret, whether it was the independence, my roommates becoming my new brothers, or the natural progression of my growth, my fall began. I was no longer a piece of a puzzle in the wrong box.

Alec Harris is a freshman at University of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT.

Winning Without a Label

Winning Without a Label

by Sydney Webber

11082549_10205536740953368_2880924316986633246_nI remember Fridays when I walked home from school with Eric, rushed to change clothes and headed across the street to his house to play.  At dusk,  I’d head home to shower and put on my black dress, stockings, and flats and return to Eric’s for Shabbat dinner.  I still remember the distinctive taste of Challah and tons of food that his grandmother cooked.   I never felt out of place as the only person in the room who didn’t understand the Hebrew prayers.  Then there were my Tuesdays, reserved for the playground with Uzuri and Hector, my friends from Nigeria and Colombia.  I always found time every week to hang with Sam, my Venezuelan best friend.

It all changed when I turned eight. My family left Maplewood, a town known for its diversity, for Morristown, where we were the only black family on the block.  On the surface, Morristown lacked diversity, especially considering my overwhelmingly white neighborhood that matched the makeup of the honors courses that I took in high school.  I spent years looking for a label to fit in besides “black girl.”  I would learn the irrelevance of labels in the spring of junior year when my name found it’s way to a ballot that read Bill, Phillip, Joe, and Sydney–the typical “hot guy”, the “jock,” the “class clown,” and me.  There was not a label for me, which, at first, made me think I must be crazy for running for class president.  The girls would vote for Mike, the basketball team for Drew, and Matt’s speech would make everyone laugh. Didn’t I need a label to win?

In Maplewood, there were not any two people who seemed alike so I never thought twice about being myself.  It wasn’t until I was placed in an environment where the white majority was dominant and seemed to be monolithic that I experienced a discomfort with myself.  I tried desperately to be like my friends.  I straightened my hair everyday to get rid of my natural afro I wore as a child.  I listened to the bands that my friends loved even though I hated the music. I wore Abercrombie, even though the clothes weren’t meant for my Beyonce-like curves.  I became secretly thankful for my light skin tone because it made me look closer to the majority than those with dark skin. Throughout middle school, I felt ashamed to be black because it differentiated me from everyone around me.

My family’s Kwanzaa celebration launched my journey to self acceptance.  When I was thirteen my mom invited our white neighbors to the celebration.  At first I was embarrassed to share this part of me with my friends.  I thought they might see me differently if they witnessed this hidden side of me. I feared it would accentuate the obvious differences I tried to escape.  At that moment I thought back to Maplewood and remembered its okay to be racially different. The girl who now believes Kwanzaa is for everyone became one who realizes the school is not just made up of labels.

I changed my definition of diversity beyond race and ethnicity. I saw that white people should not be defined by being white just as I should not be defined by a label of race. I also saw the superficial constructs of the labels my opponents wore and embraced.  I discovered I was not the underdog in the election and that lacking a label was my asset. I wanted to represent the majority of our grade that didn’t have a “title,” like those who do not like the lunchroom social world, those unafraid of being smart or being called a nerd, and those who value eclectic interests.  I had started to see my classmates and myself beyond superficial labels. Moreover I won the election because my classmates were able to see me beyond any labels while my opponents epitomized typical high school classifications.

Sydney Webber, a graduate of Morristown High School, is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Why U-Penn?

by Alec Harris

Considering both the specific undergraduate school or program to which you are applying and the broader University of Pennsylvania community, what academic, research, and/or extracurricular paths do you see yourself exploring at Penn?

You have heard of cancer and AIDS, but what about poor file management? Every year 96,000 Americans die due to poor file management of medical records. With two business partners, I decided to dive into this critical national public health problem. My two partners, high school students like me, address this problem by creating a company that unites hospitals through a “Cloud System.” Doctors would be able to enter the “Cloud” and open up their patients’ documents. By utilizing their patients’ health information, doctors could safely determine the right medications to prescribe. We meet weekly to work on the product and search for investors.

I look forward to marrying my passion for problem solving and entrepreneurship with the strong liberal arts foundation at the University of Pennsylvania. I have purposefully chosen to major in economics in the College of Arts and Science because it will provide the intellectual underpinning to complement my diverse interests as an aspiring entrepreneur. I also appreciate the opportunity to start clubs at the University of Pennsylvania, as I would start an organization that focuses on entrepreneurship for liberal arts majors.

I owe my initial curiosity to take on problems, like poor file management, to my participation in LEAD’s Engineering and business programs over the past two summers at Villanova and Duke. The LEAD teachers challenged me with intriguing and difficult problems to assess. Through the lectures and assignments, I gained a passion for finding the solutions to many problems that we discussed. For example, we were told to find the cause of a specific short-circuited car. After many hours of research, I found the transistors, under the hood, worked as gates by controlling the amount of electricity used. When the transistor breaks down, a car can be short-circuited. We studied how such a complex network operates and evaluated new ideas for the purpose of efficiency, which inspired my thirst for more answers.

Student life at Penn would offer the opportunity to explore my other interests in social problems. In my days of playing baseball in the Harlem Little League, I met many kids who had a mutual love for baseball, but I was keenly aware of our different social situations. Many of them ended up in gangs and jail. They were sons of alcoholic fathers or grew up around gang violence. The decisions they made were inevitably a reflection of what surrounded them.  I want to join students organizations that tackle those kinds of problems.

Whether it’s the book Freakonomics or my observations of my friends, I always find myself analyzing the different angles in search for hidden answers to problems, whether they are math or engineering or social problems like those that can impair the lives of inner city teenagers. At U-Penn, I would enter a world that would give me the artillery to continue the search for solutions to problems that had not been answered.

Alec Harris is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2012 graduate of Pomfret.

Introducing Yourself to the University of Pennsylvania

by Morgan Pilgrim

Introduce yourself to Penn. Our aim is to better understand how your identity, talents, and background guide your day-to-day experiences.

I sit on the school bus and watch two worlds blend as the scenery slowly changes.  The first commercial strip is Grand Avenue where I see check cashing stores, Crown Fried Chickens, and other assorted fast food restaurants. As I get closer to my school, the air seems lighter as neon signs disappear and traffic dwindles. By the time I reach Brookville Road, lined with tall trees hiding sprawling private estates, I see the sign to my school- Long Island Lutheran. The starting and ending points may be very different but they are both my home. The scenes of the bus ride reveal the variety of my American experience. Traveling between the two homes has broadened my perspectives and gives me the understanding of different cultures, which ultimately helped create the versatile person I am today.

Morgan Pligrim is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2012 graduate of Long Island Lutheran High School.

Angel the Outsider

by Morgan Pilgrim

In the mass of brown-skinned and dark-haired children, a small speckle of bleach blond hair and vanilla latte complexion caught my eye. This little speckle was Angel, an outcast in the Nicaraguan village of Chacraseca.  While the other children played soccer, Angel sat by himself and watched. In that moment, I saw my past as an outsider and desperately wanted to help him.

I was, I still am, and I will always be Morgan: assertive, curious, outspoken, energetic.  These qualities shape me. Yet they often kept me on the outside, just as Angel’s ethnicity did him.  We were ostracized for reasons that made us…us.

My “Angel” moment came in seventh grade when I jumped from public to private school. My peers could not withstand my outspoken energy. My bright, talkative personality made it easy for me to make friends, but keeping them was difficult.  I have never been one to conform to the “norm” and many tweens do not like a blunt brainiac who says the first thing that comes to her mind. Thus, my spunky personality caused some problems in my social life. For example,  when my “friends” rushed to ostracize a peer, my lone voice defended the victim. “Who votes to kick Casey off the island?”  Every hand at the lunch table shot up except for mine. All eyes darted in my direction; I stated my case without hesitation.  “Casey didn’t do anything bad.  She just has different interests. Y’all have no right telling someone they can’t sit some place.  This is unfair. Just stop.”  My defense shocked everyone including Casey, who looked bewildered. I paid for my actions when I was the next one voted off the “island.”

What could I do?  I needed social interaction but suppressing the ball of fire that bounces inside of me would force me to explode.  I begged my mom for help, but she could only dry my tears and tell me to figure it out on my own.

I learned to channel my fire in a positive direction. Today, I frequently engage in debates with friends on technology, politics, and pop culture. During the 2008 presidential campaign, I debated the Iraq War with Eric, a staunch conservative. The debate started reserved and polite, but soon our voices escalated. When the bell rang, our classmates could not leave their seats; everyone wanted to continue watching the debate. The spectators were shocked when Eric and I stopped, gathered our things and walked out of the room together as friends, talking about our plans for the upcoming weekend.  Despite our differences, Eric and I have created a friendship based on our shared assertiveness.

That first time I met Angel, I looked into his eyes, and said one of the few Spanish words I knew: “Hola!” Immediately, a small spark ignited inside of him.  I took Angel’s hand and ran over to the soccer game.  He was apprehensive to join in but I reassured him by mouthing “Esta Bien.”  Angel’s face lit up; he ran toward the ball, jumping and screaming.  I saw a glimmer of confidence in him. Or maybe it was just the excitement of the soccer game.

I may never see Angel again, but I hope our small interaction helped him gain more courage to embrace his differences. It will be a struggle, but he must trudge through it and remain true to himself as I did. People may have seen me as an overly confident individual, but fortunately I did not let those views suppress this fire in my belly. I have found the place and the people that accept me for me. I hope that one day Angel finds this comfort.

Morgan Pilgrim is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2012 graduate of Long Island Lutheran High School.