Posts Tagged ‘sports’

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Biking from the Park to the Job

Biking from the Park to the Job

by Christopher Lassiter

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The first moment on the job deceives me. I glance around the deserted High Gear Cyclery shop, wondering if keeping myself occupied will be more of a challenge than selling bikes.

I meet Bill, my manager. He smells of cigarettes and coffee when I am within arm’s reach. He shares the basics of advising bikers on nutrition and repairs. Still no customers. His need for nicotine runs high. He exits for a smoke. As Bill puffs outside, a flood of customers enters:

“Can you fix my flat tire?”

“I am looking for a new bike. Can you help?”

I am a nervous and stressed 14-year-old fielding questions from people twice my age, and I love it. Ironically, or maybe not, my first time on a bike is one of my first memories.   

I was four when Pops walked me to the neighborhood basketball court pulling a bike with training wheels for me, while my older brother Jordan rode a two-wheeler. Jordan took a break and I hopped on the two-wheeler while Pops was not looking. After peddling a few feet, I fell. He rushed over. “Are you ok? ” I rose, brushing gravel from my skimmed hand, and persistently pleaded to ride the two-wheeler again. I convinced him. Today Pops says he knew I wouldn’t give up until he said yes. I continued to fall but the short moments of balance were worth the scars. By the end of that day, I rode the two-wheeler without falling.

After nine months of mastering bike sales, Bill designated me to train employees. I loved the new responsibilities but hungered for even more business opportunities. I saw a possibility when a brutal snowstorm hit two years ago.  I looked out my bedroom window to see men with diesel-powered four-wheel-drive trucks rushing from house to house, salting driveways, and using sharp metal plows to cut through the thick ice and snow. Do they really need all that equipment for such a simple job? I thought to myself. Why do they deserve to monopolize business on MY block?!

I answered that question by starting my own snow removal business. I saved $1,000 and invested in a snow blower. Last year, I hit the streets with the first snowstorm. I carefully chose Mrs. Gene’s doorbell,  since she was a friendly neighbor. Yet even she was not an immediate sale.

“Oh, well, usually Joe’s Snow Removal Company does it for me,” she told me.

“I do a quality job, can beat their price and will come any time that you need me.”

“Well, hun, Joe’s comes back and salts the steps so I don’t fall getting to my car in the morning.”

“I do that as well. Everyone on the block is going to be so jealous when they see how salty your steps are after I finish them.”

First sale made! The snow blower paid for itself in a few driveways and business started to boom. Eventually I had blocks of clients. Despite their elite equipment, my competition suffered.

Over time, my salesmanship grew beyond commerce and onto the lacrosse field. During my lacrosse team’s losing season two years ago, I was often the lone voice trying to sell my team on the belief that we could “bring home a ‘W.’” Perhaps it was those selling moments that inspired the team to elect me to be captain, as a junior, last year.

I still work at the bike shop and my business’s growth required me to hire two neighbors to help plow and attract new customers. Motivating them mirrors my roles on the lacrosse field, in the bike shop and, ultimately, my pathway as a natural leader with the initiative to work with people to get tasks done. Imagining what might comprise the open, unknown places on that path excites me as much as the rush of meeting those first customers in the bike shop.

Christopher Lassiter, a graduate of Millburn High School, is a freshman at James Madison University.

Where’s the Big Man on Campus?

Where’s the Big Man on Campus?

by Joe Timmes

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      “Joe, how do you show up late to pick-up when you were sitting in your dorm all night?”

      “What are you talking about, bro? You busted down my door to go out to that apartment party.”

      “Yeah, and – what’s your point?  It’s college, my man.”

      “Well, I sure as hell didn’t wake up the first time my alarm went off. So, when I finally rolled out of bed, I was already running late. Then I got down to the street and noticed I forgot my sneakers, so I had to run back and get them.”

      “Damn, bro, you’re a mess. You gotta get yourself together. Let’s just say, you’re lucky that this is pick-up and not a practice or game. Come start of the season, coach doesn’t allow shit like that.”

It is freshman year and a sophomore on my team shakes me into reality with those words: “Coach doesn’t allow shit like that.” Those phrases are stuck in my mind. The way my teammate told me straight up what wasn’t going to fly was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Why did I need to be put in line? Because I needed to be shocked out of my extravagant college expectations, which had been influenced by stereotypical “college” stories told by people reminiscing about their “glory days.” My initial expectations had been clouded by this way of thinking: I shouldn’t be in my dorm room every night; rather, I should be out partying every chance I get. The classic college stereotype of “work hard, play hard” inevitably corrupted my thinking and caused me to anticipate a certain lifestyle: working hard in class to earn As while partying all day and night on the weekends.   

What do you think of when considering the lifestyle of a college basketball player? The image of heroic, “big man on campus” glamour dominates the perceptions regarding the lifestyle of student-athletes on campus. And to be honest, that glamorous lifestyle is something I fantasized about as a high schooler being recruited by college coaches and taking official visits to campuses. However, in reality, the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle is impractical for student athletes at NYU and many other similarly academic-focused institutions. A student-athlete at NYU cannot survive here while consistently blowing off classes. Although we are not playing at Chapel Hill or South Bend, the expectation of glamour and fame is not lost on us. NYU athletes are still privy to the same perceptions that other student-athletes have at other colleges.

The problem with the idea of “working hard and playing hard” is that it only acknowledges two of the three major aspects of a student-athlete’s college life. It recognizes the main aspect of college––the academic portion––as well as the exciting, secondary aspect––the social life. However, it neglects the third aspect of college life––the athletic responsibility––which is only applicable to those whom are student-athletes.

My expectations entering college were somewhat unique since I understood that a majority of people going to college were going to only be responsible for two aspects of college, the academic side and the social side. Meanwhile, I knew that because I committed myself to the Head Coach and the university’s athletic department as a whole, I would be responsible for making the correct decisions to prioritize these three aspects of college life.

Although the expectation of living out a glorious, party-filled college lifestyle corrupted my thought process at the start of freshman year, I quickly realized that the “work hard, play hard” expectation is a farce. My expectations have been drastically evolved since stepping foot on campus and being held responsible for preparing myself to play in the most competitive conference in Division-III––while being faced with a challenging academic workload. Personally, the “work hard” aspect is way more important than the “play hard” aspect. Am I saying that I never go out and socialize? No. I do occasionally go out to parties with friends and enjoy the social side of college, but I do so within reason. Truth be told, my involvement in college athletics has been the main reason why I am more about “work” than about “play.”

Part of the process of “getting myself together” included me recognizing the fact that college basketball is a major commitment that requires me to be efficient with my time. Playing a sport means that during your season, you typically will spend a majority of time in the athletic center. Mandatory events to which I must be on time are: (1) games, (2) practices, (3) weightlifting sessions, (4) one-on-one meetings with the head coach, and (5) team meetings. Many of these things occur on a daily basis, like practices and team meetings and lifts.  To be completely honest, my life during the season revolves around what time I have class and what time I have practice.

Can I miss class? I guess I could. But then I would fall behind on the topics discussed and would be underprepared for the exams. Can I miss practice? Yeah, I can.  But then I would be kicked off the team.

My athletic commitment may seem like an overwhelming responsibility to undertake, and it may be, but allow me to shine light on its  positive impact.

It is difficult, at times, to resist the temptation of going out to a party when you have practice early the next morning, but you have to keep in mind that your other 15 friends on the team are making the same sacrifice. This same idea translates to the times when you are physically exhausted. Practice will start and you can barely feel your body. Those extremely rough days that you do not believe you will survive make you physically and mentally tougher. Also, experiencing those rough, exhausting times alongside your teammates builds strong bonds among one another. At the end of the day, your teammates are your brothers and they feel your pain––literally, because they are feeling that same tingling sensation in their legs from running those sprints.

When student-athletes are in-season, our bodies take a beating and our daily battery is typically sub-10%. The soreness and tiredness from putting your body through the rigors of the season essentially forces you to lay low Friday nights. Practices, games and road trips sometimes make it impossible for us to rally any energy to even get out of bed, which thereby creates structure in our schedules and forces us to sleep and do homework instead of partying. College basketball has caused me to prioritize the things that are most important (sleep being one of them) and dismiss things that are distracting or of little concern.  In other words, I begin to look at the bigger picture.

Why am I in college? What are my goals? What do I want to have when I get out of college?

Personally, my goal is to graduate NYU with a degree in sports management as a 4-year varsity basketball player. My experience in college has been shaped by my decision to play a sport, but it has been nothing but a positive experience as it instills discipline, responsibility and commitment. College athletics implements structure into your daily schedule and makes it easy to live a healthy lifestyle. The luxury of having a fraternity of brothers that support you through thick and thin makes the experience exponentially better as they have your back just as you have theirs. Don’t get me wrong, the experience is challenging, but I have learned a great deal by committing myself to the life of a college athlete, and I would make the same choice if given another opportunity.

Joe Timms is a junior on the basketball team at NYU.

 

The Invincible Decision

The Invincible Decision

by Jordan Atkins

IMG_9186I was one of the invincibles in eighth grade. Family, friends, and fans called us the “B5”– five talented black athletes within a predominantly white community. With 31 wins and 0 losses, we reached the goal of a perfect season while dominating our opponents and inspiring excitement in our community. We could make history if we continued to play with the same level of intensity in high school. It would be the first time in our high school’s 65 years that African-Americans would comprise the entire starting lineup in any sport. Our future high school basketball careers and prospects for a state championship looked as bright as the infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class. There was one problem: I knew that basketball at the next level would consume all my free time and prevent me from pursuing other interests.

Community and friends versus my own heart: At the end of freshman season, I had to choose between succumbing to the pressure of pleasing others and following my true interests. In looking back, I tapped into the courage I found when I began to negotiate the boundaries of stereotyping.  It started in sixth grade, with friends often saying: “Jordan, you’re the whitest black person I know,” referring to my proper style of speech.  These comments were hurtful, and although said jokingly, I felt the stereotyping and disrespect inherent in them. I was born in the same suburb as my friends and had experienced a strong sense of community. Yet, I realized the powerful stereotypes of race and athletes. In the beginning of eighth grade, I built up the courage to confront those making such comments, and the jokes stopped.

Months later, it hit me. If I continued basketball, I would have limited time to improve football and baseball skills, explore my interest in business outside of school, or even volunteer in mentoring programs. Working with younger kids was a passion and skill that started when I attended a small private elementary school. In third grade, I began work with preschoolers, spending half of my lunchtime reading stories to them. Eventually, I helped those in younger grades with schoolwork. I never had time to pursue this kind of volunteering once I began playing basketball at an intense level. So, before the basketball season started in my sophomore year, I made the decision to walk away from the sport.

Without the added demands of basketball, I began participating in business competitions held by the Business Professionals of America. I spent countless hours taking notes and studying fundamental accounting, banking, and finance principles. The determination to dominate at these business competitions felt similar to the tenacity with which I used to practice my shots before game day. But rather than looking for external encouragement from coaches, I became self-motivated. In my first year, I qualified for nationals.

I always loved football, and could now explore that interest. At first, I faced discouragement from future teammates, since I hadn’t played on the freshman team. But again, I stayed true to my interest and ended up starting on both offense and defense my sophomore year. I am now a team captain for the varsity team. In some ways, my role resembles my elementary school mentoring, helping younger football players maneuver the grueling demands of football and academics. I also advise them on other off-the-field issues such as taking ownership for behavior in and out of school.

Quite honestly, I do miss basketball, and think about the missed opportunity for fame and heroism. But, I do not regret my decision. When my school’s team made it to the State’s “final four” with only three of the B5 as starters, I often thought and was told, “That could’ve been me playing.” Yet every good decision comes with sacrifices.

Jordan Atkins, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Lessons from Both Sides of the Family

Lessons from Both Sides of the Family

by Bijan Saboori

bijan_cameraThe plane lands at a small airport surrounded by dead yellow grass. Endless old beaten-down cars and trucks speed down the highway. I am in Istanbul. I have traveled halfway across the world for a family reunion on the Iranian side of my family. However, it is the lessons from the African-American side of my family that inspired me to embark on this adventure.

Rewind eight years. I hit the ramp hard. My bike follows, tumbling on top of me. I get up and immediately hear the laughs; they sting more than the aching in my shoulder. Everybody in the skate park saw me. I could not escape the jarring commentary on my fall.

“He can’t ride at all.”

“What a wannabe.”

“Dude, this kid blows.”

I was only nine and I loved BMX, but was just learning. A few months later at our family reunion for the other side of my family–the African American side–in Las Vegas, I told my cousin Harry that I was frustrated with the taunts and wanted to quit BMX. Harry interrupted me, “Son, I don’t see any reason for you to quit doing something you enjoy. Bijan, just because you fall down a few times and embarrass yourself doesn’t mean you just give up. That’s life…You should never give up on something you love.”

I did not quit. In fact, I practiced more. My own sense of adventure matured as I learned more about my much older cousin. I once saw him hop in and out of the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang like a kid on a jungle gym. He was 90 and could still pull it off. Harry started to tear up sitting in the cockpit, remembering how he and three other Tuskegee Airmen had won the USAF’s first Weapons Meet of 1949 to determine the title of Top Gun. However, they were barred from receiving recognition because they were black. The Air Force officially recognized their victory 46 years later.

I was glad I followed his advice when I entered my first BMX competition at age 12. I started my run down the ramp with my first trick in mind, jumping with an X-up. I hit the ramp and while in the air I crossed my arms in the form of an “x” so that the handlebars would turn 180 degrees. I quickly reversed the process before landing so I wouldn’t wipe out. After that first trick I felt more relaxed and performed simple tricks like 180s, fakies, bunny hops, manuals. I fell a few times, but nothing could replace the thrill, the rush and the challenge that I continue to experience in BMX.

I furthered my sense of adventure by taking up snowboarding the following winter as well as jumping into the world of theater, where I love working on the crew. I could not resist the adventure to travel halfway across the world to learn more about the other side of my family in Istanbul last summer. I rekindled connections with family members that I hadn’t seen in years. Since then, I have become very close to Sue, my younger cousin who lives in England. She has been coping with people’s negative reactions towards her bisexuality. We talk almost everyday on Facebook: “What they think doesn’t matter. Being yourself is a key ingredient to life. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about who you really are and how you live your life.” The words I type on the screen to Sue echo the wisdom passed on from Cousin Harry.

Helping Sue come to terms with her identity has led to my interest in psychology. I now want to obtain the academic foundation that will allow me to help others overcome issues related to identity, depression and stress. Along the way, I can also inspire others to embrace adventures that can lead them to new passions.

Bijan Saboori, a graduate of Cleveland’s University School, is a freshman at American University.

 

Journey to a Strong Back

Journey to a Strong Back

by Kyle Borden

kylebordenHappy birthday, Kyle! Really? Two days after I turn 16, I feel like an old man. I am lying in a hospital bed. A nurse shorter than my younger sister injects the IV into my vein. What if I can never walk again? What happens to basketball?

“Are you ready to go night-night?” The nurse’s tone is fit to entice a two-year-old to go to bed. Her voice freaks me out, but only for a few seconds. My eyelids begin to feel like sand bags– three, two, one, out! Back surgery begins.

Ten hours later, I wake up and my body feels like a lead block. I cannot move and have no idea where I am. I look over my right shoulder and see my family.

A day later, another nurse stands where I saw my family when I woke up.

“Time to get out of bed!”  she says with excitement in her voice. Sounding like a nursery school teacher trying to move a class of kindergartners, she pushes a grandma walker towards me. “On three, you’re going to have to sit up and turn your body.” She counts to three and I try sitting up. It feels like I have a bullet lodged into my spine.

“We‘re going to take some steps today!” I can barely sit up by myself. How am I supposed to get out of bed, let alone walk? I struggle to sit up and slowly edge my way out of bed. What used to take seconds turns into a five minute process. I grab the walker and grimace as I stand. My legs are so weak that they feel like two pieces of uncooked spaghetti. One inch at a time; that’s how big my steps are. First stop is the bathroom. I turn and looked in the mirror. I haven’t seen my reflection in two days. The man in the mirror is skinny and famished. I feel like less of a person. Over the next year, I would learn a lot about myself and discover ways to conquer my flaws.

The pain started Christmas Eve of my freshman year. After a game, cramps tore through my back as if something were pulling it to the floor. The agitation continued after games; I began seeing doctors who all had different ideas. One said it was a nerve problem. No, it was a joint problem. How about a nerve and joint problem? These diagnoses went on for over a year. Not knowing what was wrong killed me. I thought I was going to have to give up basketball.

Finally, my parents took me to a surgeon. “Lift your leg.” I lifted two inches off the ground and winced. “You need surgery.” I was fifteen at the time; that was the last thing I wanted to hear.

Overcoming spondylolysis, a spine defect, changed my life. Doctors placed titanium rods into my back. After three days in the hospital, I spent the remainder of the summer indoors. Each morning started with three different painkillers– none of them worked. Steps were my worst enemy– I faced fifteen of them daily.

The only rehab for me was walking. While it was dangerous for me to walk on inclines, go up steps, or sit down too fast, being able to walk flickered some hope into my heart. I would never take another step for granted.

The words, “You need surgery,” reframed my entire life. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason in this world. This was the very beginning of a stormy rain cloud with that silver lining. My recovery process allowed me to see the world through a new lens. I would not take back what happened for the world, because then I would cease to exist. I would be someone else. Every high and every low made…me.

Kyle Borden, a 2015 graduate of The Hun School of Princeton, just began his freshman year at Franklin and Marshall College.

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

by Conner Chapman

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A right arm hung from a body after our linebacker picked up the opposing quarterback and slammed him on the turf. The kid’s season ended with the nearly detached arm in front of my eyes. A year later, I rushed past an offensive lineman and dove for the quarterback. I missed. When I looked down, my mangled pinky finger barely hung on my hand. A trainer popped it back in, but I was done for the night. At least I had the rest of the season.

My finger still hurts, but not enough for me to abandon the sport. I am content playing football, not because of the brutal impact on my body, but largely since the game provides a level playing field where performance–not race–matters. Moreover, strong performance in football does not produce the remarks I confront for academic achievement, which are often blatantly couched in terms of race: “Now here’s a black kid who studies.”

Football isn’t a world free of problems. Yet on game day, my school’s black and gold are the only colors that produce team loyalty. If Trayvon Martin was on my team, he would have been safer on the field of broken fingers and arms than he was in the neighborhood where he met George Zimmerman. Moreover, if Martin confronted any brutality on the field, it would have been part of a play that had nothing to do with race.

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

After reflecting on the forum, I must admit it is only realistic to expect others to judge African-Americans based on prejudices tied to race and appearance. While the man’s comment felt outrageous, he raised a valid point, whether I liked it or not. If Trayvon had been wearing a suit, would his appearance have been enough to disarm some of Zimmerman’s racism, saving Martin’s life? This question is painful and disheartening, but real.

Unfortunately, I will probably spend my whole life disproving the stereotypes inside the minds of others. I will be forced to carry myself in a clean cut way that does not promote any triggers of black male stereotypes. In doing so, I will continue to be praised as an exception with compliments that don’t feel like real compliments. Achievements of mine are so often now called remarkable because I am black. This further inspires my appreciation of football where my abilities never wear a racial stain.

On the field, the roughness of the meritocracy inherent in the game compels players to think as a team regardless of race. The tough game provides a field where 22 players find equal opportunities to perform once they are in the game. However, I refuse to rest my laurels on football and allow centuries-old stereotypes to dictate my fate. Part of my life’s mission is to destroy barriers that confine blacks to narrow opportunities.

Coming home from a big win recently, my teammates were too happy to remain quiet. We sang, rapped, and made fun of each other and the coaches in jest. It didn’t matter whether you could sing or rap and, as usual, we were a team of only two colors–black and gold. I hope to create avenues where this kind of moment–so unburdened by race– is the norm. If only I could bottle that spirit on the bus and spread it worldwide.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago in the fall.

The Football Way

The Football Way

by Bryce Joyner

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Whether I’m creating campaigns for Marriott to reach Generation Y, or selling solar water heaters in impoverished African villages, I view the challenges in my life as if they were playing out on an imaginary football field. Football isn’t my only sport. Yet, looking at my life, the thoughts of downs, tackles, and touchdowns parallel the narrative.

Let’s start at third down. Ball on our one-yard line. My coach signals I can initiate a cornerback blitz if I want to take the risk, or stay on my receiver and play it safe. I take the risk.

My foundation as a risk-taker was shaped as a child in Baldwin, New York. On weekends I played big games of hide-and-go-seek with my pack of friends. In finding my spots to hide, I anticipated my seeker’s motions just like I would a receiver’s routes. It looked like he was running a slant. I noticed the quarterback’s eyes, and immediately jumped into the passing lane.

“Ready or not, here I come!” My friend Brandon finds friends one by one, but where was I? My hiding spot was Mr. Emory’s backyard. He was a cranky man without children. No one would think to search there out of fear. I win that round.

1st and 10: I was in 4th grade, loving life. My utopia was on the verge of termination. “I’m going to marry Jacques. We’re moving to Ridgewood, New Jersey to live with him,” my mother tells me. I receive the handoff and fumble.

2nd and ten: The challenge of adapting to Ridgewood is the next play, and it’s a long one. Ridgewood was different from Baldwin in many ways. Baldwin was ethnically diverse, while I was one of the few African-Americans in Ridgewood. Ridgewood kids listened to different music and communicated through iChat. Sports became my social savior.

3rd and two: By 15, I’m comfortable in Ridgewood. I’m a respected athlete and don’t feel racially isolated. My mom pushes me out of my comfort zone again, forcing me to apply to the Leadership Education and Development program. I caught the ball at the University of Maryland in College Park, the site of the program. LEAD was my 761 Vertical. My quarterback hit me in stride, and so did LEAD.
Our big project was creating social media strategies to attract more Generation Y customers to Marriott hotels. We spent long nights working on our presentation skills to get ready for the judges, who were actual Marriott employees. In the meantime, I took classes on marketing, supply chain management, and finance.

3rd week, Presentation day: This was the big competition that we all had come to win. I presented the competitors’ social media strategies and our main idea to enhance their app for smartphone users. I nailed it. I learned a ton about business. A good start to the drive.

1st and 10, Ball on 35-yard line: I applied for another LEAD Program, but this was in Cape Town, South Africa. My group’s assignment was to present a sales pitch to sell solar water heaters in impoverished villages. We met the entrepreneur who created these water heaters and traveled to a village where they had become an absolute necessity. This was a sad place. I witnessed two little boys playing with a handgun, running around pretending to shoot each other. When we gave our presentation days later, our professor complimented my animated sales tactics. The risk I took in making this second LEAD trip confirmed my desire to study business. My quarterback hits me for a gain of 12. We call a timeout. Our kicker comes onto the field.

He lines up. The ball is snapped. The ball goes up. I’m busy fixing my helmet and can’t tell if it went through or not. All I know is that it’s halftime. Time for us to make adjustments, just like I will in college.

Bryce Joyner is a freshman at Tufts and a graduate of Ridgewood High School.

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.