Students struggle to find balance of academics and athletics


Carson Mark

Boyle added football to his list of commitments this fall, fueling the conflict between aca- demics and athletics

Arthur Boyle, Staff Writer

Ski racing was a major part of my life from second grade until the end of my senior season. I had a similar experience to most dedicated athletes: practice every day, off-season workouts, sacrifice of time, money, and social life, and a split between academic and athletic dedication. When that experience ended, I didn’t know why I had done any of it except that at one point in time I loved ski racing.

All through school I tried to juggle school and athletics, a common theme for most student-athletes. Senior Anne Arnason, valedictorian, state champion, and future Notre Dame student experienced the same thing. “I was on the way to a hockey tournament in 5th grade and pulled out my backpack to do homework in the car,” said Arnason.

When that experience ended, I didn’t know why I had done any of it except that at one point in time I loved ski racing.”

— Arthur Boyle

Studying was an afterthought in my younger years thanks to a lucky disposition towards high test grades. But as I got older, the grades didn’t come as easily and I arrived at an impasse: I could not operate at 100 percent on both planes. By my junior year, 100 percent meant practice, home at seven, wolfing down family dinner to finish three AP classes worth of homework, not to mention service leadership, the make up work I had missed from the two days I had missed last week (and the weeks before), and trying to find enough to sleep to keep my head up for calculus the next day.

After a while, I caved and my grades suffered; others in my class had similar difficulty but more success. “It got increasingly difficult to balance both. Especially junior year when soccer and school were so intense,” said Arnason. “It became more and more of a burden, and it’s really stressful. There were periods of time when I hated [the sports I played].”

Under one light, it seems like school drains us of the things we’re actually passionate about. But it’s not that straightforward: “Playing soccer and hockey so intensively didn’t give me anything tangible. But doing well in school got me somewhere,” Arnason said. “If I hadn’t played sports I probably could have studied more for the ACT, I could have done more stuff outside of school, I could have taken AP Lit.” Anne was not only valedictorian, but had a 33 on the ACT and still felt she hadn’t done enough.

Senior three-sport captain Sara Taffe, who also happens to have a 3.9, felt the pressure too: “Subconsciously and sometimes consciously I choose school over sports. My education is more important because long term it’s going to pay off more.” The clear priority doesn’t make decisions easier, however. “When it’s game day and all you want to do is go get ready for your game and be with your team, but you have homework, or a test the next day, it’s frustrating because it really is so much a part of you but you can’t be there 100 percent some days,” Taffe said.

Sport takes from school, school takes from sport, the entire thing seems like a painful mess, and on top of it is physical injury. Football captain Spencer Shaver has had two knee surgeries with multi-month recovery periods and serious shoulder recovery as well: “Football was kind of going to be the plan. I thought about it more as an investment … and [if I hadn’t ignored injury] I wouldn’t have been noticed by the schools that noticed me. After my senior year I had to start thinking about things differently, because sports weren’t going to be an option. I wasn’t going to be able to run the same way ever really again, or work out at the level I was, or operate the same way.”

Now sport takes from the athlete, too. That’s when Shaver started to ask whether or not it was worth it. Why would anyone sacrifice so much for anything that would blow everything else up?

At the end of my senior ski racing season I was exhausted, banged up, deeply bitter at having to substitute school for something I cared about, and unsure about the whole process. I wished I had never started skiing, I thought of all the different things I could have done with my time, and how much easier school would have been. And I was incredibly childish.

They all said a variation on the same thing: they wouldn’t have changed anything. It was challenging, and at times it was completely awful, but that was exactly the way they wanted it. The sports they had played, though they had created difficulty in many places, were important to them. You don’t endanger your body or your academics for a weekend hobby.

They didn’t play sports just to get to college, or add something to their resumé. “I got a few goofy looking plaques, but I have a lot of friends, and a lot of funny memories. Different people relate different importance to those things, but I’m glad I got the friends I have. I mean I don’t have a lesson for you about all of it,” Shaver said.

I don’t think most athletes play even for what they get out of it. They sure as hell don’t do it for the goofy looking plaques. They do it because they love it. And it’s worth it.”

— Arthur Boyle

And even though no one really likes talking about it, there is sort of a lesson. “I’ve learned so much from them. This is so cliché but whatever. Hard work and teamwork and doing your best …There is nothing that can match your physical sweat paying off,” Arnason said.

I look back on my “career” thus far and I can see all the important things I got out of ski racing outnumber those from high school: a lot of stupid jokes, frostbite, a nationwide network of friends, countless stories of exploring and enjoying life, a life long skill that I enjoy, discipline and disappointment and a few of the best teachers I’ve ever had. It’s not the same for everyone, but I don’t think most athletes play even for what they get out of it. They sure as hell don’t do it for the goofy looking plaques. They do it because they love it. And it’s worth it.