The redefined athletic vision

Following the departure of former Athletic Director Sandy Lloyd, John Farmer was named as Lloyd’s interim replacement for the 2014-15 school year. Already settled into his new position after serving as the Middle School Athletic Director for two years, Farmer is intent on instilling an improved sense of community and character amongst athletes and coaching staff alike throughout his tenure.

Hoping to further improve the camaraderie amongst athletes, Farmer maintains the importance of the students fostering a sense of “belonging” within their respective sports teams and programs. Working collectively towards a common goal, the end product should not be purely competitive, but rather a concoction of various elements.

“I want the students to really get a sense that their coaches are thinking about and practicing and discussing, being very intentional about using athletics as a way to talk about character and think about community,” Farmer said.

Farmer has emphasized the urgency of strengthening communications between families and the athletics program too. Currently working on a new athletics website, Farmer and the Athletic Department hope to create “an information bank” dedicated to answering common student questions pertaining to a specific sport.

Included on the website will be up-to-date information regarding the athletic programs’ policies and procedures, offering students and parents an insight into the team selection and captain criteria. Despite still being in the production phases, the website remains a source of information, allowing students and families to learn more about the individual coaches and the program’s aspirations.

A testament to his communal endeavor, Farmer sent out two emails throughout the summer mentioning the upcoming preseason meetings as well as information regarding each teams’ specific tryouts.

“That’s something that is very important to me. I want to communicate directly with the students and families, not asking someone else to do it for me or just assuming that people know. I want to make it very clear that we’re here to help people get what they need and really understand what’s happening in the athletics program,” Farmer said.

The basketball teams’ trip to Doha, Qatar during the winter season of last year provoked drama concerning the previous Athletic Department’s partial treatment of certain sports teams. Adamant on providing an equitable and fair sports program for all teams this year, Farmer has ruled out any long-distance trips for the upcoming sports season.

“I want to schedule a great season for all of our teams and I know that’s an obvious and generic statement but at the end of the day, no, we’re not going to Doha, we’re not going to some far away, big trip,” Farmer said.

While acknowledging the departments previous shortcomings and setbacks, including instances earlier this year, Farmer realizes the department’s consistent endeavor to enhance certain aspects within the athletics program.

“Short term I’m trying to figure out what we need to do this year to make things in my opinion better from the way they were before. That’s not an [attack] on the previous Athletic Director just more like where are we now and how we can improve. Every organization should be looking to improve no matter how or where it is,” Farmer said.

A former Middle School Athletic Director, Farmer’s appointment entails bearing the schedule responsibilities of an entirely new sport – crew. Currently reaching out to parents throughout the school, Farmer hopes to garner a sense of the program’s specific needs and it’s current stance within the school. Admitting his experience pertaining to crew remains relatively limited,  “For me it’s about getting some facts, getting some understanding of the culture of that sport and that program and trying to figure out what our next steps should be, not just in the short term but in the long term of how to do it,” Farmer said.

In line with Principal Jack Phillips’ goal to cultivate a community-centered atmosphere within the school, Farmer maintains that Phillips’ message present within the sports teams character and general behavior. Farmer believes the extracurricular and athletic activities offered at ASL add to the learning experiences students are already offered in the classroom.

The 2013-14 athletics year culminated in the departure of an array of sports coaches, including the varsity boys basketball coaches former Dean of Students Joe Chodl and High School Social Studies Teacher Terry Gladis. Experience and knowledge of the game coupled with charisma and a natural leading ability were determining factors in the appointment of the new coaches.

“These are people who really care about but the school and what our philosophy in the High School is about. They are really looking at wanting to build teams that are made up of really good people that are working hard together, doing things the right way and by that I mean being inclusive of each other,” Farmer said.

Elizabeth Vann (’16) believes there already has been tangible progress within the athletics program’s communication with students and families. “I think they’re doing a really good job of making everything more well-known to everyone so that sports are a bigger part of the community,” she said.

A 3-year varsity soccer, basketball and softball athlete, Vann’s experience with the Athletics Department is plentiful. Vann acknowledges the emails sent out by Farmer throughout the summer were the first she had ever received regarding preseason tryouts and informative advice on the sports programs’ workings.

“Mr. Farmer has been really proactive, we’ve been getting a lot of emails about upcoming information in the next few weeks, and it’s been really great to see the game schedules and just stay in the loop. He’s also organized captains meetings for all the varsity captains,” Vann said.

Excited by the prospect of a new website, which will include information regarding the team rosters, captains and coaches, Vann admits schools in America have already been using separate online sites for their sports teams.

“It seems like the Athletic Department is making more of a conscious effort which has made a difference for many people,”she said.

Despite recognizing basketball’s large supporter base in comparison to other sports at ASL, Vann believes the perceived equity issue concerning the sport is perpetuated by events such as the annual Homecoming, attracting masses of fans. Transportation is another factor; whereas basketball games are played on campus, the majority of other sports at ASL are featured at Canons Park, eight miles away.

Administrative Assistant to the Athletics Department Akay Mustafa believes the Athletics Department has already become better integrated within the ASL community since the turnover of staff. The decisions being made are not purely athletic; they involve the school’s mission statement and core values too. Mustafa’s role is to facilitate the overall vision of the department by providing support with the scheduling and logistical planning of the athletics program. Mustafa affirms Famer’s statement that the aim of the department is not exclusively sports-driven, instead offering students a plethora of opportunities to become involved with a specific program. This being said, Mustafa hopes to see a balance of both competition and equity unfold.

“The big thing that we try to promote through sport is leadership, and sportsmanship and basically a sense of fair play. We want our players to play hard, we don’t want them to sacrifice their moral integrity. We shouldn’t be sacrificing sportsmanship and fair play in order to win,” Mustafa said. One of the main focuses of the program is to ensure that it becomes a student-centered experience. While there is a competitive aspect to the program, students should relish participating in the sport regardless of the team’s individual successes.

Mustafa and Farmer both attest to the scheduling difficulties they have faced when coordinating the sport’s teams fixtures. Conflicts with the alternative trips, standardized exam dates and various holidays means the sports team’s will not be travelling abroad other than to their respective ISST tournaments in early November.

The Athletics Department recently implemented a Captain’s Council, dedicated to forming a cohesive relationship among the captains of the sports teams. The aim is for this council to bring the captains together and allow them to discuss imminent challenges and work collectively to find sustainable solutions. Mustafa hopes the forum will empower the captains and cultivate a sense of support and community amongst the students.

“It’s a form of leadership. We want them to understand that part of being a leader is to identify a problem, you will not always have the answer for it, but then you need to be able to learn how to seek the answers and here’s an arena, where if you encounter a problem, you bring it to the arena, discuss it and look for a solution together,” Mustafa said.

Farmer, as well as Mustafa, remains adamant on further developing the athletics program. The Department will continue to bring everyone together and promote effective communication amongst the community, whether this involves advertising for an upcoming game or simply being involved within a sport activity.

“There are always things we can do better. That goes without saying that goes for everyone, we always review our protocols and procedures and if there’s been a development in a particular field we take that on board. We’ve paid particular attention to our scheduling. We’re trying to get that up to a new level. Once we achieve that we’ll pick another area and we’ll keep trying to improve in,” Mustafa said.

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