By Camrin Cohen
Four years ago, students from various high schools from all over the city attended a panel of high school students discussing what makes their particular school unique to middle schoolers, and when the question of sports arose, representatives from every school but one attempted to outdo the previous. Each person bragged about how many championships and awards their school’s sports teams had won, except for the representative from LREI, a senior who answered, “Well, at LREI, our sports teams have a lot of fun!” LREI simply wasn’t a “sporty school,” he said. His assessment neatly summarized the reputation the school has long had as an athletic lightweight.
However, a look at the performance of our sports teams in recent years challenges these claims that our school doesn’t care about sports. We don’t always win, but we don’t always lose either. The varsity volleyball team won the Independent Schools Athletic League (ISAL) Varsity Volleyball Championship and then went on to compete in the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) State Tournament the last three years; the softball team went undefeated with ISAL Varsity Softball Championship in 2013 and 2014; girls varsity basketball won the ISAL Varsity Softball Championship and then also went on to compete in the the NYSAIS State Championship; boys baseball made it to the playoffs last year; and our track and cross country teams dominate the ISAL competition, and make it to the NYSAIS States every year.
Sports at LREI seem suddenly to have become more popular and successful in recent years, which naturally raises the question: Why?
Emilio Picayo, who will leave high school having played four years of soccer, basketball and baseball (including 8th grade, when he played high school baseball), said he most definitely has seen the level of interest in sports at LREI go up significantly over the fourteen years he has attended the school. Picayo claims a main reason our sports teams had lost so often in the past was that our student body was much smaller than it is now (from around 40 in each high school grade to 60 starting with the class of 2015). Because LREI has such a unique culture, Picayo says people might see LREI and think, “This is a good school that I agree with in terms of its values and its mission statement,” and since our school is unlike any other, that prospective student won’t care as much that the sports teams aren’t phenomenal. If they agree with our school’s fundamental values, they will choose to come here even though another school might have sports teams that win more often, and they will only help to make our sports teams prosper.
Naomi Picayo, Emilio’s cousin, just finished her fourth year on varsity volleyball and will go on to play her fifth year of varsity basketball (having played high school varsity in 8th grade as well) and her fourth year of softball. She agreed with Emilio that the expansion of our high school directly affects how well our sports teams perform.
“[We’re] not a huge sports school, but we’re also not some janky little school that loses every game,” Naomi said. “We win. We want to win.” She also attributes LREI’s recent success in sports to the surplus of support, such as more practice time and opportunities, given by the administration in recent years, as well as the support teams receive from other students who cheer them on.
Freshman Bruce Doyle, who just started here as a student in the high school two months ago, just ended his first soccer season at EI. Prior to coming to LREI, he had heard that our school wasn’t exactly the sportiest high school, and found himself talking less about his athleticism on his interview here than at any other school. Bruce mentioned that the most important improvement the boys soccer team could make regarded their mentality. Bruce said he saw the team growing when “everyone on the team [wanted] to win” and when “everyone put in 100%.”
Freshman Jane Brooks, an EI “lifer” who did not consider applying elsewhere for high school, saw EI as a good fit for her, and knew going in that our school doesn’t “breed athletes” like other, sportier schools, such as Poly Prep Country Day School or Riverdale Country School. She only had a real interest in our volleyball team, which she heard great remarks about, so this mainly did not concern her. In her short time so far as an Elisabeth Irwin student, she believes a main factor into what makes the volleyball team so successful is the family-like relationship.
“Like all things at LREI, the team has a safe and friendly environment where you can feel free to make mistakes and to grow as a player and teammate,” Brooks said.
Sports may have also increased in popularity due to the quality of coaches at EI, and how they are only getting better. Coaches who are hired from outside of school are actual athletes in their fields, and according to Peter Fisher, athletic director at EI for 6 years, having these coaches come back year after year “really helps them [to be able to] plan and know what they can teach to perform better.” History teacher and track coach, Peter Heinz, is one of many examples of fantastic coaching. Elka Samuels-Smith, the girls volleyball coach is another example.Fisher also mentioned how practices had increased since he started working, as well as the addition of preseasons in the Fall and team trips.
Overall, Elisabeth Irwin has definitely seen an upward trend in regards to success and popularity in sports. No, we aren’t Poly Prep. We are, however, a school that supports each other and works hard to be the best we can, and that has clearly paid off.