More than Just Jocks: Student Athletes Excel on and off the Field

Hebrew Academy High School senior Florencia Chami is up before the sun, thinking about basketball practice in 20 minutes, her test in three hours, and if she will ever catch a break.

At 6 a.m. swimmer Julia Ohana (12th) is diving into the pool for her first practice of the day, while baller Avi Stein (12th) is eating breakfast to fuel up for his big game. Practice bags and backpacks are packed the night before awaiting a long, draining day ahead.

“It’s really difficult to balance all three,” said basketball player Sophie Gordon (12th), referring to academics, sports and social life. “Especially last year taking subject tests, AP’s, and going to practice, basketball games, I got home at random hours. It was really difficult and sometimes I really wanted to quit… In the end, I realized that once a quitter, always a quitter.”

Being a student athlete is no easy task. Balancing schoolwork and intense practice schedules demands a firm commitment. Students who participate in team sports are not only experiencing the rigor of high school academics, but also practice schedules that require countless hours of their time.

“I just try my hardest in both,” said basketball player Rina Reich (11th). “If you try equally hard in both things, and if you focus specifically on what you’re doing it works. I’m on the court, and I’m going to put full focus onto basketball; and if I’m in school I’m going to put full focus into school. Yes, sometimes it seems to overlap because I get home late, or I’m tired, or I’m excited about a game after school, but in the end I have to remember to stay focused on the certain thing that’s in front of me.”

The most demanding time of the year for these student athletes is at the peak of their respective sport’s season when practice hours get longer and the amount of sleep gets shorter. At the Hebrew Academy participating in student athletics is highly valued. Athletes must maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and if they do not uphold this standard, their position on the team is at risk. But many athletes strive beyond the bare minimum, representing the top students in the school.

Although excelling at academics while playing a sport can be extremely challenging, students say that they get support from faculty members.

“If we need particular help in a subject and we are having so much practice and so many games, it’s hard for us, they’ll try to work out a way to make it easier for us in any way that they can,” said basketball player Jack Esformes (11th). “They give us a couple of days to make sure we can still keep our grades up. They are usually very accommodating.”

While some student athletes feel that teachers work with them, others struggle to get their teachers to empathize with their cause.

“I definitely think that they acknowledge the commitment I made to swimming and they respect the work I put into the sport,” said senior Julia Ohana who is a member of the club swim team at Miami Country Day School. “I do not think they truly understand the demand that is placed on me. I have nine practices a week, and some days I will be so tired, and it is very hard to keep up with my work, especially on weekends when I have a three day swim meet. Because it is not a school related sport, teachers don’t really know about it, and they expect me to get all of my work done. I don’t really feel comfortable asking them for an extension, because I feel like it is my responsibility to be able to maintain both commitments. ”

While playing a sport can play a large role in a student’s day-to-day routine, most agree that their sport is less of a task and more of a release of all other worries. All of the stresses escape the minds of the athletes as they step onto the court, field, or into the pool.

“For me, personally, I feel like it’s a getaway. A place where I can stop worrying about anything else in the outside world and just focus on where I am at that certain time,” said Esformes.

Many athletes say the stress release of athletics helps their academic performance.  

“When I race I don’t think about anything. I clear my mind from everything. At practices I usually focus on my swimming and how my strokes are. Everything going on in my life and in the world fade out, and for two hours, I am able to finally catch a breath,” Ohana said.

Senior Michael Fedida plays volleyball for the school and is a competitive skim boarder outside of school. Both sports demand time and energy, but Fedida says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Every time I would go to the beach more and skimboard more my mind was kind of free, and the beach was kind of like my high on life, so to speak. Every time I would go I would have no worries, and no one could interrupt me,” Fedida said.

Student athletes also cite the camaraderie as an important draw to the sport.

“There’s 11 kids on the team and I think at some point, it gives you 11 brothers that you make connections with,” said Avi Stein.

The idea behind a team is to be accountable for more than just yourself, and that helps in all parts of life, say student athletes.

“Bonds made on the court are stronger than anything that can be made off the court,” said Shmuel Kahn (12th).

While school work is a top priority for most student athletes, they credit their respective sport with maintaining their happiness.   

“Sometimes it can be very difficult to get home at nine and start working on your homework or studying for tests after you already had a game, especially if you lose,” said basketball player Danny Yerushalmi (12th). “But I do it because I love the sport and the competition and winning and being a part of something bigger than myself.”

By: Julia Ohana (12th grade) and Lexi Sugar (12th grade)

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