50th Edition, Sports

Former South star praises school’s athletics

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

This is a reflection by Dan Mirsky, Managing Editor of Volume 31, about his experience with South sports.

By Dan Mirsky, Volume 50
February 15, 2011

Athletics are most often seen, in the eyes of teachers, administrators, and even parents, as an “extra-curricular”: an activity a student might choose to indulge in when the demands of the “curriculum” have been satisfied, when exams and MCAS scores have been tallied, and “core requirements” have been met.
As I navigate my second decade as an educator and coach, I look back at the lessons I learned through numerous on-field challenges—and in the countless hours of preparation to take the field—and I wonder: what was the real curriculum for me in high school, the venue where I was really set up to learn and ultimately to achieve my goals? Was it in the classroom or on the athletic field?
During my years as a student at Newton South, sports were a lifeline, an organizing principle that helped to focus my scattered teenage mind, a means for showing my friends and loved ones that I was capable, a gage of my own qualities as a contributor to a group goal, and most importantly, a vehicle for me to discover the truest self that lay within, the self that only emerged in moments of pure anxiety and challenge.
My tenure on the staff of Denebola served much of the same purpose, pushing me to effectively handle stress and lead my peers in moments of critical challenge. But it was the athletic field where my purest training for life took place.
I had always loved to play; I was somewhat of a gym-class hero in my early years. In middle school, I put on a lot of weight, and as a result my budding athletic career became increasingly proscribed—I was seen as no more than a pudgy offensive lineman with a below-average penchant for running full-tilt into other heavily padded kids.
After two summers of dedicated weight loss at a specialized summer sports camp, and thanks to a healthy early-teen growth spurt, I entered Newton South a somewhat insecure, gangly and confused “football player” without much of a sense of himself on or off the field. And in the midst of that freshman year, I found lacrosse. Well, to be fair, lacrosse found me when my Freshman Football coach E.A. Morgan passed me in the hall one day and said, “Mirsky, you play a spring sport?”
“Good, take this lacrosse stick and learn how to use it—you’ve got two months before the season starts.”
I was not really a sophisticated exchange, but I took this simple charge from an adult whose respect I desperately wanted to earn, and I set out to become the best lacrosse player in my grade!
The only problem was that I wasn’t very good at it, and I certainly wasn’t considered one of the “elite” athletes in my grade; I was more of a coach’s afterthought, really.
I also felt as a ninth grader at South that I wasn’t ever going to be a star in the classroom. At age 14, I couldn’t really explain why this was, but it seemed like I struggled more with school work than a lot of my classmates did, not to mention the fact that my brilliant older sister had set an academic bar so impossibly high that I felt I had no hope of fulfilling my parents’ and teachers’ expectations.
But nobody had any expectations of me as an athlete, and in sports I saw my shot at excellence, my chance to show the world, and myself, that I could truly succeed on my own merits. All I needed to do was work my tail off. Three-plus years and thousands of practice hours later (really, ask my parents or teachers—they’ll vouch), I was captaining a Varsity Lacrosse team and looking ahead to playing lacrosse at the collegiate level.
I still had much to learn about myself as a college student and an athlete, valuable lessons I would learn first at UMass and later at Wesleyan University.
But it was the formative years of sports at Newton South that provided me with my first insights into my own potential, my own ability to rise up and face challenge, and the secret I held close to my heart: the best way to succeed in the face of adversity was to preview what might come, and to subject myself to the worst I could think of in hopes that it would render the real challenges ahead less formidable.

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