The hidden athletes on South’s faculty


By Alex Rhein & Zack Gusenoff

Photo contributed by Lucas Coffeen

Although it may be difficult to picture what your teachers were doing when they were students, many of your teachers were once college athletes, as surprising as it may seem.

Wellness teacher Todd Elwell played volleyball at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass. Initially recruited to run after doing cross country for seven years, he ended up playing on the men’s volleyball team instead. 

At Eastern Nazarene, Elwell said that he did his best to manage the different aspects of college life.

“There was a good healthy balance between my academics and my athletics.” he said.

Elwell said that having a strong network of friends and peers is significant for a student-athlete at the collegiate level.

“You also need to have a social life. I think some people forget that,” he said. “The nice thing about sports is you have a group of peers who are also academically trying to push themselves, so in a way you have an academic support system within your team.”

Before he became a wellness teacher, Alan Rotatori played lacrosse at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. Rotatori only started playing lacrosse in high school, but he said that this experience helped him to prepare for the challenges of college.

Rotatori said that his teachers alleviated the struggles of the academic shift from high school to college.

“I had some really good teachers in high school that helped me,” he said. “It wasn’t about the subject matter […] they taught me how to learn and structure my time […] I was able to just apply that once I got to college.”

Rotatori said that student-athletes ought to prioritize academics over athletics — even if a career as an athlete doesn’t pan out, you’re still receiving a quality education at a school that makes you happy.  

Biology teacher Ashley Vollaro played soccer for Lehigh University as a goalie. Vollaro said that although it is naturally a big jump, South coaches often prepare students who plan to play sports in college well.

“I don’t think you can really truly be prepared for your college athletic experience until you get there,” she said. “It’s just the level of strength you need, but it’s all incremental in high school to get you there. The prep work we do and like the skills we give them [help] to prepare for preseason.”

Vollaro said that the balance between academics and athletics gets easier as time goes on, but it is always important to take your schoolwork seriously.  

“Take your summer packet seriously, as best as you can, and then the first semester of anything for anyone is always the most challenging,” she said. “So just ride the wave.”

Cutler house guidance counselor Ari Kenyon played collegiate soccer at Dartmouth University. Before attending Dartmouth, Kenyon played organized soccer for 13 years; she said that the difference between her high school’s soccer team and her club team lay within the level of pressure she faced.

“I loved high school soccer because there was no pressure. It was just fun,” she said. “But in club, you had to perform in order to get time on the field, and the club games are where coaches are showing up to watch you.”

Although student-athletes devote much of their life to their respective sports, Kenyon said that exploring other interests aside from one’s sport is important for college athletes’ long-term fulfillment. 

“It’s really important that you also take that time to find or develop other loves that you have because sports are awesome, but they can also be brutal to you in the sense that you might not get as much playing time as you want,” she said. “You’re going to feel less fulfilled and you’ve got to fill up those buckets.”

South volleyball coach and Oak Hill physical education teacher Lucas Coffeen said his experience playing volleyball at Mount Ida impacted his ability to succeed in the classroom. 

“If you’ve had success in sports because of your competitiveness, see if you can leverage that academically to challenge yourself or even compete with others to lead to success in the classroom.”

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