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Building a Strong Culture Through Adversity

It was thrilling to see our student-athletes return to competition in the 2021–22 school year. Not only did the Cougars get back to the court, field and track, but there’s been an uptick in overall participation in athletics this year—a result of the program’s intentional culture-building over the last five years and an exciting sign for the future of sports at Calhoun.

The Calhoun Athletics Department—composed of administrators, coaches and an athletic trainer—has worked diligently to navigate the challenges of the pandemic while still delivering the best experience possible for athletes. With community-building and students’ safety as the top priorities, and guided by the program’s core values (teamwork, resilience, empathy, self-awareness), the Athletics team created spaces that allowed students to come together, train, and continue to build team and program culture.

Last school year, the league suspended competition due to COVID-19. In response, Calhoun Athletics organized three condensed seasons of sports, along with interdisciplinary hybrid classes and virtual training spaces that allowed students to continue to learn and foster relationships with their peers. Despite the lack of traditional competition, the Athletics Department strived to keep athletes engaged and made innovative adjustments to their programming—a powerful testament to the versatility and resilience of Cougar Nation.

This innovative initiative paid off, and Calhoun Athletics has seen a considerable amount of growth in the program. This year, both Middle and Upper School student participation continued to increase, a trend that began in 2018–2019. Therefore, Athletics was able to establish the Varsity Girls/Non-Binary Students and Varsity Boys/Non-Binary Students Tennis teams, the first time Calhoun has had tennis teams in more than a decade, as well as a Varsity Table Tennis team. Calhoun Athletics also established the Girls/Non-Binary Students Junior Varsity Green Basketball team, a developmental team that allowed students to get involved in sports, focus on the fundamental skills, and prepare for interscholastic competition.

“Anyone who wants to commit has something to gain and offer from playing, and we’re glad we’re in a position where we can develop players instead of cutting them,” says Nicola Zimmer, Assistant Director of Athletics and Varsity Girls/Non-Binary Students Basketball Head Coach.

These teams join the Girls/Non-Binary Students Junior Varsity Green Volleyball team and the return of the Varsity Girls/Non-Binary Students Softball team in the overall revitalization of girls/nonbinary sports at Calhoun. This increased participation is especially exciting at Calhoun, given the national trend toward lower girls/ non-binary participation in sports as students enter high school.

The Athletics Department demonstrated resilience as they adapted to new hurdles. They pushed to make the program accessible to more people, and as a result have seen increased interest and participation. By facing every challenge with the program’s core values in mind—the same values they teach their athletes—the Athletics Department has left no doubt that Calhoun sports will continue to see more growth and success.