A look into the balance between academics, athletics and the arts within UAHS.
BY BROOKE MASON, ‘22, GRETA MILLER, ‘23, AND SAFIA MALHOTRA ‘24. GRAPHICS BY MEGAN MCKINNEY ‘22, AND DAPHNE BONILLA ‘22.
Senior Nathan Mark spends most of his time within the walls of UAHS, leaving school later than 8 p.m. most nights. He spent his first semester captaining the UA Men’s Varsity Cross Country team and preparing for the upcoming FIRST Robotics competition season. His second semester is just as busy as it overlaps with both the FIRST Robotics competition season as well as the track and field season. He has dedicated his senior year to making this year’s UAHS FIRST Robotics BearBots team more successful than ever, putting hundreds of hours into developing a robot to get them past regionals and hopefully to the 2022 FIRST Robotics Championship.
“Typically I go to track right after school until 5:30, then I go straight from track to robotics until around 8 p.m.,” Mark said. “When I was a freshman and a sophomore, robotics would go till 9 p.m., and I would often be at school longer than I would be at my own house any given day.”
With the many opportunities that UAHS has to offer, high achieving students who must manage rigorous schedules are not a new development. Mark represents one of many who balances his time between athletics, academics and other extracurriculars. However, he and others like him may not receive sufficient recognition or support for their efforts depending on what extracurriculars they partake in.
THE SCHOOL SCENE
According to Assistant Director of Student Life Jacob Ramsey, roughly 70% of students at UAHS participate in sports and/or some sort of extracurricular activity. Students at UAHS have the opportunity to participate in any of the 33 sport programs, art programs, choirs, bands and orchestras and the roughly 50 clubs.
With more sports programs than any other high school in Ohio and over 147 state championships, athletics play a large role in the UAHS scene. Director of Student Life Spencer Smith believes that the history of UA’s athletic programs contribute to the popularity of various teams.
“Arlington is one of the oldest schools in central Ohio, so there’s a lot of tradition in sports,” Smith said. “I would say Arlington takes a lot of pride, and they grow up, and they love sports and athletics.”
All of the pride and tradition within athletics at UAHS contributes to students’ love of attending games and watching their friends play. Additionally, the school’s spirit club—the Bear Den—helps bring attention to and support for the various teams.
“Our mission is building Golden Bear spirit [and] Golden Bear pride within our building by means of our athletic program,” Bear Den founder and adviser Chris Hayes said.
With the Bear Den, students are not only showing up to the games, but they are also actively engaged through dressing up in theme, participating in stunts and cheering to support their fellow students.
Continuing, academics is another area of UAHS which students can choose to delve into. With a broad array of options, students are able to choose from on-level, honors, AP, IB, College Credit Plus or career-focused courses. Further, academic options at UAHS are constantly evolving.
Students who enjoy academic-based competitions have the opportunity to participate in a variety of teams at the high school, such as Science Olympiad, Academic Team (In the Know), FIRST Robotics or Speech and Debate. Academic teams and clubs offer a sense of community, collaboration and connection for many students at UAHS.
“You know, back when I was in high school, there were athletic teams, and then there really wasn’t a niche for kids who weren’t athletically inclined, so it [In the Know] was a great kind of setting to get to know people and have fun,” adviser of the In the Know Phil Lampe said.
Finally, UAHS offers a variety of music and visual art programs that have different options based on students’ experience.
“We have a wide range of offerings from Digital Design to Ceramics to theater, choir, band or orchestra. Students are able to try out new courses or really delve deep into a medium of their choice,” counselor Heather Peebles said.
Additionally, various arts programs offer unique opportunities that may be lesser known among the student body, including orchestra’s trip to Disneyland and band’s trip to Cedar Point.
“I’m not sure everybody knows the opportunities that they can have like going to New York [with Ensemble] and stuff like that,” Ensemble member Grant Overmyer said.
Ultimately, UAHS aims to provide as many opportunities to its students as possible. And if none of the roughly 50 clubs already established at the high school fits a student’s interests, any student at UAHS can start their own club with the help of an adviser.
“I always encourage students to find their interest and get involved. High school is a combination of the classes you take, the people you interact with as well as the sports or activities with which you chose to be involved,” Peebles said. “Getting involved is an important way to be connected to our community as well.”
From professional sports to local high school teams, athletics are a huge part of American culture. Fans love attending games, watching athletes play and rooting for their favorite teams. This support and attendance among athletics is extremely beneficial for many athletes’ confidence and performance on and off the field, court or pool. Having plenty of exposure to the UAHS athletic world, Hayes recognizes the impact of a student section.
“If I’m taking athletes’ feedback, they love [the support] … You want to perform well because you got your friends watching you and everyone’s eyes on you, and you just perform better,” Hayes said.
UAHS athletes can also attest to the great feeling of support during competitions. Senior Golden Bears Varsity Basketball player Owen Gawel has experienced student sections and acknowledges the positive effects of them.
“Games are always fun, but when there’s a great atmosphere it just elevates the level of the game,” Gawel said. “I feel like we play better when there’s a big crowd, and it definitely makes things more exciting.”.
Additionally, Emma Morris, one of the five Bear Den presidents, believes the Bear Den encourages overall school spirit.
“I love going to games and seeing people there supporting their peers and dressing up as the theme with their friends while also being at a school event,” Morris said. “Because I know not every school has the spirit that we do.”
Support from peers and the community is important for motivation, confidence and performance of players during competitions. And as the Bear Den is heavily focused on athletics, there are other areas of the school that tend to get less support during their competitions and events.
When asked about attendance, academic team members and advisors as well as students involved in the arts mentioned a lack of attendance from fellow UAHS students and staff.
“I mean people come watch [FIRST Robotics competitions], but usually they’re just, you know, some other team members or like parents,” Mark said.
“Sometimes people’s friends come to concerts, but yeah most of the time it’s just parents and siblings,” Orchestra member Lydia Britton said.
However, some students who participate in lesser known activities also acknowledge that it is understandable that not as many students come to their events and performances.
“It’s just different because it’s not like, ‘Oh, it’s Friday night. Let’s all go to a choir performance,’” Overmeyer said. “It’s not a football game. It’s just not going tobe super exciting. So I mean, we can’t expect to have, you know, the same numbers of attendance and the same level of excitement.”
The Bear Den has considered broadening its scope of support; however, Hayes believes that if Bear Den were responsible for supporting and promoting all activities at UAHS, the club could potentially grow to be too big.
“I just feel like if it [Bear Den] gets so big to where we are the supporter system for everything, then it’s just kind of like that’s the one club; there is no opportunity for those [non-athletic] clubs to create their own little bit of buzz,” Hayes said. “But I would like to see other students, leaders and potential leaders create similar groups for these types of things, if that makes sense.”
In addition to receiving less support during events and competitions, the achievements of non-athletic groups often receive less recognition.
“I don’t think that many people care about orchestra that much, which is unfortunate because it’s a really good program, and it’s been going on for so long,” Britton said.
All areas of UAHS, including arts and academics, boast impressive achievements. The Speech and Debate Team attending states the weekend of March 5, 2022, is just one example.
“The Speech and Debate team is just a really great group of kids…Individually, we have a lot of success…” Speech and Debate advisor Adele Vergis said. “We have had Lincoln Douglas [team] debaters in the past year make the national tournament. One of our Lincoln Douglas [team] debaters was a state semifinalist last year. We have a Public Forum [Debate] team that has won a handful of tournaments this year, and we have an Extemporaneous [Team] speaker who has won a couple of tournaments too.”
Additionally, Mark and the rest of the UAHS FIRST Robotics BearBots team won the Engineering Inspiration Award at the Buckeye Regional competition and qualified for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Championship during the 2018-2019 school year.
The UAHS orchestras, bands and choirs also attend various competitions; however, less often in the past few years due to COVID-19.
“In sophomore year, we went to districts… we went with the Class A [highest level] piece, and we ended up getting a one [the highest possible score],” Symphonic band member Isaac Lute said.
The UAHS Science Olympiad teams have qualified for states about every other year, according to Science Olympiad adviser Bryan Wenger. In the Know has also had success within the past few years, even winning small scholarships to The Ohio State University.
“We won the WOSU tournament one year; those come with scholarships. The WOSU competition comes with different levels of scholarships to Ohio State,” Lampe said. “We have done well over the years, and I have gotten to know a lot of kids.”
These examples represent only a handful of the many successes within academics and arts at UAHS. All extracurricular activities, including dates and times of when they meet, are posted on the UAHS calendar on the UA Schools website. As seasons continue, both student and administrative attendance is welcomed and appreciated.
FINDING A BALANCE
The administrators of UAHS have attempted to keep a balance between athletics, academics and the arts within the school, but for some, there is a perception that this balance is not always intact.
“To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in the lack of focus on STEM resources in the high school compared to athletics and other stuff,” Mark said. “I feel like the administration might be able to give us more in terms of recognition as an organization.”
There is also a sentiment that not only STEM extracurriculars are overshadowed by athletics but the arts as well.
“I think there’s a lot of stress put on mostly athletics whereas the arts department, like theater and band and orchestra, are mostly seen as hobbies instead of like a part of the actual school,” Britton said.
Symphonic band member Issac Lute expresses that he thinks “the arts are treated a little less fairly than the sports” as well.
The UAHS administration has acknowledged the emphasis of the athletic department, and when building the new school, consulted with students, teachers and out-of-state experts in order to create the most effective and balanced building possible.
The total square footage of the building is approximately 400,000 square feet with roughly 119,000 of that dedicated to classrooms and other academic areas, 84,000 to athletics and 35,000 to the performing arts department (the remaining 171,000 square feet represents stairs, corridors, bathrooms, administrative offices and nutritional services).
“We spent a lot of time talking to staff members, talking to students and talking to community members,” Theado said. “When you think about areas like the Performing Arts Center, a lot of time was spent with the teachers using that space as well as experts who design auditoriums.”
With the new school also comes improved extracurricular facilities.
“They’ve upgraded the band room, the orchestra and choir room and the new performing arts center. It’s very nice to get the new black box theater for the acting and performing arts,” Lute said. “So they’re definitely, I think, moving towards a more balanced direction.”
Further, the administration intentionally updated Smith’s previous Athletic Director role to a more inclusive Director of Student Life role at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
“Not only is that department overseeing athletics like they have in the past, but also the other extracurriculars, so they can get the same types of support that the athletic side has gotten for a long, long time,” Theado said.
With conscious changes to encourage a balance between the arts, academics and athletics of UAHS, all of the departments can excel, be appreciated and be celebrated.“Very rarely do you see schools that excel in academics, performing arts and athletics,” Smith said. “And UA is one of the few schools that can say they are at the upper echelon of all three.”