Weekly Message 3-8-13

8 March 2013 
26 Adar 5773  

 Shaping Character through Team and Competition 

Shalom Chaverim,  

At this week’s Gann Parent Association (GPA) meeting, our parent representatives met with Gann Athletic Director, Sue Johnson, to learn about the philosophy, goals, and strategic priorities for Gann’s athletic program. Sue emphasized the role that sports can play in developing the whole child and shared a beautiful excerpt written by one of her colleagues, Pete Sanderson, the Athletic Director at The Fessendon School:  

Athletics presents many occasions to teach life lessons to students. When approached in the appropriate fashion, the “peaks and valleys” of athletics can help prepare our boys for real life. . . The ability to deal with adversity, to work with others toward a common goal, to overcome obstacles, to fail, to be defeated, and to win gracefully are all athletic situations that help students handle future real-life scenarios that require strength, courage, hard work, mental toughness, and humility. . . As a society, we place such a high premium on winning that the coaches, players, and parents sometimes forget the true reasons for participating in a sport. Athletics are meant to help develop the whole person—the body in conjunction with the mind. If we neglect the latter, we are doing every individual who participates in athletics and society in general a considerable disservice.

Several thoughts went through my mind as Sue read this powerful piece and articulated her similar vision and philosophy of the transformative impact of sports, teams. and competition on a person’s character and identity.  

First, Gann Academy is blessed to have such a wonderful educator and leader running our athletic program!  

Second, Pete’s words about how critical it is to develop the mind (and I would add the heart) in conjunction with the body are a perfect afterword to last week’s weekly email about the risks of pursuing achievement at all costs. 

Third, while Sue spoke specifically about athletics, I realized how applicable these words were to Gann’s three robotics teams and their success at last Sunday’s FIRST Robotics competition. I have heard FIRST founder, Dean Kamen, speak about the way that FIRST strives to transfer our society’s hype around competitive sports to the world of science and engineering (which it successfully does!). What is also evident to me is how the robotics experience develops our students’ characters in the powerful ways that sports at its best should. This was highlighted when one of the parents at the GPA meeting described Sunday’s robotics competition not by how many awards our three teams won (three, by the way) but rather by a series of what she called “Gann moments” at the competition:

–Gann parents (and there were a lot of them!) cheering not only for our teams but for every team in the competition;

–Gann students from each of our three teams helping and supporting each other regardless of which team they were on even though the teams were competing with each other for a chance to advance to the state tournament; and 

–the joy that members of our most experienced team, Team R.A.B.B.I., the founders of FIRST at Gann, felt and showed when our newest team, the Huzbots, finished above them in the competition.  As one of our seniors and a founder of the team said to me last year when he heard we were launching a third team (to paraphrase): Yes, we have been to the World Championships twice, but this is why we started robotics at Gann in the first place!  

Our teams are winning accolades for their outstanding engineering design and their robotics achievements. They are also being celebrated for the people they are and the values they exemplify, which the FIRST experience of teamwork and competition—with its “peaks and valleys,” its “obstacles” and “real life scenarios” –develops in them. 

Please join me in wishing a mazel tov to all of our winter athletics teams and b’hatzlacha (good luck) to the spring teams just getting under way.  

Let us also wish a special mazel tov to and express our great pride and admiration for our three robotics teams—Team R.A.B.B.I., the Pluralists, and the Hutzbots—and their coach, mentors, and the dedicated and supportive robotics parents.   

Shabbat Shalom,  

Rabbi Marc Baker  


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