When Cincinnati Country Day School was founded in 1926, its founders – many with familiar Indian Hill family names like Black, Chatfield, Emery, Fleischmann, and Rowe – sought to provide an elite boarding school-level education at an “all day” school where “afternoons…will be devoted to outdoor play and sports.”
While much has changed over the intervening 97 years – we no longer play Shawnees vs. Iroquois intramural competitions, the riflery range is long gone, and our strong girls athletics programs are of more recent vintage – something that has not changed is Country Day’s appreciation of the value of sports to a well-rounded education. It is why all students are expected to participate in multiple sports, why we implemented a “no cut” policy, and why we’ve made significant investments in our athletic facilities.
But not all schools share this approach. Some question if sports should retain a prominent place in a whole-child education at all. In my view, there are at least three compelling reasons to continue our tradition of athletic excellence: character, community, and culture.
First, sports are uniquely powerful in delivering lessons in leadership, commitment, courage, teamwork, and respect. These character values are inculcated in the classroom, but when they arise naturally on the playing field, they have a more profound impact. The crucible of competition is often the best instructor, and the lessons it delivers to student-athletes are authentic and indelible. In my own experience as a Country Day athlete (note: not a very good one), I learned as much about character on the basketball court as I did in the classroom.
Second, sports are an important means of fostering community. Sports serve as a visible manifestation of a common purpose, and they bind together different people through shared experiences. At Country Day, we are lucky to gather for many reasons: service projects, International Night, and Parents’ Association events. But there’s nothing quite like a big game. Two of my favorite recent community events were celebrating our big playoff football win this fall and sending the whole school to the girls basketball final four last spring. And as any parent can attest, the friends you make in the bleachers or on the bench can last a lifetime. Simply put, we would not be the community we are without athletics.
Finally, sports can serve an important role in a school’s culture. While academic excellence will always be the defining characteristic of a Country Day education, a strong athletics program helps build a culture of commitment to success across a range of endeavors. The jobs of tomorrow will require constant adaptation and rapidly evolving skill sets, so we must prepare our students to succeed in a variety of contexts. That’s why at Country Day success in the classroom and on the field is not an “either/or” proposition; it’s a “yes and” opportunity. For that reason, a memorable moment from last year was seeing a star senior baseball player earn a role in the spring musical. It was, and is, the essence of the Country Day culture: the ability – and the desire – to do it all.
So the next time you’re on campus to watch a sporting event, remember what you are witnessing is not just a game. It is an essential part of who we are – and who we have always been.
"Kindling A Fire" is a column submitted regularly to Indian Hill Living by Head of School Rob Zimmerman '98. This article was printed in the January 2023 edition of the publication.