Competing at a Higher Level
“Our strong fall season has shown what we’re capable of and what the future looks like for our program,” notes GCDS Athletic Director Tim Helstein. “The schools in the FAA (Fairchester Athletic Association) and NEPSAC (New England Preparatory School Athletic Council) voted in our favor because they know that we are going to bring robust competition and help strengthen the leagues.”
This fall, the preparation, great facilities, and exceptional coaching staff transformed our high school athletic program from potential to reality. Our young but highly athletic Upper School teams made GCDS a notable program right out of the gate, excelling at a competitive JV level and helping to secure the school’s membership in both the FAA and NEPSAC and future success at the varsity level. “Being accepted into these two conferences gives our program a compass,” adds Helstein. “We know where we’re going. We will be competing against top independent day and boarding schools all over New England. It keeps our program competitive; and, most importantly, it gives us an opportunity to compete for a title against the best.”
FAA is composed of 11 independent day schools: Brunswick, Greenwich Academy, Greens Farms Academy, Hamden Hall, Holy Child, Hopkins, King, Rye Country Day School, Sacred Heart, St. Luke’s School, and, now, GCDS. For many years, GCDS has had great competition with neighboring FAA schools, and it is exciting to extend that connection through the high school level.
NEPSAC gives GCDS the opportunity to compete on a broader scale with prestigious athletic programs throughout New England. There are more than 160 schools in NEPSAC and over 65 schools in NEPSAC District 4, from Deerfield and Berkshire in MA, to Avon Old Farms in CT, to local schools such as Brunswick and Sacred Heart.
Starting in fall 2020, GCDS will compete in both NEPSAC and FAA at the varsity level. Joining both conferences so quickly enables GCDS to offer our student athletes the best opportunities to challenge themselves and pursue their highest goals.
Thinking back to his time as a high school soccer coach, Helstein knows what it feels like to win a New England championship. “The excitement and pride in the accomplishment is a feeling that I will remember for the rest of my life. It’s not just winning; it’s also the journey to win the championship. To be able to give that to our student body is truly a goal that I’ve always had for our high school. Those are the memories that, when times get tough, bring a smile to your face, and the teammates that you’ll never forget.”
The goal of competing at the highest level is one shared by all our coaches. “I’m aiming for the stars and working back from there,” says Coach Flower, who prior to coaching GCDS girls soccer led Westhill High School to a state championship. “Building a program from scratch is something I’ve done once before and really enjoy.”
While winning championships is a shared, tangible goal, along the way there are equally important intangible goals, says Coach McDonald, “I want my field hockey players to be really good teammates. Whether they go on to play lacrosse, ice hockey, squash, or tennis at Country Day, I want them to know how to be a great teammate. It’s a skill that is valuable for them in every aspect of their lives.”
The importance of supporting one another and of winning in a way that strengthens the entire team is one that resonates throughout the entire GCDS program with both coaches and players. “We’re trying to play the right way,” says Coach Marsh. “Often high school soccer can be 100% geared towards results. When that happens, people lose sight of how to play the game well and how to enjoy the game properly. Obviously we want to win—the students are competitive and so am I—but we don’t want to win at all costs without caring how we go about it.”
This focus on winning together helps develop all the players in every position, simultaneously building a technically skilled team while also establishing a strong culture. “We had a lot of fun. We played as a team,” says Tito Miguens, grade 9. “Coach Marsh told us to play hard and keep the ball moving, and we lifted each other up. I think that really helped because that’s the culture that’s encouraged by all the coaches. If you tell your teammates, ‘Hey, it’s okay, we’ll get them next time.’ If you pick them up, they’re going to play well.”
Coach Helpern recalls watching cross country come together as a team at their first meet at Hamden Hall School, “It was amazing to watch the students rise to that occasion. They were hitting the right paces; they were finishing really hard. They were motivating each other in the race, and, at the end of the race, they created a cheering tunnel without the coaches promoting it. That kicked off the culture of the team.” That sense of working together continued throughout practices as well. “They’ve really become a family,” adds Coach Allen. “They work hard every day, and they’re realizing what they are capable of.”
This year has offered our student athletes tremendous opportunities to contribute to their teams and step into leadership roles. “First and foremost, what I’ve tried to instill in the current athletes is that they are laying the foundation for what the rowing program is going to become. It’s a lot of responsibility for a young group, but they are up for the challenge,” notes Coach Stangel.
“Here there is a real chance to make an impact as a player right away,” says Coach Gussis reflecting on the football season. “I’ve been impressed with the way our players have transitioned to a high school level. They have a good work ethic on the field, and there’s focus in the film sessions. The tenor in practice is one that’s serious—but there is also room to have fun and really enjoy the game.”
The success this year has been a team effort in the truest sense. “When we talk about an athletics program built on dedication, devotion, unity, and character, we are not just thinking of talented coaches and athletes who give it their all,” says Helstein. “This program’s success is possible because of the entire GCDS community. It’s possible because of the teachers who foster a deep sense of connection and learning off the field, the families who cheer our teams on at homecoming games, and the parents and alumni whose generosity enabled us to build a state-of-the-art turf field and who are helping build the future by supporting the new stadium and fields on Cardinal Road. It’s possible because of the second grader who makes a ‘GO TIGERS’ poster and a Middle School student who works hard this year so that they can make a different on a varsity team next year. We’re grateful for all the ways you support the Tigers and look forward to making you proud of our athletes—both on and off the field—in the years to come.”