When Newark Charter School first started offering sports teams at the middle-school level, they were not considered precursors to future varsity sports. But since the school gained approval last month to add a high school, construction plans are already underway for facilities to house the sports that will be offered to ninth graders starting in the fall of 2013.
“Certainly, the primary focus of Newark Charter School is academics,” said school director Gregory Meece. “But participation in sports, performing arts, co-curricular teams and clubs compliments and enriches learning.”
Meece said the high-school campus will include a full-sized gym and three outdoor athletic fields to support teams in soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country (fall sports); boys and girls basketball and track (winter); and baseball, softball and boys and girls lacrosse (spring). Meece said off-campus programs such as tennis, golf and swimming are also possibilities.
“Of course, this plan is contingent upon student demand,” Meece said. “Since we will be starting with just a ninth grade (made up of 162 students), we may need to phase in our plans until we have a sufficient enrollment. But, since the new facility will also house our junior high, there may be opportunities to include eighth-grade students on the freshman teams.”
Prior to this year, Newark Charter School fielded teams in boys and girls basketball, baseball, volleyball and cross country. With the popularity of softball in the Newark area, it seemed sensible to also add a softball team. And based on the number of girls that tried out, the decision was the right one.
“We had 42 girls try out,” said head coach Kris O’Connor, a guidance counselor in her 10th year at the school. “It was hard to make cuts with that large of a group, but we wanted to keep younger players to build the team. We have a lot of talent to work with.”
The final roster is made up of 16 girls in grades six through eight, who come from various softball backgrounds – some are veteran travel-ball players and local league stars, while others are beginners, like Bridget McLaughlin, who starts in left field despite having never played the game because she grew up playing baseball.
McLaughlin, along with Sarah Kautz, Helen Lynch and Julia Waters, are all eighth-graders who will never have a chance to play for Newark Charter at the varsity level because the new high school’s enrollment will always be one grade behind theirs.
“It’s really a shame,” O’Connor said. “But unfortunately that’s just part of the process of opening a new school. I try to look at it as, it’s been great I got to coach them at all.”
O’Connor said watching 16 personalities from diverse backgrounds across three different grade levels blend into one cohesive team has been one of the most rewarding things this first year.
“You always hope to see a bond formed when you are around a group of kids,” O’Connor said. “We went from a group that didn’t know each other well to that sisterhood that happens in sports. We see friendships forming. There is a camaraderie and commitment to the team. The girls are supportive and encouraging of each other. It’s always nice to see.”
That teamwork got the Patriots started off on the right foot, defeating Wilmington Christian 18-0 in the program’s debut, followed by wins over P.S. du Pont (12-8) and Brandywine Springs (12-7). Despite the early success, O’Connor pointed to a significant challenge of facing teams for the first time ever.
“It’s tough not being aware of what other middle-school sports programs are like,” O’Connor said. “We don’t know what we are going to see until they show up to the field. There can be such a vast difference in pitching speeds and so our hitters have to make a big adjustment at the plate.”
Newark Charter has seven games scheduled, but hopes to add at least three more games — they have calls in to Caravel, Red Lion and Christ the Teacher — to get closer to the 11 allowed.
“That’s the only disappointment,” O’Connor said. “To practice as often as we do and be ready to play, and then not be able to play as often as we’d like.”
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