January 19, 2018

Building Team Players

With Spirit Night tipping off today, students and families are no doubt noticing that secondary school athletes aren’t the only Gorillas taking the court. Our fifth and sixth grade boys basketball season started this week with four impressive wins over Curtis and Viewpoint.

On Wednesday, January 17, we had a chance to catch up with the 6th grade Red team before their season opener as they watched their friends on the 5th grade Black team play hard and achieve a 25–8 victory over Viewpoint. The pregame mood in the elementary school PE office was positive, with 6th grader Caleb summing it up the best: “We feel like we are going to win.”

Coach Mike Smith was also feeling good about the upcoming game, noting that this year’s 5th and 6th grade has all the qualities that make Oakwood Athletics unique, adding that this year’s teams are particularly skilled.

At halftime of the 5th grade game, Coach Brian Glucksman ’98 took a break from the game he was coaching to prep the 6th graders for their turn on the court, reminding them to watch the clock and get ready. Mike chimed in with the following: “Whether you are 10 points ahead, tied, or 10 points behind … be the same team.” This advice resonated with the boys, who pepped each other up with reminders to play their hardest the whole game and hold on to their “mental strength” even if they weren’t physically accomplishing everything they wanted to.

Positive character traits and encouragement are part of what defines the elementary school sports program. This season’s teams are also defined by their willingness to put themselves out there and try a sport they might not have played before. Earlier this year, one boy honestly told the group, “I want to play, but I don’t know how.” To this heartfelt admission, a number of more experienced players said, “Well, then, we’ll teach you.” According to Coach Glucksman, this welcoming spirit is the norm with his players.

The Oakwood elementary school sports programs are all about inclusivity, fielding five boys basketball teams this year across the 5th and 6th grades, and every student who wants to participate is able to play. This structure encourages the supportiveness that we see in our players. It’s also the reason that such a large percentage of the overall student population participates: 100% of 6th grade boys and 66% of 5th grade boys are on basketball teams this season.

As the 6th grade game grew closer, some players brought up the fact that Mitchell Butler’s jersey was being retired at Spirit Night, giving Mike the chance to share his impressions of the Oakwood alum, who graduated in 1989 and went on to play at UCLA and in the NBA: “He is a high-character guy, exactly the kind of person you want to have on a team: professional, smart, and a real team player.”

Mitchell’s legacy and the team-driven, supportive culture of Oakwood athletics shines through in the Elementary School program. Coaches Smith and Glucksman are cultivating that same type of players and people—the kind that you want on your team. “We want to build a person first,” says Coach Glucksman. “We win but that’s not the point of the program. The whole point is developing teamwork skills and a competitive athletic focus.”

MItchell Butler '89
Mitchell Butler '89 at Oakwood on left, and with the Washington Bullets on right.

That day, the 6th grade Red team did go on to beat Viewpoint 26–19, led by Michael, who scored 12 of the 26 Gorilla points. The real story here, though, is one of sportsmanship and spirit. Although the boys cite their on-the-court strengths as “passing, offense, control, executing plays,” they also note that Oakwood’s edge is their supportive team culture. “We work well together. We don’t have people on this team who get mad at each other,” says Brandon. His teammates agree: “We cheer people up when they mess up instead of making them feel worse,” adds Henry. “We try to work on chemistry,” adds Michael, “We want to help the newcomers get better.”

This spirit matches the overall philosophy of Oakwood Athletics. To quote Athletic Director, Craig Schoof, “Everyone knows the scoreboard definition of a winner, but we also define winning by learning that it is the process rather than the result that is most important.  By being your best, learning to accept responsibility, and putting your team first you have learned the life lessons that make you a true winner.”