Video: Under Pressure

Dear Athenian Community,

 The Digital Arts students have been working hard this year, and now that we are entering finals period, they would like to send an encouraging message to their fellow students as well as share their online portfolios showing the work they’ve done this year.  The video posted below, entitled “Under Pressure,” is from the class-wide group project dealing with the pressure to succeed.

Please make sure to visit the site (click image above) to find out more about the project, check out their fantastic videos, images and animations, and send them your congratulations.

Thank you and good luck on your finals.

-Stacey, Digital Arts Teacher

Community Rallies to Restore Flattened Bioswale

The Environmental Science classes have spent the last year researching, digging, and planting the meadow in front of the science field to grow native plants, repair the soil, and stop the flooding of the East Lawn.  As of last week, it looked like this, but with more growth and native wildflowers:

This past Saturday, the school hired an excavator to prep the pathways students delineated through the swale.  The well-intentioned driver, thinking it was the obvious and helpful thing to do, spread the dirt excavated for the path through the whole lower meadow, flattening the hand-dug mini-swales.  Students returned to campus Monday morning to see their swale razed to a flat track of dirt:

Bioswale meadow flattened by excavator

In true Athenian fashion and spirit, the community united to repair the damage.   Faculty and staff organized communication to the students and offered up their classes to dig.  At Morning Meeting, Senior Andrew addressed the school, maturely reminding everyone not to dwell on the mistake, but to jump back into the work with renewed vigor.  Following Andrew’s lead, the students did not wallow over the destruction.  Under the guidance of teachers Ray and Daizy and additional student leaders Kavi and Sidney, the students took to the meadow in good spirits and started re-digging the swales.

Digging begins again on the swales

With graduation looming, the students feel the urgency in beautifying the swale area since the ceremony takes place on the adjacent lawn.  Student and faculty volunteers joined the core crew of Environmental Science students to re-dig the mini-swales in less than three days.

The contractor came to apologize in person on Monday morning and offered to help with the next Environmental Science project on campus.  The Permaculture group will discuss the options for the next project; possibilities include resurfacing an underground creek and creating a water collection pond.

Learn more about the bioswale project here.

Athenian Personified: Tom Swope Retires after 42 Years

Originally published in The Pillar, May 2012

by Margaret MacLean, ’12

 As I sit in the warm sunlight of Tom Swope’s classroom, I realize that oddly enough, I’m nervous. I can’t help but see this as a historic interview. Since Tom is retiring at the end of this year, he is making his last statement for the newspaper after years of being the go-to source for any information about Athenian’s past. Normally, in the context of photography class or while waiting in line for the salad bar in the Main Hall, I see Tom’s wry smile and think only of his witty jokes and silly catch phrases.  But now, tape recorder in hand, I have a rather impossible task before me: to find out every deta
il about the venerable Tom Swope and put his very essence into one piece of writing. A daunting task indeed.

Sprawled comfortably on the couch, feet propped up at one end, iPhone in hand, and clad in his customary tie-dye t-shirt, Tom grins at me. I settle into the wooden chair at the desk, surrounded by photos and notes from students, typewriters, quotes, and a half full tub of Redvines. I sit barefoot and cross-legged and place the tape recorder between us. The journey begins.

 “It seemed instinctively that it was time to go,” said Swope. After forty-two years at Athenian, Tom is the last faculty member on campus who was hired by Athenian’s founder, Dyke Brown. Tom has been everything from literature teacher to head of the English department, to Dean of Students and Dean of Faculty. After growing up in Massachusetts and graduating from Washington University, Tom moved to California, “because it is 3,000 miles away from Boston,” and started teaching at Athenian in 1970.

Tom saw a description of Athenian in a column by the educator John Holt. “He described the Athenian school as a counter culture school,” said Swope, “which of course it probably wasn’t, but it was close enough to be intriguing. It was an intriguing listing for a school that was not caught up in ruts of tradition and conformity.”

At first, Tom had no intention of spending his life teaching. “My original plans were of the moment. For one thing, The Athenian School was not a place where one had plans,” said Swope. He was inspired to become a teacher by mentor David Pynchon, the then headmaster of Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

After coming to Athenian, Tom saw that it was the place for him,“[In the early years] it was an innovative school,” said Swope. “It was one of the few co-educational boarding schools on the west coast, and the only one within thirty-three miles of the Free Speech Movement on the Berkeley campus. Who would ever in their right mind start a school under those circumstances?” Tom noted that it was difficult for Brown to deal with the practical aspect of running a school. “I mean, it’s a bunch of adolescent kids,” said Swope, “What do you think is going to happen?”

Athenian was a different place in the 70s. As Tom put it, “there were no job descriptions,” and the sixteen faculty members worked together to make a functioning school for about 120 boarding students. All of the teachers lived on campus, and houses were assigned by position. This way, teachers taught in the classrooms attached to their own houses, and having class was like teaching in one’s own living room.

“Without sentimentalizing it, there was this pioneer spirit,” said Swope. “Everybody participated in a common cause even without especially articulating what that cause was. It was as if we already knew it. Of course, this was a fantasy to some extent. The school has grown up.” Tom described Athenian as misunderstood at first; rumored to be a school for geniuses, drug rehabilitation, and everything in between.

Tom admits that his first year teaching, he didn’t quite know what he had gotten himself into. He recalls one of his ninth grade students as “a very dramatic child,” and when he teased her about her midterm grades, she got a bit offended and replied by saying, “F*** you!” Tom shot back with,” I may be quick witted, but I’m not double jointed.”

“I realized at that moment that this was going to be a different teaching experience than I had initially thought,” said Swope with a laugh.

Nonetheless, Tom was obviously not deterred from teaching, though his teaching style has changed through the years. “When I first started to teach,” said Swope, “One of the first books I taught was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I was an absolute tyrant about the details of that book, thinking that if they didn’t understand each part that the whole thing would be a failure. I’m now much more interested in the students’ sense of themselves. Ultimately I’m as interested in the students’ ability to connect the literature to issues that are important to them as opposed to simply hammering on the symbolism.”

Aside from being a literature teacher, Tom is better known as the photography teacher. Tom started the photography program on a whim in 1978, and at first there was no darkroom to speak of. Students developed their film in the basement of Ridgeview and printed photos in the main hall. About ten students shared one enlarger in an upstairs office. One summer, Tom and George Brown, who was on the maintenance staff, built the darkroom in Middlefield.

“Photography moved from being an avocation to a vocation,” said Swope, “Only where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes, is the deed ever really done.” He begins, in a manner that is so characteristically Tom Swope, to quote a Robert Frost poem.

I smile as he plucks these lines of poetry from thin air. There is no doubt that Tom is one of the most beloved teachers on campus, though he is quick to brush this praise aside. Tom has a quiet but central presence at Athenian, and he attributes his many years here to his loyalty to Dyke Brown. Always humble, Tom says, “Any success that I have had has depended a great deal on the authenticity and the courage of the students. I’m not the easiest person to understand initially. I have heard that I have kind of a forbidding aspect to me.”

Tom is the anchor of our community and a precious tie to years past. The real question is not if Tom has had an impact on Athenian – because the answer is a resounding YES! – but what we will possibly do without him?

“Goodbyes are always very difficult,” Said Swope, “But teaching is such that it is very important to say goodbye to students. I don’t want to be misunderstood, but it is only high school. You will have many more extraordinary experiences in your life. It is very important, I think, for teachers to let go of students because it is a very peculiar relationship. We are not really friends per se, and it doesn’t translate well in that regard. I much prefer to say goodbye to students than to pretend that something will necessarily persist thereafter. They will go off to lead more exciting lives. High school is important while it is going on, and only after when it is put in perspective.”

Though at first I thought that Tom recited this poem out of the blue, I have found that Robert Frost’s words ring true to Tom’s career at Athenian. Tom has been able to unite both work and play, to dedicate his life to a school with a mission he believes in, and to teach with a passion that inspires others:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

-Robert Frost


Athenian at Bay Area Maker Faire

Maker Faire is an event created by Make magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.”  Started in 2006, the event has quickly become a wildly successful event, drawing over 100,000 people to San Mateo.  This year, the San Mateo  County Board of Supervisors even declared May 19 and 20 “Maker’s Weekend” with this inspiring proclamation:

WHEREAS, Maker Faire celebrates the County of San Mateo’s creativity, ingenuity and the Do-It-Yourself spirit, and

WHEREAS, it brings together artists, crafters, engineers, hackers, food makers and scientists who like to tinker and who love to make things; and

WHEREAS, this family-friendly weekend encourages resourcefulness, green ethos and an overall passion for learning among Makers of all ages; and

WHEREAS it reaffirms the value of Makers, risk-takers and innovators in San Mateo County as contributors to both the community and humanity;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED that the Board of Supervisors of San Mateo County hereby designates May 19th and 20th, 2012 as Maker’s Weekend in San Mateo County and urges every member of our community to continue to foster the innovative and creative spirit of a Maker.

Athenian students showcased their work this year for the first time.  More than 20 students participated in the event from the Applied Sciences and the Art and Science of Making classes.  After months of planning, tinkering, testing, building, and rebuilding, the students submitted their work, prepared detailed poster presentations, and demonstrated their knowledge and their creations at the Faire.  Some of the many projects included a mood reader, a self-balancing robot, and an audio-to-video translator.

Student Projects at Maker Faire

Hover over “More” for full screen

Photos from Maker Faire

Hover over the images for captions.  Click to enlarge.
[fbphotos id=10150957360505726]

View more photos here.

Video: What Does Athenian Mean to You?

For the past six years, Athenian has held a Diversity Banquet for incoming and current students and families.  It is an opportunity for individuals to share their life experiences, their identity, and how Athenian has helped shape their worldview.

This year, we were lucky to have a recent alumnus return to campus to share his thoughts about Athenian’s continuing impact on his life.  Brendan Amechi Okwechukwu, Class of ’07, articulates,

“The opportunities I had on AWE, and traveling, and from day to day relationships I had with teachers, many of whom are here tonight, are lifetime experiences I will never forget.  And I don’t know how many high school students can say that.”

Brendan shares that many of his life’s defining moments centered around Athenian.   One particular memory from AWE stood out to Brendan.

“I’m looking out at this beautiful scene, and I’m thinking, here’s somebody who’s coming from East Oakland, to this school that I didn’t even really know if I wanted to go to at first, and now look where I am, and look at what I’ve accomplished, and look at what I can accomplish…that’s one of the best moments of my life.  And there’s just so many more experiences I’ve had at Athenian.”

Logan, a current junior, also delivered a personal speech, revealing,

“Throughout my 5-6 years at Athenian, I’ve come into myself…In my sophomore year, a lot like Brendan, I went on a Round Square Conference in Thailand.  And that was  one of the first times I considered myself in terms of my worldview, and what I wanted to do with my life, and what I value…This year I’m in Lizette’s Race in the US class, which has probably been one of most amazing classes I’ve ever taken, just because it’s given me a chance to really think about my place in the world and how I relate to other people and what my role is as a white woman.  And what I can do in terms of joining the racial discussion and talking about diversity and coming to events like tonight.  I would’ve never been this person if I hadn’t come to Athenian…Athenian has given me the gift not to be the girl from the Danville bubble, and to be someone who has her own thoughts,  is different and is an individual, and that is something I will forever be grateful for. “

Zarmeena, a 6th grader, spoke about her experience starting middle school at Athenian.  She chronicles her first year at Athenian and how her experience far surpassed her expectations.

“This school is not like that at all [middle schools on TV and movies].  There is no bullying and people respect each other.  The teachers are fun to be with and teach in an interesting way.  I became friends with my whole grade within the first month since the community is so small.”

To see more personal accounts, visit our Testimonial’s Page.

Athenians on Exchange

Did you know that there are seven Athenian students on exchange right now in South Africa, Australia, Denmark, and India?

Athenian students have the opportunity to go on exchange for two to three months during their senior year at any of the Round Square schools around the world.  This year, students are chronicling their experiences while honing their digital media skills by contributing to a Round Square exchange blog.

Here are a few excerpts:

Haley Kardek is in India at the Lawrence School Sanawar.

“These temples stood in stellar contrast to most other parts in the city though and that is what amazed me the most. Everywhere we traveled was beautiful but obviously impacted by poverty and lack of modernization. Dogs and people alike, slept huddled together on the dusty streets. I saw a family (a mother, her two, very young sons and handicapped daughter) weaving in and out of cars stopped at a light, begging for money, food, clothes, anything. There were alley-ways where piles of stone and demolished buildings blocked cyclist’s way as they carried ladders, mats and bags of food to work or to their family. Valleys in between different parts of the city were covered with villages made from cardboard, sticks and cheap fabrics: anything people could find. And next to all that, right around the corner from all these people, were the temples: giant; gold-plated and silver painted; elaborately carved with pictures of landscapes, gods and decorations; clean; white. Both temples, despite that we were visiting in the middle of the day, were packed tight with people of all classes, worshiping and spending time with their families. Groups were huddled around inside, quietly speaking to each other as they prayed. These temples are places of community. These are the only places where everyone becomes equal and everyone can share their beliefs, ideas and love for a shared god. This is what I have found India is about: community and family. I asked Asma what she does religiously. She answered me that she herself doesn’t practice much but because of her family’s strong religious belief and the long list of traditions her family tries to uphold, Asma strives to participate in every family gathering and practice. Festivals and ceremonies are very sacred to the Indian community because they become the only time that everyone, from the corporate workers to the children selling fruit on the street, can come together and celebrate their common love. This to me shows the importance and value of being an active part in the family and community: a part in which I hope, I too, can soon become a part of.”

Pierson Tan is in Tasmania, Australia at the Scotch Oakburn School.

“On Friday I had the opportunity to go to the Global Leaders Convention hosted by World Vision. When we got there, about 125 kids total were sitting in an auditorium watching an episode of Iron Chef. The ingredient was truffles. We did a massive simulation to experience the way trade affects the many people involved in growing, farming, distribution, and selling of goods. I learned how farmers who grow the actual food get paid less than .5% of the final selling price of the good and how poor they are forced to become. We watched numerous videos of first person perspectives of hunger in Ethiopia. The six kids from Scotch Oakburn that went to the Conference got a much better understanding of the very real problem of worldwide hunger.

On Tuesday we had an Athletic Carnival, which is basically an all-school track and field day. There are four houses which compete for house points, similar to Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Of the four houses (Fox, Briggs, Nance and Dean), I am in Dean. The day started out with some early morning sunshine at around 8:15. I threw discus as my first event, about 20 minutes after getting to the track. I remembered Ray’s training and did the South African and the 1.5 spin throws and placed 5th in the Under21 Division A heat. Like always, I was the smallest discus thrower, but I earned a few points for Dean House. Since I’m an exchange, I wasn’t on the official roster for the races so I just filled in for two boys who were injured. The two boys were two of the most athletic boys in Dean House, so the events I was placed in were all in the highest division of competition. I did the triple jump, 200 and 400 meter sprints, and the 4 x 100 meter relay race. Although I was not nearly close to the fastest, I never came in last.”

Helen Thompson is in South Africa at Stanford Lake School.

“A typical school day here goes like this: I get up at 6:25 and get dressed.  Some days I wear the Stanford uniform and some days I wear casual clothes. A quick breakfast of toast, coffee and cereal from 6:45 to 7:00. Back to hostel for room inspection and to get my backpack ready. Classes start at 7:30 but most days we have mentor, which is basically advisory, or an all-school meeting in the amphitheater. After that there are 4 classes before tea. During tea there are sandwiches, tea and coffee served in the dining hall, as well as snacks sold at the “tuck” shop. Then there are two more classes before lunch. Here they eat lunch at around 1:30 and only have half an hour to eat and do clean up crew. Typically there is one or two classes after lunch depending on the day. After school there are sports practices for either hockey or netball, rugby, mountain biking or adventure. Dinner for girls is at 5:45 and for boys at 6:15. Then back to hostel before 6:30, otherwise you may get locked out. At 7:00 the first Prep period starts; Prep is an hour long block where you have to be in your room doing homework. At 8:00 there is a break, then the second Prep period. Quiet time starts at 9:30. Repeat the next day.”

Garrett Furlong is in Denmark at the Herlufsholm School.

“Last weekend was a long weekend so Peter’s dad took Peter and I into this little town inside Copenhagen called Christiania. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but it is a very socialist, relaxed, somewhat “hippy” environment where about 900 people live. There is a beautiful lake in the middle of it and dogs are running around everywhere. If you ask a Dane where to go while you are in Denmark, the top place he will say is Christiania because it is so unique. They do not allow people to take pictures inside Christiania because there is so much tourism that the locals get annoyed. If you pull out a camera, expect a local to come up and start [yelling] at you in Danish.”

Learn more about Athenian’s exchange program here.

For more on International Experiences at Athenian, go here.

Students Give Inspired (and Inspiring!) Speeches for Town Meeting Presidential Election

Town Meeting is Athenian’s version of Student Government.  Students, faculty, and staff participate as equals in this governing board to improve the school.  Students have the opportunity to voice their desires and concerns and exercise their democratic muscle by debating and voting on Town Meeting proposals.  Several rising seniors ran for Town Meeting President this year. Read their compelling election speeches below.

Kaia Haney

I have been involved in this school since I was born. My parents have worked here for as long as I can remember and some of my earliest memories are on this campus, in this very hall. I am in love with this school. I love that we get a chance to evaluate our teachers, that we can look forward to poems at morning meetings and that we have this—town meeting. Athenian is unlike anywhere else, but I also see so many ways that it can improve. I am invested in this school, its development, and the ability that town meeting gives us to change it for the better. I am invested in improving this school in whatever way I can. As president I have the opportunity to do that and I will be fully dedicated to the job and all the commitments that come with it.

As president, I hope to increase town meeting attendance by reminding people that town meetings are their, our, opportunity to make change and make a difference within this school. I will encourage the participation of each member of the community, especially underclassmen, which will help to widen the range of opinions that are voiced during town meeting. I plan on being available as someone you can come to with concerns, questions, and issues. I will work to make the proposals at town meeting interesting and relevant and be dedicated to getting them passed. I will do my best to voice your concerns and your needs in faculty meetings.  I hope that you will feel president is not just a title, just as I will not feel it is. I will truly dedicate myself to being your voice, but to do that, I need you to communicate with me. There is no difference in the worth of our opinions. In a way, you are all my co-presidents and I am simply the one who communicates your message.

During the hike Monday, I was reminded of how just how amazing this school and its students are. On my hike to the summit I felt a school wide sense of determination and community and realized that those are the qualities that I hope to bring to every town meeting as president, without that 6 mile hike to the top of Mount Diablo.

Andrea Tam

Hi, my name is Andrea Tam, and I am running for Town Meeting President. One thing that I love about Athenian is that we are encouraged to voice our opinions, which has helped me come out of my shell and develop my own views. This is why Town Meeting is so important to me and why I am running.  We, as a community, have the privilege of openly discussing issues and making a difference at our school.  Our mission statement says that we should face life directly though open communication, embrace democratic governance, and develop confidence for future challenges, but how are we supposed to make a difference in the world if we lack the confidence to make a change in our own Athenian community?

Throughout the years, I have been fortunate enough to see Town Meeting steered in the right direction, but there is much that we can do. If elected, I will be a strong student voice and student advocate. I was a sophomore class official and currently am a junior class official and disciplinary committee member, so I have experience in student leadership and interacting with faculty as a student representative. I will effectively communicate the developments of curriculum committee meetings so that the community is better involved in every step of school issues. I will also do everything in my power to make Town Meeting, itself, an efficient forum of discussion where decisions are reached. Though I want to encourage people to go to Town Meeting, I will update the community of all passed proposals so that everyone, present or not, is aware of the decisions made by our student body and faculty. I will make Town Meeting an effective means of bringing about the changes we want to see. Please help me make Town Meeting an effective system where our opinions matter and vote Tam for Town Meeting President. Thank you!

Dan Choi

Hello my friends, faculty, and acquaintances. My name is Yoon Hyuck Choi, a.k.a Dan Choi and I am here as a candidate for the town meeting president. For three years, I have observed all of the town meetings and elections conducted in this main-hall. Don’t get me wrong, but what I have figured out from the three-years-of-observation and participation is that all of the candidates that I have seen came with similar promises, such as, becoming an accessible person who can listen to the Athenian community, a person who organizes the issues well and delivers effective policies to the community efficiently, and a person who is capable of taking the heavy responsibilities and seek the well-being of Athenian community. These are all good promises to make. However, what I noticed is that these are actually expected when whoever becomes the president. In other words, people who come up here in this podium as a candidate are already expected to become a person pre-supposed to deliver certain promises. Then, what am I going to say in this spot right now? That is a really good question. Well, last year, I was inspired by my fellow classmate’s speech about becoming a high-priest of the Athenian town meeting. I pondered about the name, “high-priest”, and it makes sense because this town meeting is a part of the Athenian school spirit. Let’s face it. Soccer players, aren’t we owls? Please say ‘aye’ if the answer is yes. Basketball players, aren’t we owls? Wrestlers, aren’t we owls? Let me change to something more all capturing. Athletes, aren’t we owls? Drama people, musicians, Robotics people, poets, writers, dancers, and all of you guys, aren’t we Athenians? YES. We are indeed Athenians. Then, what is “Athenians”? Definition wise, they were ancient Greek people who had a direct democratic system. The democracy part sounds appropriate, although we are not ancient Greek people. By these pillars we have here, democracy is a main pillar we should work on in my opinion. The school founder Dyke Brown wanted to make a school based on these pillars. Let’s see. Out-door adventure. We have an awesome AWE and other opportunities. Solid. Community service. We have sound programs with Round Square and we need it to graduate, thanks Mark Friedman. International understandings, again, we have Round Square. Environmental stewardship, we have a compost bins and Bob Oxenburg.  Education for Democracy. Currently, we have Democracy in Action class. Besides that, what do we have? Town Meetings.  Dyke Brown envisioned this school for students to fulfill all of these pillars and become not just an intelligent person but beyond that, a person who can live a life of stewardship and leadership. For that, the practice of town meeting, shouldn’t it be practiced well? Folks, I ask you again, AREN’T WE ATHENIANS? YES WE ARE and we are responsible for the practice of town meeting because we go this school and we will live a life unlike those schools that only produce test taking machines that do not have life. Folks, I believe we have more unique experiences to make our life richer and live a better life than them. We do, and I address that I am ready to enhance this school spirit of town meeting with you folks. I am ready to become the Arch-bishop of town meeting. Remember. We are Athenians. And I am your choice. Thank you.

 Tyler Huntington and Hana Sarfan

Tyler: Hi, I’m Tyler

Hana: And I’m, Hana, and today we want to tell you little a story.  This is the story of the power of the two, the number of duality, the only prime and even digit, the number that is about to revolutionize Town Meeting!

Tyler: However as we speak, there is a crisis occurring right here at the Athenian school and we are facing what could be the Time magazine headline of the century and that is: will our Democracy survive?

Hana:I think we all want to see our democratic community reach its fullest potential, but we know it is going to take strong leadership to steer us there.  And that is where our favorite number, 2 comes in because this year for the first time in Town Meeting history, Tyler and I are running as a co-presidential team!

Tyler: As a collaborative team we plan to bring our democracy here to a new level by combining our respective strengths, minds, and time towards a shared goal and vision.  Working together, we hope to hear every voice in our community, and better represent all of you at faculty and staff meetings, which we would attend together.

Hana: We want to contribute to the process of town meeting and feel that the position of president plays to our strengths as a team.  I am out-spoken and communicative and will be able to advocate strongly on behalf of the student body, but am also approachable and have the desire to work with all of you to improve our school. To me Town Meeting embodies what our school is about.

Tyler: For me, Athenian has been more than just a school, it has been a home and a living community.  Through my time here as a resident and a student I have only grown to become more appreciative of the opportunities Athenian offers its students and the power that it entrusts in us. This year in the Democracy in Action class  I have learned how to navigate the change making process. I plan to apply these skills to Town Meeting, initiating more dialogue around campus and helping students prepare for both sides of discussions!

Hana: This year we have seen exciting changes including the student-created classes, democracy in action and art and the science of making, as well as a changes to the town meeting bylaws.  We have proven that we have valuable ideas and can use the tool of town meeting effectively.

Tyler: It’s clear that our community is capable of discussing ideas, deciding on goals for the future, and accomplishing them.  Together, we can all utilize town meeting to its fullest potential and make Athenian the school we want it to be.


Learn more about Town Meeting here.

Athenian’s Sailing Team Overcomes Rough Conditions in Treasure Island Regatta

Athenian’s sailing team competed in the Pacific Coast Championships on Treasure Island this past weekend.  Despite being without their team captain, this group (including one rookie who’d never sailed before!) held their own in an intense race.

Thanks to Sailing Coach Andrew Nelson of the Encinal Yacht Club for supporting our students and reporting back with this exciting review:

We had quite a regatta at Treasure Island this weekend, with 20 teams from California attending the Pacific Coast Championships. The PCC’s are the final regatta of the year and the top five teams advance to compete for the Mallory Cup in Seattle this May. For many sailors this was their last regatta, and some had spent an entire high school career trying to reach the High School National Championships. Athenian High School was invited to participate, and managed to field a team despite the fact that their team captain and “A” skipper Haley Kardek is currently studying abroad in India. Senior Parker Hamren stepped up to the plate to fill in for Haley. It was a tall order, considering he had never been in a race before. His crew Tyler Huntington had even less experience, with just 3 days of sailing under his belt… total. Having done some dinghy sailing in the past, Parker and I went through an INTENSIVE 3 day crash course on racing last week here at the club. He spent about 8 hours over three consecutive days with me learning basic rules, roll tacking, starting etc. I was nervous to say the least going into this weekend. It was a big deal for Athenian to be invited to such a prestigious event, and I wanted to have a good showing. We set goals of getting around the course without delaying races, not committing any egregious fouls, and staying safe. I told them it was highly unlikely they’d beat any other boats, since they were sailing against the best talent on the West Coast in the biggest regatta of the year.

Abby Kardek and Gabby Rigby went out for their first ever Gold Fleet race in the light morning breeze. Gold Fleet is a lot tougher than silver fleet, as Abby and Gabby quickly realized. There is no room for error when sailing against some of the best in the county. Everyone sails fast and there are no stragglers to catch after a bad start. Simply put there is no margin for error and no playing catch up. I wasn’t too worried about the girls holding their own, and by the end of the day the girls had posted some mid-fleet finishes. Abby has plenty of experience sailing in tough fleets and their boat speed was comparable to that of the leaders on day one. I was pretty nervous as the boys got in the boat for their first “B” division race. It took the boys about 2 minutes to get off the line and up to speed. I couldn’t watch them crash and burn, so I went to go stand in line for lunch. When I came back they were being lapped, so I turned around and got seconds. I was seriously thinking about pulling the plug on their day, however in the second race they showed a bit of improvement. As the breeze built and the day went on they closed the gap between the boats in front of them. They were still finishing a minute or two behind, but each time they were learning from their mistakes. Once they got off the water they stood with me on the wharf and we watched the other races. Like sponges they were quickly soaking up valuable bits of sailing knowledge though observation and inquiry. Each race was better than the last, and soon I had a bet going that they’d beat a boat by the end of the regatta. They won the pin end of the line towards the end of the day on Saturday, and I was sure this was their race. Quickly the other boats caught up to them, but they proved to themselves they could hang with the pack even if it was for less than a minute.

Sunday was a new day, with a fresh westerly wind of 12 knots in the morning which built to near 20 knots by late afternoon. Considering they were the lightest boat in their division, Abby and Gabby went out and did surprisingly well in the breezy conditions. The boys still looked exhausted from the 8 races they had sailed on Saturday, but they didn’t complain one bit and got right back in the saddle. After watching the first race I was sure that any progress we had made on Saturday was lost. I started looking for the taco truck, so I’d have an excuse to turn away from the action, but to no avail. Then on their second race of the day they were right back on the heels of the fleet. With the breeze building to over 15 knots I was just glad they made it around the course. At least we were still on track with our original goals. In between sets we talked about the importance of staying in a full hike and using the mainsheet to balance the boat while going up wind. Parker was also footing a lot, which made it hard to keep the boat flat. In A fleet the girls were getting severely over-powered. Their combined 200lbs was not enough to keep the boat manageable. They appeared to be sailing in survival instead of race mode, while the bigger pairs put their weight to work on the upwind legs. After a capsize it appeared the girls were done for the day. Both were cold and exhausted, and without any alternates we had no subs to put in. Watching boats capsize in A fleet must have been unnerving for the boys, but once again they went right back out. On the downwind leg they soon found themselves swimming. I was surprised how quickly they were back up and going considering we hadn’t had time to do a refresher talk on capsizing. Still they completed both races and were hanging tight. The wind continued to build, with gusts near 20 knots by 2pm. The boys, undaunted, headed out for their last set. They had the best start of any boat and went out left with pretty good speed. Their boat was moving and pointing like all the others. They were hiking hard and putting their weight to work. They beat 3 boats to the weather mark, but their lead was shrinking. They were passed by all three on the second beat, but they were still in the hunt as the fleet headed for the downwind finish. Five places in front of them a boat capsized, then a second boat went over a bit further down the course. If the boys could stay upright they’d beat at least one boat. With their bailer long since lost, they were in danger of submarining. They quickly overtook both capsized boats, but with gallons of water in the boat and only a couple inches of freeboard, they were dangerously unstable. They held on and crossed the finish line in 18th place, promptly death rolling five seconds later.

By this time most of the sailors and spectators on the wharf knew their story. There were cheers from several people on other teams as they crossed the finish. I personally don’t think I’ve ever been as ecstatic about an 18th place finish. They went from being a joke, to being an underdog, to being heroes. It was quite an event to make one’s racing debut, but I was really blown away at how the boys handled everything. Attitude is everything and the boys reminded me of that this weekend. Make goals, set your mind to it, put in the effort and don’t back down. One of the other coaches, who never gives compliments, told me with complete sincerity how blown away he was by their progress, composure, and performance. This was definitely one of those regattas where the final score doesn’t reflect how you feel at its conclusion. Athenian finished dead last, but I’m still grinning like an idiot; proud of the way the WHOLE team sailed.

Results should be posted soon on the PCISA website. Kudos to Branson High School for qualifying for nationals. It’s been a while since we’ve had a NorCal team in the running for the Mallory Cup, so wish them luck and cheer on your district.