At McCallie, athletics is an important tool in a comprehensive educational program
From the Summer 2015 issue of McCallie Magazine
Wesley Brown takes the ball and drives across the left side of the soccer field in the Blue Tornado’s TSSAA state playoff game against Saint Benedict Academy.
The fourth-generation McCallie student moves quickly down the field as his teammates surge forward, and an SBA defender scrambles to keep pace. Brown looks toward the goal, gets past a defender and sends the ball toward the center of the field in front of the net.
Awaiting the crossing shot is David Bowman, a fellow senior from Athens, Ala., with no family ties to the school before his arrival as a freshman boarding student. Bowman takes the pass, redirecting it past the SBA goalkeeper and into the net for the first goal in a 3-2 McCallie win, drawing cheers from the home crowd on a Saturday morning in May.
Less than 24 hours later, Brown and Bowman would once again stand together and hear the cheers of their friends, family and classmates — as co-valedictorians of McCallie’s 2015 graduating class.
Brown and Bowman — roommates, teammates, best friends, top of their class academically — and, this fall, both will become members of the incoming freshman class at Princeton University.
Young boys enter McCallie every fall. They learn how to study, of course, and how to take what they learn in the classroom and prepare themselves for life beyond the Ridge, but they are expected to get more from the McCallie experience than what can be learned in a classroom.
They learn what it means to work together toward a common goal, to build trust with their teachers and classmates, to develop pride in being a part of the McCallie community and to form friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime.
A crucial component of the McCallie experience has always been athletics — building the bodies of boys as well as nurturing their mind and spirit — and it remains an integral part of the school’s mission to produce men of high intellect and integrity with a desire to succeed wherever life takes them.
Athletics does not drive the mission at McCallie, but it is an important part of completing the process of teaching boys and building men.
Different paths, same goals
David Bowman wasn’t impressed with McCallie — at first.
As a young boy from Athens, Ala., Bowman had heard about McCallie from Boyd Jackson ’09, who encouraged Bowman to consider coming to Chattanooga as a boarding student.
“He just did really well here and really loved it,” Bowman said. “He pushed me to try one of the summer camps, so I went to the first-ever Character Leadership Community camp.
“To be entirely honest, I didn’t like it. When I came back, I told my parents ‘It was fun, but McCallie’s not the place for me.’”
But the offer of financial aid through the Honors Scholars program prompted him to give it a try. Like some boarding students, he struggled with homesickness as a freshman, persevered into his sophomore year and found that McCallie was giving him opportunities beyond what he could have had in his hometown.
“It was just a crazy transition, but I’ve loved it,” he said. “I realized it was challenging and maybe not nearly as much fun as people are having back home, but it’s building me and helping me grow in ways that might not otherwise have happened. I’ve been grateful ever since.”
For Wesley Brown, McCallie was much more of a known entity. His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and brother were McCallie men, and while he had other options, the path toward the Ridge was a familiar one for him.
“It wasn’t destined to happen, because my sister went to boarding school at St. Andrews in Delaware, and I could have just gone to the public school in Charlotte.
“We ended up looking at McCallie and St. Andrews . . . and it was the Honors Scholarship that brought me here. I haven’t looked back since and have loved it.”
Once together as classmates, Brown and Bowman developed a strong friendship — the bond that many generations of McCallie men have developed over the years — and they threw themselves into campus life. They have participated in the performing arts with the men’s chorus, quickly moved to the top of their classes academically and — especially in their senior year — found athletic success on the soccer field.
Strong foundation in athletics
In his history of McCallie, When We Came to the Ridge, George Hazard Jr. ’64 writes, “From his earliest advertisements, Professor (Spencer Jarnagin) McCallie had announced that sports and physical development would be major parts of the McCallie school day.”
Indeed, in its first year of 1905, McCallie went undefeated in football, going 4-0-2 and soundly beating Baylor 41-0. The addition of faculty members and former college athletes Ed McCallie and Len White to the informally organized team may have improved the quality of play somewhat, but the early success shows that McCallie’s founders clearly saw sport as a crucial part of the curriculum.
Current Headmaster Lee Burns ’87 agrees that athletics remain a key part of McCallie’s mission. Mr. Burns was a noted tennis player at McCallie, playing on the varsity team for five years and was No. 1 singles in 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade. He went on to play tennis for four years at Dartmouth College.
“I care deeply about sports at McCallie,” Mr. Burns said. “That’s not the most important thing we do, but I care very much about it.
“I feel like I personally learned and grew and gained many experiences through my time competing in varsity tennis. I understand athletics and the value of doing it the right way.”
In his first year as Headmaster, Mr. Burns has seen several athletic triumphs, including a 35-9 football win over Baylor, a state championship in Lacrosse and several individual accolades for McCallie athletes.
These accomplishments help the school far beyond the scoreboard, and the impact can be felt beyond the athletes and benefit the school in many ways.
“Athletics in general helps to build school unity, spirit and morale,” Mr. Burns said. “It also sends important messages to the broader public about us. It has an impact on fundraising and alumni engagement.
“It’s primarily about the experience that McCallie boys have, and yet it’s also much broader than that.”
The nature of high school athletics has changed profoundly since McCallie’s shutout win over Baylor in 1905. Gone are the days of the Mid-South, and the world continues to change. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association split private schools that offer financial aid into Division II in 1997, and talk continues to rumble about the possibility of a complete public-private split.
In addition, there’s an increased pressure to specialize in a single sport in the search for college athletic scholarships; club sports have taken some students away from traditional varsity athletics; and the pressure to win has grown exponentially.
“One of the challenges is how do we have a successful program in a way that’s consistent with our values and doing it the right way in the midst of a landscape that’s changed,” Mr. Burns said. “There can be pressures to do things in a way that is not mission appropriate.
“It all goes back to thinking about why we do athletics, and that’s to develop a boy from a holistic perspective. We want to develop his mind, heart, spirit and body. In many cases, I think athletics can provide a unique platform for learning particular types of really valuable lessons.”
Forward thinking on the field
As the 2015 soccer season began at McCallie, the prospects were uncertain for the Blue Tornado. Chris Cushenbery was in his first season as head coach, and several underclassmen would be called upon to play significant roles.
Mr. Cushenbery decided to make a bold move with Bowman and Brown, moving the two seniors up to the front line of attack from the midfield and defense with Bowman at center forward and Brown by his side on the right wing. Looking back, it was an inspired move.
“The success with the soccer team this year has been extremely unexpected,” Bowman said. “With a new coach and how things went last year, we weren’t really expecting to be all that great.”
The Blue Tornado’s first goal of the season was by Brown with an assist by Bowman on Brown’s birthday. It was the start of a great combination on offense.
After opening the season with a 2-2 tie against Southeast Whitfield, McCallie reeled off 16 consecutive wins before losing a heartbreaker to MBA in overtime of the Division II-AA state semifinals. The Blue Tornado outscored their opponents 63-13 to go 16-1-1 for the season, defeated arch rival Baylor 2-0 and finished the campaign ranked No. 9 in the nation by MaxPreps, despite not making the state championship game.
Individually, Bowman and Brown powered the Blue Tornado offense. Bowman finished with 14 goals and nine assists, while Brown tallied 12 goals and 13 assists.
Bowman was able to play in his hometown against Athens High, and both he and Brown scored, with Bowman scoring the game winner of the 2-1 win in the final minutes with an assist by — who else — his roommate Brown.
“Wesley and David embody things like putting the team over the individual, pursuing excellence, being relationally invested, working hard and being men of character,” Mr. Cushenbery said. “They moved the needle on the quality of the culture here in significant ways.
“Wesley and David were and are amazing, but the other seniors — Marshall Martin, Will Sikes, Matthew King and Michael Chirumbole — did just as much for us this season, and they all created the spark that will ultimately help McCallie soccer grow in huge ways.”
It was a special year for McCallie soccer that took sacrifice by players, coaches and parents to achieve.
“My freshman and sophomore years, I couldn’t play varsity because of the Honors Scholarship program, and that’s a TSSAA thing,” Brown said of a rule limiting aid to varsity athletes in Tennessee. “So with my parents we made a decision to drop my scholarship so I could play soccer my junior and senior year.
“That, obviously, was a huge sacrifice for them, and I’m so grateful for that. Being able to play varsity soccer and get into that community … has been huge in keeping me grounded and keeping me involved in something outside of academics — rounding me out a little bit more.”
While the victories were mounting on the soccer field, the two seniors were also finding equal or greater success in the classroom. Though the two boys are different in many ways — Bowman is more scattered in his work while Brown readily admits to being “obnoxiously” ultra-organized — they were at the top of their class with their near-perfect GPAs a tiny 0.001 apart.
Determining who would earn valedictorian honors for the Class of 2015 was going to be tough, but there was a solution that suited both the situation and the two young men who had become best friends — McCallie would have co-valedictorians for the first time in more than 20 years.
“We had a conversation with Assistant Headmaster Kenny Sholl about if this was something we’d want to do, and we said yeah because it’s such a cool thing,” Bowman said. “It’s just really a remarkable thing to have your roommate, your best friend and the guy who plays right next to you on the soccer field be giving a speech with you at graduation for the same award.”
And they will continue their friendship in college — although not as roommates. Both will attend Princeton University in the fall after Brown made the tough decision to turn down the prestigious Johnson Scholarship at Washington and Lee to join Bowman in the Ivy League school.
For Bowman, the journey from Athens, Ala., to Princeton, N.J., is a major step in life, but it’s a step he’s now ready to take after his four years at McCallie.
“If I had applied to Princeton from Athens High School, it could have been a totally different story,” he said. “I think McCallie has been the perfect sort of middle step between there and Princeton — allowing me to experience what I’ll experience at Princeton but on a smaller scale.
“McCallie has set the stage for that and set me up to do well there.”
Mr. Burns thinks the co-valedictorians of the Class of 2015 show how the entire McCallie experience can produce young men ready to face the challenges of college life and adulthood with confidence.
“I think McCallie is a school of well-rounded boys and young men,” he said. “A school where you can aspire to excellence in many different areas. McCallie boys feel secure and free to pursue a lot of different interests and passions.
“David and Wesley are great examples of McCallie students who have excelled in several areas, and they didn’t excel in one area to the exclusion of another. They are better students because they’re good athletes and better athletes because they’re good students.”
Facing the future
So where does McCallie Athletics go from here to build on the vision of the founders and lay the foundation for future growth in the 21st Century? That’s the challenge that faces Mr. Burns and the entire McCallie community going forward.
With Mr. Burns finishing his first school year as Headmaster, assessments will be made about all aspects of McCallie, from academics to alumni relations and athletics.
“We’re going through a strategic planning process this coming year,” Mr. Burns said. “We’ll look at a lot of different areas and topics. Athletics will be included among the areas we examine, and I’m excited to see what thoughts and ideas emerge around the athletic program.
“Certainly athletics will continue to be a vital part of McCallie, and we’ll continue to make sure that we are ready to provide that experience to our students in a meaningful way.”
What can’t be lost in the sometimes overly competitive arena of high school sports today is making sure that a school’s athletic programs remain grounded in serving the student body first and foremost. Mr. Burns intends to make sure that all of McCallie’s programs — academic, artistic, altruistic and athletic — work toward the single goal of educating the whole boy.
“An athletic program is about more than just wins and losses on a scoreboard. It’s about important lessons learned,” Mr. Burns said. “It’s about learning hard work and teamwork, discipline and resilience, being humble in winning and gracious in losing.
“I think there are so many important lessons that sports teaches. Whether you’re a pretty average athlete, an above-average athlete or an elite athlete, there are important lessons to be gained. I want to make sure the athletic program is helpful and appropriate and a positive experience for all the boys at McCallie.”
For two young men now bound for the college world and the exciting challenge of an Ivy League experience, McCallie has fulfilled its mission — academically, socially and athletically — in ways that should make everyone connected with the school proud.
“It was the best decision I ever made to come here,” Brown said. “It’s been completely life changing. I wouldn’t be the same person as far as drive and internal motivation and striving for success, whether that’s athletically or academically.
“It’s a competitive environment, but it’s mutually supportive in its competitiveness.”