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AJA By The Numbers

A Statistical Summary of AJA’s HS Sports Teams

“AJA is in a situation which is all about the numbers,” remarked Athletics Director Coach Rodney Zimmerman. When it comes to AJA’s sports, the number of people in the student body, the number of sports offered, the number of students who participate in a sport, and even the number of students who don’t participate all play a key role when determining what sports AJA can offer.

Since autumn of 2020, AJA has offered Boys Flag Football. From its inception, Flag Football has been embraced as a “well received” and “more popular” sport, according to Coach Z. He attributes this success to parent volunteer Coach Justin Katz, who “goes out of his way to build the program.” Katz “adds tremendous value” to the High School’s Flag Football team, which prompted the idea for next year’s Middle School spring Flag Football team and the Junior Jags fall flag football program. Coach Z. believes that these new programs for younger students will only increase future participation in the High School Flag Football team that already consists of 43% of the High School male student population.

Another fall sport and a staple in AJA’s line-up, Girls Volleyball has had “consistent” interest throughout the years, according to Coach Z. Volleyball “is the only girls’ sport offered in the fall” and “is easier to advertise” for because it lands at the start of the school year, when students “hopefully” have less homework and seek new opportunities “to build friendships within sports.” Thus, Girls Volleyball has more interest than Girls Basketball in the winter. In fact, 27%, 86%, and 25% more students played volleyball than basketball in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively.

“The number of people in the student body, the number of sports offered, the number of students who participate in a sport, and even the number of students who don’t participate all play a key role when determining what sports AJA can offer.”

Throughout the past three years, Coach Z. explained that participation in Girls Basketball “fluctuated.” While the team consisted of 25% of the High School’s female population in 2019, Girls Basketball participation reached its nadir in 2020 at 13%, and skyrocketed in 2021 at 32% of the female population. Coach Z. recalled that in 2020, the Basketball team consisted of only five girls: “Every day there were discussions amongst the girls playing, myself, and administration about the health and safety concerns.” Despite the team’s commitment to “play no matter what… there were times [it] did not feel safe for the girls’ physical or mental health.” He described this 2020 team as “warriors” filled with a palpable “spirit” felt by competing schools and spectators. This year, the team grew to 12 players who “saw their potential translate from hard work in practice to much better results in games.”

While Girls Basketball had years with low interest, Boys Basketball maintained consistent interest with 16, 20, and 16 players in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively. This wealth of players allows for two levels of the basketball team: Varsity and Junior Varsity. Coach Z. explained that in order to have two teams, the overall interest in Boys Basketball has to be at least 13 players, which “has been the case every year.” He added that, typically, the Varsity team consists of eight students with some JV players “added into the mix.”

Because an average of 44% of the High School male population played basketball in the past three years, few students remain for Boys Wrestling, the alternative winter sport offered. Coach Z. noted that the popularity of basketball caused “many of the past wrestlers” to follow the trend and gravitate towards basketball. Additionally, he believed COVID-19 decreased wrestling participation. Apart from the mask requirement while wrestling, Coach Z. attributed the decline in participation to the students’ attempts to “find a balance to getting back in the classroom, time management, and the social aspect after being so long without the social connection.” Wrestling is one of the least popular sports at AJA, with six, six, and two students participating in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively. Nonetheless, Coach Z. hopes to have eight to ten wrestlers in the future, which he plans to accomplish through “special initiatives” and clinics run by wrestling Coach Paul Fineman next year.

In the spring, AJA offers Girls Soccer. While the Soccer team consisted of 16 players in the spring 2020, it dropped by 44% in 2021 to a team of only nine players. Despite this decrease last year due to students gradually adjusting back to an in-person school schedule, the Athletics Department exercised patience in “dealing with each student individually.” This year, the Soccer team picked “back up” and had 16 participants again. Coach Z. added that for some, Soccer is their only sport, so they “wait an entire school year just to reach the spring [and] play soccer.” Girls Soccer was the most popular girls’ sport this year, and 42% of the High School female population played it.

In addition to Soccer, AJA offers a co-ed Tennis team in the spring. Tennis has had less interest than other sports throughout its three years of existence, with only six players in 2020 and 2022. Tennis peaked in 2021, increasing by 50% to a total of nine participating players. Coach Z. explained that this was a result of the dedication of volunteer parent Coach Davi Kutner, who “stepped up and stepped in to help navigate the practices and matches for the High School.” This year, Coach Davi did not coach the Tennis team and it fell back down to six players, a number too small for the team to compete against other schools. Nonetheless, Coach Z. expects a bigger group and a full schedule with matches next year.

Unlike Tennis, Boys Baseball in the spring has significant interest with 13, 12, and 17 players participating in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively. Coach Z. explained that part of this participation level is a result of the hard work of volunteer parent Coach Joey Wilson. However, he does not attribute this large number to student interest in the sport itself, but rather to the fact that baseball “was the only spring sport alongside tennis.” At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Coach Z. sent a form to students with the list of proposed sports for the 2021-2022 school year to gauge interest. At that time, Coach Z. was considering offering Boys Soccer as well. With two options to choose from, interest in Boys Soccer and Boys Baseball split, and only eight students selected each sport. 

With so few students interested in both sports, Coach Z. realized that offering these two competing sports would create “a situation where you will not have enough [players] for either.” Many students considered either playing soccer or baseball, which “creates a tipping point” where Coach Z. can only offer one sport to meet the requirement of “an accurate number of participants plus an overflow of at least three to five students.” Ultimately, Coach Z. gravitated towards offering baseball, the team he believed “could be seen fully through.”

Another sport that appeared in 2021’s interest form was Track & Field. However, only two students expressed interest in it, so Track & Field could not be offered.

Between Boys Baseball, Tennis, Boys Soccer, and Track & Field, students have requested a total of four spring sports for boys. So far, only Boys Baseball and Tennis have come to fruition. For the future, Coach Z. believes the only “solution” to offering multiple boys sports in the spring is having a greater percentage of the male student population participate in a sport. Currently, only 45% of the boys in the High School play a spring sport. “Doing the math,” Coach Z. explained,  “if I see that there are four sports offered and 40 HS boys… that means that every boy needs to participate in a spring sport for all sports to happen.” Nonetheless, that would only allow for ten boys in each sport and leaves no room for inevitable setbacks, such as “injuries and other obligations.” Coach Z.’s concern is that this “creates a spiral effect” of rescheduling or canceling games “due to not having enough participants.” Because AJA lacks enough male students to adequately offer these four sports with full rosters, Coach Z. decided to only offer two spring sports for boys so far.

Looking at the various sports, Coach Z. noticed that the number of students who express interest in a team is usually greater than its actual size when the time comes. Between the 2021-2022 interest form and the actual sports seasons, Boys Flag Football interest decreased by 22%, Girls Volleyball by 25%, Wrestling by 71%, and Boys Basketball by 16%. While a sport might seem exciting when a student plans for the next school year, Coach Z. believed that when “other programs get added or students see something they prefer to place attention towards”, fewer students end up joining the sport teams of their initial interest.

Overall, Coach Z. feels participation in AJA HS sports “has been pretty steady.” In the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022 school years respectively, 76%, 67%, and 71% of the student body participated in at least one sport. Despite the dip in participation in the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, Coach Z. did not expect students to jump right back into playing sports after school as they readjusted to in-person instruction. He explained, “I knew it would take time.”

With a small student body, AJA misses out on the “luxury of having two to three teams in each sport.” Nonetheless, Coach Z. explained that his goal is not to make sports mandatory, but to get AJA “to a position where students want to play sports.” Coach Z. believes AJA’s small population, despite its limitation of the number of possible sports, offers a unique opportunity to give “students that extra level of experiential learning through athletics” without worrying about “tryouts and cuts.” While each and every number counts on the logistical end of AJA sports, the experiences and lessons gained by student athletes as well as their unwavering commitment truly keeps them alive.

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