Practice or party? The high school athlete dilemma

graphic: Caroline Smith

graphic: Caroline Smith

Prom. Advertised by magazines and TV shows as the pinnacle of teen life, most expect the night to revolve around the joys of dressing up in fancy clothes and dancing the night away with close pals. Many high schoolers spend a great deal of time, not to mention money, preparing for these kinds of events, between getting dressed, taking pre-party photos, and arranging transportation to the dance itself. However, many varsity athletes have found their time spent at prom and other social functions cut short by sports-related activities, whether it be a game, meet, or even just a mandatory practice.

This year, several PHS athletes had to make compromises between prom and sports, especially those participating in track and field. The 2014 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Sectionals competition was held from May 23–24, with PHS prom falling on the first day. This caused the runners to spend less time getting ready and in some cases, less time at the prom in order to get a good night’s sleep before more races the following day.

“[Sectionals] was running really late so I wasn’t able to go to take pictures [and] I got to prom an hour and forty-five minutes late,” said Lou Mialhe ’16, a track and field distance runner. The competition was held in Tinton Falls, an hour’s drive from Princeton, with races starting as early as 3:30 p.m. and as late as 9:00 p.m. As such, many athletes barely made it to prom, let alone the pre-prom festivities.

Some students such as Joe Gray ’15, a sprinter, completely flipped around their schedules in order to make room for conventional prom activities. “I went right home, changed into my tux, and took photos with my date pretty much right [after school ended],” said Gray. “[After taking the pictures] I had to drive to the track meet, run my race, and then make it back [as soon as possible].” Most students get together with their friends an hour or two before the big night and go to the dance together.

Lydia Bhattacharya ’15, a member of the Central Jersey Volleyball Academy club team, left prom early so that she could leave early the next morning for a tournament five hours away. “If there’s something in sports, like a tournament … that you’re not going to experience again, then it’s definitely worth prioritizing it over your social life,” she said. “You can always call your friends when you’re at the tournament, [and] you can text them.”

Despite the annoyances that come with such a complicated schedule, serious athletes find that their social sacrifices are well worth the success that comes out of having dedication to a sport. “I always put sports before anything social because it means more to me,” said Mialhe. Many runners have to miss out on other social events because of weekend meets and the late night practices that have become so common during the construction of the new track.

graphic: Elizabeth Teng

graphic: Elizabeth Teng

“I do have to skip … some Friday night parties because of a Saturday morning meet, but then again most of my friends are already on the track team so I’m missing out with them,” said Gray.

“[Maintaining a social life] is hard sometimes because the schedule is overbearing … You want to do a good job in school, [but] you want to have friends at the same time,” said Mira Shane ’15, the starting goalkeeper for the varsity girls lacrosse team. While maintaining both a social life and a high level of dedication to a sport are difficult, team members can also make a team feel like a community of its own.

Setting goals such as breaking a school record or getting recruited for college keeps athletes focused on what lies ahead, rather than getting caught up in social affairs that, while enjoyable, may have less importance or contain less applicable life lessons. “You put so much time into a sport as a young kid that once you get to a certain level, you don’t want to give it up because it’s a part of you,” said Shane.

“By being on a team you’re saying that ‘Yes, I came out to do this sport and I want to meet new people and help the team’,” said Bhattacharya. “If you think, ‘I have to either focus on my school life or my sports life,’ it’s going to be really hard.”