By Lucy Jackson, Jordan Odiakosa and Lucas ShawÂ
Two varsity basketball players and a nationally ranked tennis player withdrew from the upper school during the summer to give priority to their sports.
Over this past summer three top athletes left the school: Kieran Ramsey (basketball), Hilary Barte (tennis), and Peter McMillan (basketball). Two of them (Ramsey and Barte) cited the need for a less rigorous and more supportive academic environment.
âThe biggest reason that Kieran left was to find a better fit academically,â Head Basketball Coach Greg Hilliard said. Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas said that he felt that, while the school was obviously a challenge for students, athletes could succeed in the academic and athletic fields concurrently.
âHarvard-Westlake does not make school easier for athletes and they shouldnât,â starting point guard Jabari Trotter â07 said.
âIf they did they would have to make exceptions for actors and others. There are many hobbies and extracurricular activies that are just as time consuming as sports.
Last year, Gabe Cohen transfered to El Camino Real High School so that he could focus more on baseball.
Cohen considered playing professionally right after high school and thought that playing at a school with a better program and at a school with less rigorous academics would help.
When school ended in June, the 2006-2007 Wolverine basketball season was already going to be a struggle. Only two starters were returning as Alex Stepheson â06, one of the schoolâs best player ever, graduated. Meanwhile, the team was joining a new much tougher division. By May rumors May a much tougher division. By May, rumors had had begun to spread that Ramsey, who would be the teamâs top returning player, was going to transfer. However, Hilliard remained optimistic.
âI think he expected me to stay,â Ramsey said.
After school ended, Ramsey sat down with his family and evaluated his situation. He had toured schools throughout the Northeast and the idea of going away to a more academically supportive school appealed to ao a more academically supportive school appealed to him.
After much deliberation, Ramsey decided to transfer to South Kent Academy in Connecticut, an all-boys school.
âMy parents wanted me in an environment that was just school and ball,â Ramsey said. âHowever, I do not want anyone to think that this was my parentsâ decision. I had the final word. I had debated whether I wanted to go to a prep school now or after high school and South Kent was like âwhy not do it now?ââ
Ramsey met with School President Thomas C. Hudnut and then had a conversation with Hilliard.
âI told Coach that I really enjoyed my three years at the school and that I was blessed for the experience,â Ramsey said. âI think he was surprised and he might have had some ill will, but I think he was more shocked than anything.â
While several factors contributed to Ramseyâs decision, it was the different environment and feel of South Kent that was most appealing.
âI think going to South Kent will give me a sense of maturity and a different kind of academic support system,â Ramsey said.
âIt will be more hands on. At Harvard-Westlake they give support, but if you have a different kind of learning style you struggle and you donât grasp the material. There are so many smart kids that they canât stop for you.â
His transfer means that Ramsey will gain another year of eligibility. Rather than becoming a senior and graduating after this year, Ramsey will essentially repeat junior year and will be eligible to play for both his junior and senior year. This provides Ramsey with an extra year to showcase his talents.
Ramsey is the third basketball player to go to a prep school from the Upper School but the first to leave before graduating.
Evan Harris â02 went to a prep school after high school but before attending Harvard University. Certain prep schools are open to students who have already graduated and are known as post-graduate or âP-Gâ schools.
âPrep schools, unlike junior colleges, do not affect your college eligibility,â Hilliard said. âSo, a player may improve either his academics or his athletic skills or both in preparation for college.â
V arsity center Peter McMillan, a 6â6 junior, started school last week at Brentwood High School, to the surprise of his coach and teammates.
With the departure of Stephenson as the premier center, McMillan looked to battle Zane Ma â08 for the center position.
Coach Hilliard said that he was âshocked,â because â[Peter and Hilliard] never discussed this move.â
âI found out on Aug. 29 from the Athletic Department,â Hilliard said.
âLife is all about entering and exiting relationships,â Barzdukas said. âGrowth is learning how to enter and how to get closure. I wish him the best and hope he grows and learns how to enter and exit relationships.â
McMillanâs former teammates were also shocked to hear that he had transferred to Brentwood.
âIt was a big surprise to me because he never discussed transferring at all with any of us,â Ma said. Despite the fact that McMillanâs departure will be a loss to the team, he claims his decision to leave had nothing to do with basketball.
âHarvard-Westlake was really far away from my home, and since basketball is year round it made it very difficult for me to travel to and from and conflicted with my schedule,â McMillan said. To him, the advantages of attending Brentwood outweighed the four year connection that he had established at Harvard-Westlake.
âBy transferring to Brentwood, it will be closer to my house, making it easier for my parents to take me to school,â McMillan said.
Even with the abruptness of his departure, McMillan also claims that his decision to leave has been a long thought-out process.
âSince the summer Iâve been just looking around and getting some ideas from my club coach and my dad,â McMillan said. Left out of the decision, Hilliard, although shocked, expressed no displeasure that McMillan had transferred.
âIâm never upset about a decision that is better for a player,â he said âI do wish we had talked about it.Â I might have been able to help.â
Just before the start of a much anticipated senior tennis season, Hilary Barte decided to leave Harvard-Westlake and receive home schooling which was, in her opinion, a better option for a rising star.
After reaching the CIF individual semifinals as a sophomore and winning the CIF individuals title as a junior last fall, Barte realized that her tennis career would benefit from more practice and training time, something she could not do while attending Harvard-Westlake.
âThe academics at Harvard-Westlake are doable, but you have to put so much into them that it does take away from important playing and training time,â Barte said.
In addition, Barte found it hard to play in tournaments that occurred during the school year. She recalls that âit was hard because if I missed school for tournaments, it was really difficult to make up everything.â
She said is sure that with a more flexible schooling schedule, she will be able to play more tournaments without it affecting her academics.
âTournaments get you noticed by recruiters, and, if you play well, they help your ranking,â Barte said, who recently won third place in the USTA National Hard Court Championships in the 18 and under age division. She is currently ranked second in the Southern California region.
In preparation for upcoming tournaments, Barte will be practicing with her coach in two hour sessions twice a day, which her home schooling schedule will have to work around.
Barte is currently unsure of her future plans, saying âafter this year I will be able to make a decision about going to college or going pro.â
Whatever she decides, she is sure of one thing: âI will miss the classes and the intellectual stimulation that I found at Harvard-Westlake, but ultimately, I needed to leave in order to be able to succeed in tennis.â