Performing arts conflicts take students from athletic practices

By Robbie Loeb

Before the volleyball game against Loyola, Head of the Performing Arts Department Rees Pugh interrupted practice and insisted that setter Stephen Carr ’12 leave to rehearse for a One Act play in which he was co-starring. Pugh told Head Coach Adam Black that at this school, performing arts rehearsals take precedence over sports practices. Without a backup setter, Black laced up his shoes and had to set up for the rest of the practice.

The typical Harvard-Westlake student is constantly juggling athletics, arts and academics. It is rather common that a student is committed to sports teams, plays and concerts, and all at the same time.

“Conflicts are going to exist,” Athletic Director Terry Barnum said. “We are an ambitious school, and we try to do a lot of things very well. All we can do is try to work together as best we can to try to minimize those conflicts.”

“It affects every performance, all the time,” Jazz teacher Shawn Costantino said. “There’s never a performance where there’s not a kid rushing back from [either] volleyball, basketball or baseball.”

Several years ago, the Student Athlete Advisory Council proposed guidelines for students who find themselves torn because they are forced to choose between sports and performing arts. The proposal, which can be found in the student handbook, advises students to notify appropriate faculty in a timely manner in order to work towards a satisfactory resolution. It ranks which activities should take precedence over others, to help students make decisions. Playoff games, final dress rehearsals and concerts supersede league games which supersede practices.

The proposal’s purpose was to give students help in choosing between performing arts and athletics

“Since then, it has morphed into a weapon more than a tool,” Barnum said. “I think it has helped to avoid conflict, and I also think the coaches and the performing arts faculty have done a great job of working together to try and minimize the number of conflicts that may arise as well.”

“Sometimes I get into arguments with people because I’m very passionate about jazz, and if I have to go up against a lacrosse coach and he’s passionate about lacrosse, he doesn’t want to give up his player for a big game because it’s important to him and it’s important to me, so we do some head-butting but I don’t think it’s malicious,” Costantino said.

Teachers and coaches feel like they are always “pulling on the same kid,” Costantino said. He said that both performing arts and athletics want what is best for their respective programs, and that is where conflict and frustration arise from.”

I think the coaches and the performing arts faculty find it frustrating when their key performers can’t be there,” Barnum said. “That’s part of being at Harvard-Westlake and trying to be excellent. I think it can be damaging to a team, particularly if it’s a key member of the team, and it’s a practice right before a big game, or even if it is a game, that sometimes students have to miss. Team cohesion is such an important part of being successful in athletics, and any time you’re missing a part of your team, it’s going to hurt the team cohesion and the strategy for winning that particular game.”

“I am sure it is frustrating when these sorts of conflicts arise, but the frustration is never directed at me,” jazz saxophonist and basketball player Brooke Levin ’12 said. ”In my case, I have found that Head Coach [Melissa] Hearlihy and Costantino are extremely respectful of each other’s programs and do everything to help me juggle the schedule.”

Levin finds that balancing her responsibilities takes compromise and communication. She neither lets basketball take precedence over the arts, or the arts over her athletics, she said. Instead, she balances them evenly.

“Hopefully, at the end of that resolution, the person that is most happy is the student, because that’s who matters most in these situations,” Barnum said. “It’s ultimately up to the player. That’s the thing that I think gets lost a lot of times when there are conflicts. We have to encourage the students to be open and honest with everyone that’s involved.”