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Football players at practice

Hundreds of Norfolk Academy student-athletes eagerly hit the practice fields this week, as fall sports got underway.

Varsity football began Monday, Aug. 5, with all other varsity sports beginning Thursday. Junior varsity practices start next week and middle school sports later in the month.

Working out under an intense summer sun well before the start of classes isn’t a bother for football quarterback Drew Duffy ’20. He’s excited to bond with teammates.

“Kicks off the year right,” Duffy said.

Norfolk Academy offers 27 sports with 72 teams. That vast program offers students the chance to grow outside the classroom. And in an era when many youngsters are turning away from organized athletics, those at the school are doing the opposite. Last year the participation level was 87% for grades 7 through 12 – 609 out of 699 students. More than 180 were multi-sport athletes.

Audrey Neumann ’20, a field hockey captain, said one main reason for that interest is that sports teams become a family. Student-athletes create lasting memories from big wins – field hockey has won two state championships the past three years – and from sharing quality time with their peers.

“We all make memories every day out here,” Neumann said.

That bonding doesn’t take place with just fellow students. Field hockey players Gracie Dougherty ’20, Kate Ruffin ’21 and Haley Holland ’21 all said they’ve grown by playing in the teacher-coach model. Most Norfolk Academy faculty are actively involved in both the classroom and athletics, so students learn from them in different ways.

Catherine McCallum and Chad Byler, interim co-directors of athletics, give several reasons why sports are so popular. Outstanding facilities are an attraction. For instance, Academy is one of just a handful of high schools around the country with astroturf for field hockey.

Students also want to build friendships and be part of group accomplishments, the athletics directors said. However, they, like the field hockey players, highlighted the teacher-coach model. Nearly every coach in the program also is a classroom teacher. McCallum coaches field hockey and teaches pre-calculus; Byler coaches junior varsity basketball and teaches physical education.

Bringing students and teachers together in a variety of ways lets the youngsters get more comfortable, they said.

“There’s a different type of engagement when they see you in a different arena,” McCallum said.

Norfolk Academy offers a wide variety of extracurricular opportunities, the athletics directors said. That includes a popular fine arts program and NA TV, which gives students practice broadcasting games.

Fall games begin later this month. Until then, the student-athletes are looking forward to growing with their coaches and teammates.

“I’m excited to get going,” said football player Ben Locke ’20. “It’s always fun.”

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