Salak: Deep breath in…
Salak: Deep breath in…
ALANA: The John Jay Jaguars have been crushing it all season long. They’ve turned in win after win after win. They’re first seed in the league. And now they’re finally in the playoffs.
Salak: Remember they like to set the ball over deep. We’re ready for that. But what it comes down to is whatever happens on our side of the court is what matters most!
ALANA: This afternoon they’ve got a home game against Fort Hamilton High School. They’re looking confident, pumped.
Tina Moore: Let’s go – let’s leave it all out there!
ALANA: But there’s a lot of pressure.
Because the team is trying to do two things at once: mesh on the court, and help the rest of the school do the same.
With every win comes the hope that this team will help integrate a divided school building. And everyone is watching. Literally, the bleachers are packed.
On the court, they’re smooth – the team’s stars are sparkling, they’re in control.
ALANA: It’s the first set, and the Jaguars are racking up points. I hear Tina Moore, the volunteer coach, say to her brother, Coach Salak…
Tina: We could put in Mariah now, for Ange.
ALANA: “We could put in Mariah now,” she says.
I actually haven’t seen Mariah Morgan play in a league game all season. She’s the junior at Park Slope Collegiate – PSC – who has been pushing the coach to change practice. She’s not one of the starters. But with the team on track to win this first game… Mariah takes her position as a setter.
The rest of the team picks up a cheer. Within a few minutes, the ball bounces off the ceiling, and Mariah sets it to a teammate who gets it over the net. The Jaguars get a point with Mariah’s assist. They score again – and win the first set.
Mariah: Uh I feel okay, I feel happy, I guess. I wish I would have gotten to play more, cause it was the last two points, but I feel okay, I’m content-ish.
ALANA: I get the sense that I’m more excited about her court time than she is.
Mariah: It felt good, it’s also kind of like stressful though because I don’t play a lot, and so these few moments where I do get to play it’s like I have to prove myself or else I dunno I’ll never play again. It’s like anxiety, almost. And, I dunno.
ALANA: This is the same teenager who was thrilled – giddy even – to make the team at the beginning of the season.
But these past couple of months have been rough on Mariah. Even though she’s stuck with it, and improved, and even though the team is soaring – the politics of the merger… the tricky conversations with the coaches and teammates… have wrung out a lot of her early enthusiasm.
But there are 23 players on the Jaguars, and 23 different ways of seeing this merger.
Angelina: Like I honestly think this is one of the best seasons I’ve ever experienced.
ALANA: This is Angelina Sharifi, the co-captain from Millennium Manhattan.
Angelina: Obviously there are things we can work on and there are things that are, like, we can’t prevent, like some people being disadvantaged and other people having more advantage or privilege. But generally in the sense of creating a family between the different schools, I think we have been so successful.
ALANA: And, the fact that the Jaguars keep winning, despite the added challenge of the merger, just adds to their feeling that there’s been progress.
But all that is about to get tested. Because the Jaguars are headed to the finals, to face off against their longtime rivals Bronx Science – and a city-wide trophy hangs in the balance.
[UNITED STATES OF ANXIETY THEME: VOLLEYBALL EDITION]
From WNYC Studios and The Bell, this is “Keeping Score:” a year inside a divided school building that’s trying to unite through sports. I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess.
Kali Moore, the co-captain from Park Slope Collegiate, is the player with that gravity-defying spike.
Kali: It's very natural to me. It's just like, it's muscle memory at this point when I'm like jumping and swinging,
ALANA: Even before the Jaguars made it to the finals, she had already accepted a full scholarship from Stonybrook University. She’s the first student athlete in PSC’s history to be recruited by a Division 1 school.
This season has raised big questions for her:
Kali: There was a big conversation on our team about whether or not we wanted to risk, like, fighting back against racism over, like, winning. I'm a very competitive person in general, but I’m, like, trying to always do right and be anti racist, too. So it was kind of like the two biggest components in my life battling.
ALANA: On the one hand, she wanted the most experienced players on the court, to get to the championships. But she also wanted everyone to get a shot, regardless of their skill level. Kali supported a compromise.
Kali: Because if we were to put everyone on the court who wasn't as experienced, like, it wouldn't be fun for anyone. You know, sub people in, sub people out, and make sure they get some court time while also having players who were there to help get a win for us.
ALANA: That happened in some games, like the one Mariah played in against Fort Hamilton.
But then they made it to the finals…
Kali: It was definitely the biggest test because it was kind of like, well, who's going to play, you know?
Alana: It is very freakin’ cold...
ALANA: It’s a frigid November night, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
This year, the PSAL A Division City Championship took place at Francis Lewis High School, in suburban Queens. Fresh Meadows.
I got there before the Jaguars did. When I walked into the gym, the Bronx Science players were already practicing on the court in their green and black uniforms. The gym was enormous – with high ceilings and spacious bleachers, even a full score board.
All season long, this team – the Wolverines – have been the Jaguar’s stiffest competition. Sure, they beat them earlier in the season – but Bronx Science won the championship pretty recently, and there’s definitely a confidence there.
So many people have come out to see this game that soon the security guards are turning people away. There are two sets of bleachers, with fans dressed in green on the Bronx Science side and blue for John Jay. And they’re full, there are parents and teachers and even alums who have come out for this game. I manage to grab a seat near the court and I wait for the Jaguars. And wait, and wait.
Kali: It's always good to get to, like, a volleyball game an hour before to like warm up, do what you needed to do, get ready.
ALANA: They’d gotten stuck in rush hour traffic, and at game time they still weren’t there yet. So, by the time they got into their uniforms, and onto the court to warm up, they were already off to a rocky start.
[Jaguars arrive on the court]
Kali: It was kind of crazy, cause it was just very fast.
ALANA: Before the opening buzzer, the Jaguars do their breathing roar again – to get their nerves out.
This doesn’t feel like the games they played back in Brooklyn. This is the championship, and the whole thing feels very official – the game is streaming online, and there's an announcer, too.
Announcer: …welcome you to the A Division Girls Volleyball Championship game right here at Francis Lewis High School…
Kali: I was thinking, like: this is so much more than just volleyball for our campus because we have never experienced something like this before. It was definitely something bigger just for, like, winning a championship.
ALANA: The Jaguars coaches have decided to go with a starting line-up of almost all club volleyball players.
[Announcer: …Kali Moore!]
The energy in the gym is electric. Everyone is stomping and cheering. The teams line up, it’s about to star, it’s best two out of three.
Bronx Science was stiff competition – but the Jaguars were ahead. Alice Murphy, from Millennium Brooklyn, who plays middle, got some great blocks in. The team was coordinated.
Kali: Our side out game was very strong, I think, in that first game.
ALANA: Sideout means any point that you get when the other team is serving.
Salak: My mindset was, we’re about to get this.
ALANA: Coach Mike Salak.
Salak: My one niece, Ella, I thought she was playing really good, but my niece Kali, she hadn't played her best yet.
[cheers! Let’s go Jaguars! buzzer!]
ALANA: Jaguars win the first set! But it was close, 25 to 19.
Kali: But I was like, okay, we have a really good shot because whenever you win the first set, you have a little cushion there.
Salak: We just need to stay focused, reset and we still even haven't even played our best. That was my mindset.
ALANA: They huddle quickly for a pep talk – and then the second set starts…
It seems like the Jaguars aren’t meshing as much as I’ve seen them in other games. The refs are making a lot of calls, a ball is offsides. Or sometimes the players will run for a ball that’s clearly going out – so they lose the opportunity to get that point. They look frustrated.
Kali: a lot of the girls on the team haven't played in front of a crowd. We had never been under that kind of pressure.
Lauren: Like the tiredness was starting to set in.
ALANA: Lauren Valme and the rest of the team are courtside, trying to motivate their six teammates in action.
Lauren: And so going into our second game, I was like, okay, we need just get, we need to like build up the energy as much as possible –
Lauren: and having them cheer, I think that was sort of helping.
ALANA: The Jaguars start to look totally out of sync, and there are so many outs.
Salak: You know, we, we had the philosophy all season long that you can't get into a fight and expect somebody not to not push you back.
ALANA: Bronx Science is pushing back, hard. And they start to pull ahead.
Kali: I think it might've been the chemistry within the team. Like we kind of all just fell apart a little. Cause they were just like going on a roll on us and we couldn't really get back from that.
ALANA: Before we know it, it’s 11 to 5. Suddenly, Coach is calling for time outs, trying to cram as much direction as possible into those 60-second huddles.
Salak: Y’know, you go through our toolkit of things. You're saying things to individual people, you're saying things to the group, you know, you're letting them have a chance to talk with each other.
ALANA: And I have to think at this moment, there is tremendous pressure on Kali. And yet, I haven’t seen her deploy that spike as effectively as in other games. The Wolverines block it, or it ends up bouncing way outside the lines.
Kali: I think a lot of us could have played better as a team, but, um, in my perspective, I don't think I played my best, no.
ALANA: And then, set two is over – the Wolverines 25, Jaguars 16.
It’s best two out of three, it’s not over yet. But the energy in the bleachers on the John Jay side has shifted from elation to dread.
Set 3 – the Jaguars are struggling.
Spikes are getting caught in the net, or are offsides, or get blocked by Bronx Science.
Alana: 21-13, Bronx Science. But they had a little run, they had a little run.
ALANA: The Wolverines just keep scoring.
Kali: What was going through my mind is that, like, we just need to step it up. Maybe make some changes.
ALANA: Coach starts subbing in players – Johana Boleaga comes into the defensive line.
Kali: When they put in Johana in the 3rd game, I think she did phenomenal and I think maybe she should have been in for longer.
ALANA: The fresh players hit the court with all the hustle and optimism they can muster. But they just can’t turn it around.
Kali: It was all coming down to like that one game.
[cheers! Announcer: …the champions!]
ALANA: The Jaguars lose the third set, 25 to 16.
And it’s over.
And then there are a lot of tears. The players hold each other, sob openly. There’s this barricade that divides the stands from the court – but parents, friends, even alums are reaching out to embrace the girls.
[Friend: Oh it’s OK! Oh…]
ALANA: Outside, the team files onto the bus.
Alana: How you doing?
Salak: Still processing. But I’m alright.
Alana: Yeah I think everyone’s still processing.
Salak: Thanks so much guys.
Salak: I let the girls do most of the talking after the game.
Lauren: I was just happy that we made it and that we could all stand there and cry together and give each other hugs, before we leave.
Salak: Um, you know, I spoke to them about how it's been just an awesome journey to be on with them and that, I know it hurts right now, but you learn more from losing than you do from winning.
Lauren: …and just be like, we're fine. We made it to the finals. And just the fact that everybody was crying, everybody was giving each other hugs.
Salak: And the girls had a lot of different sentiments, of like: ‘I'm not sad because we lost, I'm sad because we're not going to be together as much anymore,’ that kind of thing. It's always hard on seniors, you know, but they handle it pretty well.
Kali: I was obviously sad that we lost, but I was also angry because we couldn't take it from them. And we could… not take it from them, but like, you know, like win it for us.
Rebecca: So it was very emotional. Like emotions were, like, flowing in the air, and especially… [fade under]
ALANA: This is Rebecca Joseph, a junior, she plays middle. She watched the game from the sidelines.
Rebecca: Um I was kind of sad ‘cause, because when, our first tournament of the season, we actually beat Bronx Science. So I was kind of like expecting that again. But here, I felt like a lot of girls felt pressure and the coaches were kind of like, ‘just go back in’ instead of kind of like, ‘okay, let's give them a break.’ And by the time they did give them a break, it was too late.
Alana: Do you wish you had played?
Rebecca: Um, honestly I did wish I would've played, but I didn't. So yeah.
Kali: Honestly I'm still wondering, would we have won with our other lineup too? Cause you never know.
ALANA: Kali again.
Kali: But, um, yeah, I'm not really sure if we were to, like, put in our more diverse lineup if we were to have won or lost.
ALANA: Coming up after the break, the team tries to make sense of coming in second – and whether they reached their other, bigger goal.
This is “Keeping Score.”
Hi there. This is Jessica Gould, I’m a reporter in the WNYC Newsroom and I helped report this series. We’re really interested to hear how it’s resonating with you.
So before we go back to the story, I wanted to take a moment to ask you about your experience in high school.
Do you play high school sports? Or did you, back in the day? Were there ways that racial disparities showed up in your experience? Did you talk about it openly, and how was that? Did you try to do something about those disparities?
Tell us about it. You can record yourself on your phone or just write a message and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you didn’t play sports, we want to hear from you too. We know that racial disparities appear in different ways in different communities. How did you experience it in high school? And what did you do about it?
You can send us your emails and voice memos to email@example.com.
Again, that's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks and now, back to the story.
ALANA: This is “Keeping Score.” I'm Alana Casanova-Burgess.
The end of season celebration takes place in the 2nd floor library. I find the team in there, playing Twister and eating pizza.
The players look so much brighter than the last time I saw them, they’re mingling and laughing and slurping soda.
Malika: I think we really showed the other schools, like, what we're capable of.
ALANA: Malika Rice is a junior from Millennium Brooklyn. She wasn’t a starter, but she’s eager to come back next year.
Malika: I think we showed the other schools what diversity and integration does: it brings teams who make it to the finals undefeated, even if we lose there, even if we deserve to win, like, it's still an amazing thing we did. And I'm really satisfied, personally.
Nina: Yeah. I'm, like, same as you. I feel really kind of sad that the season's ending.
ALANA: Nina Wolter Vaz is a freshman from Millennium. She played in the championship game.
Nina: I think this is the best team I've ever been a part of. being able to, like, be friends and, like, voice your opinions and experiences and, like, fighting for a common cause
Alana: What's the common cause on the team?
Nina: Well, I think the common cause is not only, like, winning, but also making sure everyone is welcome. Everyone is heard and that we are like being an anti-racist team and that we're fighting that not only can we express our opinion so that we can better the schools, but we can better the sports teams, that we can better just basically, like, the campus overall.
ALANA: The team merger has also made them think more about the schools they come from. Like for Nina and Malika, who go to Millennium, the selective school: both say they’ve heard some of their classmates say disturbing things about the students in the other schools in this building.
Malika: I've just a lot of instances of people saying they're scared of the kids from the other school or kind of laughing at them, kind of mocking them, like, things like that. And also, you know, the schools don’t integrate at all. Like we don’t interact with each other, so.
Nina:. We shouldn't say that like you're from a different school, so you're better than them. We're like, ‘no, that's stupid. No, you're not better than them.’ And I feel like joining the sports teams is one of the reasons why kids should see that, that you're literally just Jaguars.
ALANA: At the beginning of the season, Coach Salak taped a photo of the team up on a wall. I told you about it in the last episode. It showed the players sitting on the bleachers, but only sitting with their own classmates, separated by school.
Rebecca: It was kind of eye-opening for me too, because I'm also a person in that picture, only sitting next to my friends that are like me.
ALANA: Again, Rebecca Joseph, from Park Slope Collegiate.
Rebecca: It was kind of everybody. Like, they stuck to their comfort zone. They stuck to people that were like them. They stuck to people that were from their school.
Alana: Did it get better by the end of the season?
Rebecca: Um, I would say it got better. I wouldn't say it was a 100%, but it did get better. There was more of a mixture. If they still took pictures towards the end, they would have saw everyone was talking to each other. Everyone was cheering each other on. We weren't, like, all, like, closed off. Everyone was, like, mingled and mixed.
[Student: Left hand on yellow…]
ALANA: That was the case at the celebration, everyone was hanging out together, all over this library.
But Twister wasn’t the only thing on the agenda. The main event was a circle – one last chance to gather the team and talk frankly about how the season went. The pain of losing that last game wasn’t exactly totally behind them, but there were even bigger questions to answer. Coach Salak gathered them around…and this is one place that’s for team members only… so I turned the recorder… off.
Salak: I lean on my community a lot to, like, help me navigate this.
ALANA: A couple days later, I asked Coach Salak what he’d be comfortable sharing about that circle:
Salak: Um, you want me to look back at those questions?
Alana: Yeah I would love you to.
Salak: I said, we have a history of being a good team. Close knit, united and anti-racist. How do we do this season with the fighting racism part? What can we do next season to ensure that, uh, the team continues to fight racism and be anti-racist? What are you hearing from your other friends, um, on other teams about their experience and how can we provide leadership in that area?
Alana: What did you think about the answers generally?
Salak: It felt a little bit kumbaya-ish, you know, that's like natural to feel that at the end of a season where you were successful in winning and you know, the girls, a lot of them felt super tight and got super close. Um, y’know, I think Mariah was very honest and said that, you know, it was challenging for her at times, and for the other girls of color and she didn’t feel like it was a complete win when it came to the fighting racism part.
Mariah: I had planned on talking in that circle that day, but I almost wasn't going to, because I felt like I would be seen as like a Debbie downer or something.
ALANA: Mariah Morgan. She’d been outspoken all season.
Mariah: And I finally said, and I was like, this season was not fun for me – or my comrades, I'm not going to speak for them. But at least for me, it was hard walking into the gym the first day. And it was really hard being like one of the darker-skinned Black girls on the team, it was hard for us to do this. And, uh, we didn't get access to the same things. We didn't have, like, equitable coaching, in my opinion.
ALANA: Lauren Valme, also from PSC, spoke up too.
Lauren: And I was just kind of like saying how, like, draining it was to go be on the team at one point. And just, like, expressing that how in the beginning that I was not happy and how hard it was. And I think we made it clear that we don't want other kids to like to go through what we went through.
ALANA: Mariah says that after the circle, a couple of her teammates – mainly players from Millenium – came up to her and hugged her.
Mariah: And they were like, you know, um, ‘that was so powerful’ and, like, ‘I'm sorry.’ And, you know, ‘thank you for saying that.’ And I also really appreciated having their support, even if it was at the end. Cause it didn't make me feel as alone as it did. But people think this, the volleyball team is, is like a really, really good example of what we should be doing. And it's like, uh, I think that the volleyball team did better than the other teams. But that doesn't mean that we did great. But you know, I hope that it’ll change.
Alana: Yeah, a lot of your teammates felt the team merger was good for them because they made friends from other, um, you know, from other schools.
Mariah: So it was also interesting for me to see, like, them talking about, you know, ‘I think it went well, I'm glad I got to make so many friends.’ And then my problems were just, you know… it was definitely a juxtaposition between how their season went and just how separate we are, even though we're on the same team, you know. The fact that we have such different retellings of how the season went.
ALANA: It was complicated for some of the other players, too. Take Kali Moore, the co-captain from PSC. Her dad is Black and her mom is white. Early in the season, Kali heard that a teammate had said that she didn’t really count as Black:
Kali: Since I didn’t look Black, I didn’t really, like, seem that way in her mind, which was something that I struggled with a lot. I guess – I, I, of course I understand that I'm not dark-skinned and I don't have to go through, like, life being treated that way. Like, um, it was a little tricky for me to, like, navigate that – throughout my whole life.
ALANA: Kali acknowledges her own privilege, but she’s still Black.
Kali: But now I was kind of, like, put into the white category of the season when in reality, that's just, I'm not, I'm half white, but like I'm mixed, you know? And also just like being in club and being the only person of color. Then going from like being, like, the lightest, it was, it was, it was weird for me. Yeah, that was something that I definitely noticed throughout the season but, um, I don't think we ever talked it about as a team.
ALANA: So yeah, talking about race, identity and privilege… It’s never not complicated.
23 players, 23 different opinions about how the merger went. In the circle, several of the girls said volleyball was just the beginning – why couldn’t there be a joint arts program? Or a theater production for all the schools? Or an all-school prom?
If the merger was intended as a step toward healing a divided building, then surely the bonds formed between Millennium and PSC students on the volleyball team is a point in its favor. And I name those schools in particular, by the way, because there was just one player from CASA on the volleyball team, and none from Law. So, a point against.
For his part, Coach Salak is also ready to hold himself and the team to a higher standard, just like Mariah. He’s been taking hard lessons from the season. And I hear him still grappling with what “winning” means… is it getting to the championships, or focusing on making this an equitable experience for everyone?
Salak: I think I struggled with it throughout the whole season. You know, it's like, I've been, um, a volleyball player at the highest levels and a coach for over 30 years. So, um, like winning and competing is, like, ingrained in me, right? In a capitalist society. Um, greedily. I want to have both, but I don't think it's possible. [laughs] I don't think it's possible yet. Before, when my team won and it was mainly Black and Latin, it was like an F-you to the system – because a Black and Latin team in a largely white sport was winning, right? So winning meant winning like almost, like, fighting racism. Now, winning, you know, is not really that. It can be again one day, but it's not right now.
ALANA: Up until now, the team had been focused on their corner of the merger – how the girls varsity volleyball team had done in this first season of the integration. But, the John Jay community was starting to look at the sports program as a whole. I received an email that captured all the participation numbers for fall and winter – how many students from each school participated in a particular sport. I read them out loud to Coach Salak.
Alana: For Casa, it's three for the entire program. So that includes swimming, volleyball, soccer, cross-country, fencing.
ALANA: One of those students was on the volleyball team.
Alana: Law, five. Millennium Brooklyn, 109. Millennium Manhattan, 80. And Park Slope Collegiate, 26.
ALANA: In other words, out of 223 students who participated in a team sport in the fall, on the newly formed Jaguars, 189 were from one of the Millennium schools. That’s 85%. And more kids were coming all the way from Manhattan to play here than from the three other schools in the building combined.
Coach listened quietly. He looked pained, even with a mask on. He picked his words carefully.
Salak: Well it makes me question the choice to integrate the program, right? But at the same time, it makes me kinda think about the strength and the power that could come out of this if we can do it right. And it also makes me feel more pressure because I feel like my team is going to be, like, an important part of that, right? Like, hopefully the leadership of it, um, and hopefully the roadmap to how to do it right.
Mariah: When I saw those numbers, I think I was slightly devastated by it.
ALANA: Again, Mariah.
Mariah: The whole thing about what people were saying about, you know, um, ‘Black and Latin kids will get opportunities to things that they would never have had before.’ And then it's like, no.
ALANA: I asked Brian Friedman about how it came to be that Millennium so dominated the team rosters. He’s the co-athletic director, based at Millennium Brooklyn. He said recruiting students from all of the schools has been a big priority.
Friedman: Virtual, in-person, done it. Standing on cafeteria tables, saying ‘who plays a sport? Come talk to me.’
ALANA: There are campus-wide emails, fliers in every hallway, banners by the entrance. He moved his office from the Millennium floor, to right around the corner from the cafeteria.
Friedman: Standing outside the entry, ‘you play sport, you play sport, you play sport. Talk to me. You interested in playing a sport? You're tall. You want to play?’ The fruit hasn't come out of the tree yet, but it's coming.
ALANA: He says he keeps hearing the same thing:
Friedman: I walked into a phys ed class yesterday. A kid was throwing himself alleyoops and dunking. I was like like, ‘what grade are you in?; ‘11th.’ ‘Do you want to play basketball?’ ‘No, I work.’ ‘Do you want to talk to the coach and try to figure that out and try to find some sort of schedule that works?’ He’s like, ‘nah, I'm not really interested. I just play for fun.’ Okay. Obviously he tells me he works. It could be a million other things and that's only just one kid. So yeah, that's definitely a challenge. We have not gotten the numbers from Law and CASA in that we're looking to get, uh, and we're trying, we're really reaching out on a personal level to kids.
ALANA: Michael Boitano is the co-athletic director based at Law.
Boitano: I think our kids are all over the place. They also have a lot more responsibility than, let's say, the Millennium kids might have. You know, we have kids that need to watch their siblings or need to go to work. So it’s, it's a different balance than the Millennium kids.
ALANA: Also, some students have said they didn’t feel welcome at try-outs, or felt like they wouldn’t want to compete with Millennium students.
And then there’s who actually made the team. The principals asked the coaches not to cut anyone who came to try-outs. But there were cuts.
Friedman: The message was let's get everybody involved. But with that being said, there's still a responsibility to the other players on the team, to the school community, to themselves, to the league, to the officials that we have to put out a competitive team.
Alana: And actually on that point, what is the goal of afterschool athletics? Is it to win or is it to have equity? To include everybody as much as possible to, you know, involve everybody in the sport to help them improve. And I wonder if that question resonates with you? And also as you're talking, like, where would you land? What is the purpose?
Friedman: So, like, we're going to get kids the opportunity to be involved. We're going to get kids the opportunity to prove why they belong. This is, kids are earning their right to do this. Kids are earning the right to play. This is not like you're going to science class or you're going to English class. Uh, and the honest and respectful thing to do is if you've given everyone every possible opportunity to show why you belong on the court – and Person A has proven that they belong in the court and Person B has not – the only honest thing to do is to play Person A more than Person B. So I think there needs to be equity in opportunity, not in outcomes.
ALANA: I’m struck by that. After spending months with this team, with this story, I’m not sure how anyone could begin to untangle opportunity and outcome. If we aren’t looking for equity in outcomes, then how do we assess the sports merger? Everyone is in agreement that the outcome here, with such lopsided team rosters, was not what they had in mind.
And there’s something else. What is the problem that the team merger is meant to address?
Alana: Students always want to talk to me about race and inclusion and restorative justice. And so I'm just wondering if you see that as part of this story of the merger?
Friedman: Uh, statistically, it is. There are more white kids on teams… I don't really, like, that is true. Yeah. That's not, to me, that's not the driving force. If a kid comes to school, I can't control who comes to school here. Whoever shows up through these doors, I care about.
ALANA: But anti-racism *IS* the driving force for the students who pushed for this merger in the first place, who shared how it made them feel to play separately, and unequally, under the same roof.
And they’ve continued to push. They want to ensure that their fellow students aren’t cut from teams. They want restorative justice training for coaches. They also want a quota system – so every school is represented on every team. They’ve been inviting principals to meet with them and discuss their ideas.
The demands can seem a bit extreme to the adults – like these kids want all this enormous change to happen instantly.
And it’s true, it’s impossible for this to be successful overnight. But the thing is that the students who really care about this don’t have time to waste. High school is only four years long. They want to see change while they still have the opportunity to benefit from it.
Right now, spring sports are just wrapping up – like outdoor track and baseball. And there’s been a little bit of progress. The season has included a few more student athletes from Law. But there are still just a handful of CASA students on teams. And Millennium Brooklyn still makes up roughly half of all the spots.
Salak: In the end, it's the best thing to do. But it's a hefty task. And it has to be, like, we need a lot of investment from a lot of people.
Alana: Are you looking forward to next year?
Salak: Of course. Yeah. Y’know um, I think we learned a lot this year. So I'm excited to start from a different place as a coach. I mean without struggle, there's no progress. So, y’know, this is not an easy thing we're doing here as you can see with those numbers. And I think it's just, uh, super important to do it right.
ALANA: Coach Salak is working on recruitment already, and so are many of the Jaguars – they’re making sure to reach out to Law and CASA students in particular. And, some of the players have joined clubs for the first time: Rebecca joined one, and so did Lauren. Coach Salak has used his connections to get some scholarships. He keeps coming back to that as a way to address the inequities on the court.
Salak: Our team that doesn't exist in a vacuum, you know? We exist in a society that's not equal. And playing three months out of the year, it’s just not enough.
ALANA: Mariah also signed up for club, on her own. She told me that she felt she had to, to make sure she’d get playing time next year.
The season flew by, but it was just enough time for students to start to connect. For bonds to start forming. Some of them get to see each other at club, so there’s a network that players like Lauren can tap into to stay in touch.
Lauren: So they get to see each other and then I'll be like, ‘Rebecca, can you tell Elaine I said, hi.’ And then Elaine just says ‘hi’ back.
ALANA: And she worked hard this spring to recruit boys from PSC for the boys’ volleyball team, too – though, their reluctance is testing her.
Lauren: I keep telling them that this doesn't have to be your whole life, but I'm just saying, can you just try out?
ALANA: She’s determined to see the good that came out of the merger’s first season – and to build on it. It’s been hard, but Lauren told me, she’s proud of herself.
Lauren: I'm trying to be more optimistic these days. I'm going to be okay. That's just been like my motto the past year – like, everything is going to be fine.
It's kind of like, I've kind of adjusted my thinking just so I can keep going and be like, this is going to be okay and that this can change. Cause I think, like, if this world is so hard and, like, I know that I cannot change everything. But I know that if I keep looking at it as, like, I can change at least this one thing that’s going to maybe cause a ripple effect and, like, sprout change other places. Not only in athletics, but trying to push it further through the whole school. Yeah.
RENIKA: “Keeping Score” is a co-production of WNYC and The Bell.
The WNYC team includes: Alana Casanova-Burgess, Jessica Gould, Joe Plourde, Jenny Lawton, Karen Frillmann, Emily Botein, Wayne Schulmeister, and Andrew Dunn.
From The Bell: Mariah Morgan, Lauren Valme, Noor Muhsin, Thyan Nelson, Jacob Mestizo, Taylor McGraw, Mira Gordon… and me, Renika Jack.
Fact-check by Natalie Meade.
Music by Jared Paul – with additional tracks by Hannis Brown and Isaac Jones.
ALANA: And by the way: there’s lots more information about this story at bellvoices.org. Teachers, you’ll find additional materials that go along with each of the episodes in this series. That’s bellvoices.org.
And, just wanted to say, there are so many people who helped make “Keeping Score” possible, including:
Atiqa Chowdhury, Delsina Kolenovic, Giana Ospina, Adrian Uribarri, Mike Barry, Theodora Kuslan, Andrea Latimer, Kim Nowacki, Dalia Dagher, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, Michelle Xu, Rachel Leiberman, Miriam Barnard, Andrew Golis, Christopher Werth, and the entire team at The United States of Anxiety. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess – thank you for listening.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.