Rockbridge Academy Blog
The Athens Eagles are winning 14-13 against the Siena Rams in an intense volleyball game. Senior Timi Akinyelu executes a flawless jump serve that is received by Miss Knoll in the back row, the ball floats to 9th grader Ella Spraul who sets up junior Linus Salada and he spikes it down right past 7th grader Parker Chason as she dives for the ball. But what is this? Linus Salada calls a net violation on himself; the point goes to Athens! The Eagles continue their volleyball dominance and the entire house erupts in cheers. The school bell rings and all of the students quickly clear out of the gym as they head to 5th period. This fictional scene describes the atmosphere that can be found at Rockbridge’s campus on most Fridays during Conference Time when intramural sports take place. Capture the flag, volleyball, and ultimate frisbee are the fall, winter, and spring intramural sports respectively.
In 2021, Rockbridge Academy introduced a new House System. Every upper school student, 7th-12th grade, and the upper school teachers were assigned one of five houses. The houses are named after cities visited by Rockbridge seniors on Grand Tour. Each house has a symbol and colors taken from 5 of the 17 historic contrade, or districts, of Siena. There is the house of Athens (blue and yellow with an eagle symbol), the house of Rome (black and white with a wolf symbol), the house of Corinth (white and sky blue with a dolphin symbol), the house of Florence (pink and green with a dragon symbol), and the house of Siena (red and yellow with a ram symbol). Once in a house, the student will remain in that house for all of their years at Rockbridge. The houses are evenly divided between the grades and sexes. The House System was primarily designed to encourage and organize service among all of the upper school Rockbridge students. For example, each house is assigned mentoring with the grammar students based on the day of the week.
The Rockbridge house intramurals program was born in November of 2021 when teachers and administrators were discussing how to best use the new 30-minute Conference Time following the upper school lunch period. Now, on almost every Friday starting at noon, four out of the five houses are found competing in various sports. Each sports season consists of 6 weeks of competition. In the sixth week, the two teams with the best records play in a championship competition to determine the Intramurals House Champion. Intramurals give Rockbridge students the opportunity to play sports not already offered in the athletic program.
House Intramurals allow students to engage in physical activity, experience the crucible of self-governed competition, and enjoy the community God has placed them in.
Hours of sitting in a chair, no matter how engaging the subject and the teacher nor how diligent the student, is bound to produce restlessness. God created the human body for movement and when students are able to get away from their desks and participate in physical activity the benefits abound. Exercise reduces stress and increases cognitive function. Exposing students to a variety of sports contributes to the larger goal of developing well-rounded students. While 30 minutes of physical activity in a week is not nearly enough for a healthy upper school student, it fulfills part of the daily recommendation and helps build a positive relationship with physical activity. Volleyball in particular has shown to be a favorite activity among the students which led to a weekly volleyball night over the summer.
House Intramurals are a student-led activity. The students decide who gets to play and who does not, and the students are responsible for following the rules and keeping score. The competition between houses should be spirited, meaning everyone wants their team to win. This combination presents a low-risk but real-life opportunity to practice St. Augustine’s idea of rightly ordered loves. A senior team captain in charge of creating the team lineup may desire to win this game of capture the flag while also desiring to see an enthusiastic yet unathletic 7th grade student get to play. Another student may desire to score the go-ahead point in ultimate frisbee, but she also wants to tell the truth about stepping out of bounds on the catch. None of these interests are wrong, but having the choice to do the one that is more God-honoring is difficult. When a player gets their loves out of order they experience the consequences and hopefully, a teammate is there to encourage them in the truth and wisdom of the Word. This student-led sports competition also provides room for growth in conflict resolution. Conflicts between students have and will continue to bubble up when competing, which opens the door for following the teaching found in Matthew 18. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus lays out a preferential sequence to follow when faced with sin between Christians. First, go to your brother alone and point out their fault, next, bring along a witness or two, and finally, if needed, raise the issue to the Christian leaders. Rockbridge staff members will step in when necessary, but the desire is to see students working through these challenges.
The house system assigns teams within a community which often results in groups of otherwise segregated individuals. Even in a school as small as Rockbridge, an 8th-grade girl might not choose to interact with an 11th-grade boy, but when they score a point together in volleyball they naturally turn and give each other a smiling high five. A student involved in theater that does not normally associate with a basketball player can earn an out together on the kickball field. Even when a teacher rolls up his sleeves and whips a dodgeball across the gym at a student, that teacher begins to create a unique bond with his students. God has brought every Rockbridge student and staff member together in a Christian community. Rockbridge is more than just a school, it is a body of believers living life together. God charges His people to have fellowship with one another, and extracurricular activities are a wonderful way to build relationships and create memories among brothers and sisters in Christ.
In order for house intramurals to have the greatest impact on the culture at Rockbridge Academy, there has to be involvement. Participation from every house member, from 7th-12th grade, boys and girls, students and teachers, athletes and non-athletes is vital! Not every house member will be able to play every week, but they should at least try to play at some point in the school year. Even so, competition on the field is not the sole avenue for student involvement; the cheering section adds to the atmosphere and a lively mascot raises the excitement. Each team needs artistic students to contribute their skills when designing house swag and banners. It comes down to every house member having pride in their house and a desire to see their house rise above the rest, whether in their play, their cheers, or their designs.
Participation in house intramurals is about far more than playing games; it results in character growth, interpersonal skills, camaraderie, and growth in conflict resolution, discretion, and sound judgement.
A culture that plans for, prepares for, and carefully nurtures the principles of faith, family, and freedom over long generations will in the end prevail.
What comes to mind when you think of the Scots? Until recently the cheer “Go Scots!” did not resonate with me. It resonated because of repetition but had little connection to anything deep or meaningful. This was strange considering I spent twelve years in school at Rockbridge Academy and played soccer at the time our mascot was introduced. My desire to understand why the Scots are a fitting Rockbridge mascot was fueled by the realization others were asking the same question. I have coached the middle school girls’ soccer team for two years now, and if the chatter on the sidelines is any indicator, I do not think we know what we mean when we say, “Go Scots!” It does not refer to the Scottish terrier, and it is spelled with one ‘t’ not two. Time and tradition have ingrained the Rockbridge Scots into our collective memory, but if pressed could you give an answer for who the Scots were and why they are a fitting mascot for our school?
When I played soccer for Rockbridge in middle school, we did not have a mascot. “Go Rockbridge!” was our cheer. However, by the time I entered high school, a mascot was bestowed upon us: the Scots. My class, the class of 2011, boasted our very own bagpiper, Rob Schonthaler. He often played his bagpipes at soccer games. This made quite the impression on visiting teams and fueled an initial tidal wave of excitement for our new mascot. Rockbridge was finally like all the other schools…or was it?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a mascot is a “person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization." From the French mascotte, the term was popularized by composer Edmond Audran’s comic operetta, La Mascotte, in 1880, a story in which a household fairy brings good luck to an Italian peasant. However, a mascot should be more than a talisman. I suggest in the context of a Christian school, the mascot should represent a standard to which the school holds. At Rockbridge Academy our standard is Christ. Our aim is to help students see Christ in every subject so they may serve Him wholeheartedly in thought, word, and deed. What is a fitting image for this standard? The Scots, a people captivated by the glories of Christ.
A focus on faith, family, and freedom contributed greatly to the Scots’ success and influence on Western civilization. These characteristics were especially notable between the end of the 5th century through the end of the 8th century AD. The Celtic church was established during this time due to vibrant missionary work. The Scots were few in number and occupied a small geographic area, however their faith in Christ proved to be a solid rock on which their culture flourished. Their faith informed all spheres of life. The church was synonymous with the local gathering place, a center for worship and dialogue on societal matters.
For the Scots, catechism and discipleship were the means by which the younger generations were trained in the faith. The family was the wellspring of society. Families were organized by clan. The clan structure produced fierce loyalty and a sense of belonging. Bagpipe tunes were used strategically as a gathering tool for clan meetings and in battle. Each clan was identified by a unique tune and tartan. In keeping with the Scots’ traditions, Scotland the Brave has always been played at Rockbridge graduation ceremonies. While the song was written in recent years, it harkens back to the gathering tunes of old.
Alongside faith and family, the Scots held freedom in high esteem. The Arbroath Declaration of 1320 was the first legal document of its kind to uphold notions like an individual right to life and liberty, separation of powers, and checks and balances. The United States owes much to the Scots as forerunners in the fight for freedom. A people committed to following God and taking the task of stewarding their time and talents well produced generations of believers whose impact on Western civilization is beyond measure. As Dr. George Grant says in his lecture, Why the Scots?, “a culture that plans for, prepares for, and carefully nurtures the principles of faith, family, and freedom over long generations will in the end prevail.”
The Scots—this is our mascot, our standard. We are a small school, but our hope is to make a worldwide kingdom impact. We are unashamedly Christian, come alongside the family in training their children, and seek to lay a solid educational foundation for future generations. We train our students for greatness.
The Scots—this is our mascot, our standard. We are a small school, but our hope is to make a worldwide kingdom impact. We are unashamedly Christian, come alongside the family in training their children, and seek to lay a solid educational foundation for future generations. We train our students for greatness. Now, when you think of our mascot, I hope you think of the cloud of witnesses, especially those faithful Scottish saints who have gone before us. May the principles of faith, family, and freedom be our tune and our standard as we look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Go Scots!
When I was in 9th grade, I puzzled over the final lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With 60 seconds worth of distance run / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
Running for a minute can’t literally make you mature. But as I am in my fifth year of coaching middle school cross country, I’m realizing that those lines hold a lot of truth. Coaching cross country has been a metaphor for many spiritual lessons God has been shaping in my life.
As you might expect, cross-country shows me the power of courage and perseverance. Students don’t have to be star athletes to join our middle school team. They only have to be willing to work. Drastic improvement is a frequent occurrence on the middle school team. Runners who nearly melted after warm-up in August are running two miles with no trouble by November. A friend reminded me that our college had a T-shirt that said, “Come as you are, leave different.” I would say this is true of cross country. It’s not just showing up that causes you to change, though; it’s the hard work you put in day after day. All are welcome, but be warned—you WILL see improvements if you work.
This is just the obvious lesson, though. It’s the other lessons that I least expected and that I love most. For example, cross-country has taught me to not fear discomfort. It’s pouring rain? So what. We’re running. It’s hot outside? So what. We’re running. You can’t feel your fingers? Don’t worry. They’ll warm up while running. It sounds miserable, right? But somehow, choosing to take on the challenge lets us see we don’t have to be afraid of what life may throw at us. So much of our culture’s mindset is focused on making life comfortable. But choosing to be uncomfortable—choosing to put myself in pain in order to train for the worthy goal of winning a race—shows me how much I miss when I avoid discomfort at all costs.
By not being scared of a few aches and annoyances, I’ve experienced so much more of God’s good earth than I would have otherwise. The fun of leaping over (and in) puddles in the pouring rain. The fall sunset that cuts through the trees with its warmth. The force of the wind that almost blows me over as I stand on the sidelines, cheering on runners as they tear against the wind towards the finish. I would have missed all these memories had I been huddled by my heater instead. And I would have missed these chances to glorify and enjoy God, who made this earth and gave me the life and health to delight in it.
I don’t enjoy the cross country season alone, though, and cross country has taught me the power of a team. Cross country is not a contact sport. But cross country is, nonetheless, a team sport. It would be nearly impossible to train as hard, run as far, and have as much fun as we do during the cross country season if we didn’t have each other: coaches, runners, and parents. We set goals for each other and hold each other accountable for meeting our times. We sing songs for each other and run alongside each other when we are tired. We bring Gatorade and cookies to celebrate races, and we make posters to cheer on our big brothers and sisters on the varsity team. At the end of practice, we huddle together, sweaty and smelly, literally laying our hands on each other, and pray for each other.
We walk through much of life alone, and in cross country no one can run your race for you. But it’s the teammates—who run with you when you’re tired, give an encouraging word when you’re down, and get you a Gatorade when you’re sick after a race—who make it possible to press on. Thankfully, this kind of love doesn’t stay contained to the cross country field. I have made friendships with students, parents, colleagues, and church families, and I know I can lean on them even after the championship race has been run and awards have been given. I hope they know they can lean on me too.
The author of Hebrews, like Kipling, saw running as a metaphor for life: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” He saw that this race was not a solitary event; the runner is surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” My cross country runners have witnessed to me about the power of perseverance, the joy that can come amidst suffering, and the tremendous effect the love of a team can have on a person’s attitude about life.
At Rockbridge we confess together that the primary purpose of life is to glorify God. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul instructs the believers: “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” As a Rockbridge athlete, the goal remains the same, we strive to glorify the Lord through our sport! As we aim for this high objective we will look, act, talk, and think differently than the world. People will notice. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes about Christians being the aroma of Christ:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
Rockbridge athletes have a different aroma because of their commitment to the team, because of the unity among teammates and coaches and because their identity is found in Christ. Imagine another team driving onto the Rockbridge campus and crinkling their noses as they sniff a few times asking one another, “Do you smell that?’ ‘What is that?’ ‘It’s different!’ ‘It smells like...Jesus!” As a result, fellow Christians will be encouraged by our conduct while non-believers will be repulsed, frightened, or confused. This opens the opportunity to share “the hope that is in you . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
The Rockbridge athlete will start to smell different because he is fully invested in his team. Commitment is a virtue that is severely lacking in society. People are afraid to commit; many can only half-heartedly commit, or commit only to back out later. The Rockbridge athlete is expected to fully commit to her team for the entire season. That means buying into the coach’s program. Athletes should not question the coaches every time something goes wrong. Athletes should complete the season whether it is fun or not, victorious or not, going as planned or not.
My college wrestling coach said he measured his success as a coach by how many of his former wrestlers were committed to their wives and avoided divorce. At the beginning of each wrestler’s college career, my coach lays out the expectations and asks the wrestler to verbally agree to devote himself to the team for the next 4 years. This method has taught his teams many valuable lessons. Commitment does not change based on feelings; life will be difficult and it requires sacrifice but it is worth it! “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up,” as Paul said to the Galatians (6:9). Commitment should not be taken up lightly, but once a person commits, he should stick to it. In one of his parables, Jesus said:
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’ (Luke 14:28-30).
The Rockbridge athlete will wear the fragrance of Christ by uniting with their teammates and coaches. This is where personal glory quickly fades in importance because the overall success of the team is more satisfying.
The Rockbridge athlete will wear the fragrance of Christ by uniting with their teammates and coaches. This is where personal glory quickly fades in importance because the overall success of the team is more satisfying. Every member of a team has a role to play and every role is vital. In this way, our teams should also help athletes prepare to be good and faithful church members. Paul compares the church to a human body, and we can use that same metaphor for a sports team. Paul writes, “there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:20-22). The lead scorer, the backup player, and the manager are all working to make the team successful and through their efforts bring glory to God.
Paul continues this metaphor in verse 26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” I was blessed to witness that verse lived out as a member of my college wrestling team. First is an example of suffering together. In my sophomore year, two of my teammates, Matt and Mike, were both among the top wrestlers in the nation, but they were in the same weight class. That meant that only one could be the starter and wrestle for our team in the conference championships. In wrestling, the starters are decided by a wrestle-off, a match between the teammates where the winner gets the starting position. Matt and Mike had wrestled each other before and they had each beaten each other at different times. I was in the room for the wrestle-off, and it was a tight, well-fought match. Mike was able to pull out a narrow victory. He had just earned his starting spot, but there was no celebration. The room was silent and downcast as everyone on the team--maybe most of all Mike--was hurting along with Matt, his teammate, whose season and hopes of becoming an All-American were now over. A united team suffers together.
We also rejoiced together. During my senior year, I was one of two wrestlers on the team that qualified for the national tournament. In college wrestling, there are ten starting spots and we had about thirty guys total on the team. There were a lot of good wrestlers on the team. A handful of my teammates had even beaten me in matches before, but now their season was over, and I was where they wanted to be. I never felt any tinge of jealousy or resentment from my teammates but instead overwhelming support and pride. There was a large caravan that all traveled from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to attend the national tournament and cheer us on like crazy, so much so that wrestlers from other teams commented on how loud and enthusiastic our cheering section was. A united team rejoices together.
A Rockbridge athlete will surely have the aroma of Christ when she knows, believes, and trusts that her identity is in the person and work of Christ. This allows the athlete to stop worrying about winning and losing. Rockbridge athletes are able to stay calm when the referee makes a bad call or the other team is not playing fair, and to not fall into despair from a season-ending injury. None of those situations change our value because who we are in Christ is secure no matter what. Galatians 2:20 tells us our identity: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
A Rockbridge athlete will surely have the aroma of Christ when she knows, believes, and trusts that her identity is in the person and work of Christ. This allows the athlete to stop worrying about winning and losing.
Embracing this truth as an athlete was such a relief to me. No matter what happened during a competition, the Lord still looked upon me as his adopted and loved son. God doesn’t think of you less when you lose and does not think of you more when you win. My response was to give my best effort and to praise God for the opportunity. I am not saying that Rockbridge athletes should not care about the results of a competition. The Bible encourages the pursuit of excellence. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). I am saying that as Christians, we are not defined by the results of a competition. Feel free to work as hard as you can, take risks, and go for gold. You will fail at times but it won’t break you. It just provides an opening to give God more glory.
This distinction of being in union with Christ takes precedence over any other identifying factor. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) This line of thought can be extended to our Rockbridge teams. There is neither varsity nor middle school, neither soccer nor cross country, neither athletes nor spectators, for Rockbridge is one in Christ Jesus.
When Rockbridge athletes are committed, unified, and secure in their identity they will bring glory to the God who gave them the ability to play their sport. We will know we are achieving that goal when the aroma of Christ starts to permeate the campus. Students, parents, and coaches should all be able to smell that a Rockbridge athlete is around, and not only because they have not showered yet.
Tim Stewart is our new Athletics Coordinator and Discover Summer Director. Tim works with athletic teams and coaches, scheduling and coordinating all practices and games as well as overseeing our athletic program. He graduated from Messiah College with a BA Health and Exercise Science.