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House Intramurals: More Than a Game

October 25, 2023
By Tim Stewart, Athletic Director

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. 
 

Posted in Upper School
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From Ravenclaw to Rome--Rockbridge Academy's House System

March 17, 2022
By Noelle McDowell '22

We all know about Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. But Athens, Corinth, Florence, Rome, and Siena? Well, they’re just old cities. Right? When Rockbridge Academy introduced its very own house system this year, a buzz shot through the school. “Which house are you in?” “Go Rome!” “Wait . . . is our mascot supposed to be a ram or a goat?” House cheers and special hand signals began springing up in a matter of hours. To many, the new house system was a surprise, and many students, teachers, and parents alike still have questions. Read below to discover the who, what, why, and how of the new Rockbridge House System.

What is the House System? In September 2021, Rockbridge Academy introduced its new house system. Upper school students (7th-12th) and teachers were sorted into one of five houses: Athens, Corinth, Florence, Rome, Sienna. Siblings are assigned to the same house. In future years, students will receive their house assignment at the beginning of seventh grade.

Why did Rockbridge create a House System? The houses are intended to create smaller communities within the student body. They also serve as groupings for grammar school mentoring, school service assignments, intramural sports, and other school competitions. Upper school principal Mandy Ball shared her vision for the house system: “I want the house system to be about looking out for the interests of others, not choosing to just be with the people it's comfortable to be with, and finding fellowship with people throughout all the grades, even the grammar school. We want faculty to work regularly with students, who work with younger students. It's mentoring and relationships from the top down.”

So . . . Harry Potter? While the idea of “houses” does remind us of Harry Potter, there is no intentional connection to the four houses in the book series. Rockbridge’s five houses were not intended to have personalities or characterizations, but, of course, some houses have already started to claim unique identities.

How did the House Names get picked? The five houses—Athens, Corinth, Florence, Rome, and Siena—were named after stops on the Grand Tour, Rockbridge’s capstone field trip to Greece and Italy for rising seniors.

How about the mascots? The house mascots and colors were inspired by different contradas in Siena. Athens is the eagle (blue/yellow), Corinth is the dolphin (blue/white), Florence is the dragon (gray/pink), Rome is the wolf (black/white), and Siena is the ram (red/gold). As Rockbridge students learn in fourth grade, the city of Siena divided itself into districts during the Middle Ages to create military companies. Each contrada has its own flag, mascot, church, and tight-knit community. To this day, the contradas dress up in their respective colors and compete at the Palio, Italy’s most famous horse race.

How do intramural sports work? The five houses compete in different intramural sport tournaments throughout the year. Although intramurals were delayed in the fall because of COVID, athletic director Timothy Stewart shared that his plan for the intramural sports rotation is flag football (Sept-Oct), kickball (Nov-Dec), volleyball (Jan-Feb), dodgeball (Mar-Apr), and ultimate frisbee (Apr-May). At the end of each sport’s season, the two houses with the best record compete in a championship match to be the tournament’s winner.

What’s the point of intramural sports? Mr. Stewart hopes that there will be a high participation rate in intramural sports among the student body. These games are opportunities for people who don’t want to commit to playing in a sports team but would like to participate in a lower-stakes competition.

Will this create division among the students? Of course, intramural sports are intended to create an aspect of fun, healthy competition between the houses. Most of the games are self-called, meaning that there is no referee and students must work out any disputes among themselves. This is a great opportunity for students to show leadership and good sportsmanship. Mr. Stewart shared, “I want the students to care about winning, but it’s not more important than just enjoying the sport and making sure everyone is having a good time. We’re doing this to build the overall culture of the school. The students will have to sacrifice some of the allure of winning for those things.”

Are there prizes? Nope. Mr. Stewart explained, “Right now there’s no prize; it’s just glory. If you won kickball, well, then you won kickball.”

What might the House System look like in the future? Mrs. Ball hinted that she is hoping to incorporate other non-athletic competitions between the houses and encourage more mentoring between the upper and lower school students in the future. Once the impacts of COVID and adjusting to a new building have mostly passed, the possibilities are almost endless. In the end, Mrs. Ball hopes that the house system will become a hallmark of fun and fellowship within the school: “It can be a really cool part of our school culture.”

Posted in School Culture

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