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!
Chairs clatter, students squeal, rooms empty, and break looms. No it’s not the last day before summer vacation, but Rockbridge’s annual Captain’s Cup decorating competition, one of the most hectic days of the year. In a matter of hours, classrooms are stripped down and transformed into ornate displays of “Christmas” scenes, all for that coveted lunch (take-out from the restaurant of their choice) paid for by the school’s administration, not to mention the trophy.
Rockbridge has traditionally held its Captain’s Cup on the final day before Christmas break as a way to not only celebrate the holiday season, but also to promote community and fellowship among its students, teachers, and alumni.
The very first Captain’s cup took place in 2006 and was coordinated by then upper school principal Ralph Janikowsky. “By the time of the Christmas break, everyone was exhausted and no one was having any fun,” Janikowsky explained. “We decided to start the Captain’s Cup to encourage class camaraderie, prepare our hearts for Christmas, to provide some team building and leadership opportunities, and to let our students be creative and enjoy that last day.”
In its purist form, Captain’s Cup is a classroom decorating competition between upper school homerooms. For weeks, students plot, scheme, and vie for the best idea, one that will undoubtedly set their class apart as the best. In the end, decorations are brought in, actors are chosen, and a few lunch periods are lost in the process, but it’s all worth it once the finished product is presented. Ideally, each room will have tie-in to the holiday season, but as history has shown, this is only a tangential requirement.
According to former administrative representative Ellen Wallen, Mr. Janikowsky may have found inspiration for Captain’s Cup in a small scale Christmas door decorating competition which had already occurred between classrooms prior to 2006.
Janikowsky instituted and popularized the competition during his second year at the school, but what took place early on was not exactly the same Captain’s Cup we’ve grown to appreciate today. According to rhetoric literature teacher Monica Godfrey (who was a sophomore at the school in 2006), the event took time to develop and mature. She explained that in the early years, decorations were not as elaborate, likening it to those doorway competitions which preceeded Captain’s Cup.
“The expectations were a lot different then,” she said. “No one really transformed their rooms, so you could still tell you were in a school. Over the years things morphed as people became more creative and committed to setting themselves apart.”
She also explained that originally there were no actors in the rooms, and due to the small size of the school, teachers judged the rooms rather than alumni. Mrs. Wallen noted that she, along with Mrs. Davis and Mr. McKenna, were the first to hold this honor.
As the years advanced, Captain’s Cup continued to progress. The name “Captain’s Cup” was not even utilized until much later on, referencing Mr. Janikowsky’s experience in the Navy. Additionally, starting in 2011 the school opted to let the alumni play a key role in the event as judges, an element that remains to this day (per Mrs. Wallen and Mr. Keehner).
Former upper school principal Jerry Keehner stated that this choice continues to produce one of the best alumni events the school holds. “We love seeing them, and work hard to keep up that relationship,” he explained.
Class of ’15 alumna Caitlin Flanagan voiced her appreciation for this particular opportunity, “Returning to Rockbridge for Captain's Cup, especially because my family moved, is my only real opportunity to return to the halls and community that shaped me so much and for which I am so grateful,” she said. “A lot of my friends in college never return to their high schools, but I really treasure the time to see some of my old teachers and catch up with friends who I haven't seen in so long and wouldn't necessarily see during my time in Maryland otherwise. As long as I am in the area at that time of year, I really hope to be able to at least stop by, walk through those tiny little hallways, and thank God for four beautiful years there.”
In the past, we have had over sixty-five alumni participate in the festivities. As judges, the alumni are told to review each room and rank their three favorites. Once their ballots are all collected, Mr. Keehner tallies the scores and announces a winner.