Woog’s World: Helping players get into college in Westport
Updated 10:53 am, Friday, October 14, 2016
Among my many tasks as Staples High School boys soccer coach — alongside making sure balls are pumped, buses arrive on time and referees get paid — is helping players get into college. That means writing recommendations.
It’s a task I enjoy. I’m a writer, after all, and I’m happy to do my part for teenagers I truly admire during a difficult, angst-ridden time in their lives. The college process is fraught.
Anything I can do to relieve stress is important.
Before I begin writing, I ask players for a copy of their student-activity sheet. They’ve already filled it out for their guidance counselor. They list the sports, arts group and clubs they’ve been involved with, along with “leadership positions held or awards received.”
They note community service (including time commitment); employment, including internships, summer jobs and work during the school year, plus summer activities. They’re asked to answer a few questions: Which activity or experience has been important to you, and why? Which accomplishments (academic or non-) are you most proud of? What is your intended area of study? Which classes have you enjoyed the most,? What three adjectives best describe you? What challenges have you overcome? What else — interests, hobbies, talents, travel or life experiences — would you like to mention?
I’m exhausted just reading their activity sheets.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I would not want to be a teenager today.
I don’t remember filling out a student-activity sheet back when I was a Staples High student. We had plenty of activities — among them protesting the Vietnam War, agitating for more voice in school decision-making, hanging out in the no-teachers-allowed student lounge, and taking full advantage of the open campus policy — but we did not worry about who was leading them, or what awards we’d receive for doing so.
We joined clubs because they interested is, not because we were supposed to. The main reason for creating a new club — if we ever did — was not because colleges supposedly like to see that initiative, but because there was a compelling need to do so.
Community service took many forms. Some of us tutored at the Carver Center in Norwalk, while others were counselors at the Intercommunity Camp. I’m not sure, though, that we called it “community service.” It was just “helping out.” Nor we did have to count our hours.
Plenty of us had summer jobs. We worked at Chubby Lane’s or Dairy Queen. We worked in local stores like Ed Mitchells. We delivered newspapers.
We also had plenty of time during the summer to chill (we called it “hanging out”). We spent time at the beach and friends’ houses. We took road trips. We did not have to balance summer enrichment courses at prestigious universities, internships at New York City investment banks, and even more community service trips to very poor, but very faraway countries.
Those of us who were athletes may have spent a few days at a sports camp. If we did, we learned skills in a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by teammates. We did not have to hopscotch across the country, attending “college ID camps” in hopes of being recruited, and in fear that if we were not selected for the all-star game that our entire futures would be shattered.
Most of us had no clue what our intended area of study was. That was why we went to college: to figure it out. We may have had a vague notion that English or history could lead to teaching, or maybe law. Biology or chemistry might be good for medicine. No one was thinking about business — at least not as a major, that’s for sure. That’s what our fathers did.
If we had been asked which classes were most enjoyable, we would have had plenty to choose from. At Staples in the 1970s, we were encouraged to take what we liked, or at least what we thought might interest us. We chose not only our courses, but our teachers. We had graduation requirements, sure, but plenty of leeway to take tons of classes in music, art or theater — or tons in math, science, social studies or English, if that’s what we wanted.
Was our life better back then? I may have made things sound that way. But really, I have no idea. Our anything-goes world was not for everyone. We lost many good souls to it.
Today’s teenagers lead full, active lives. They think about things I never thought of, in ways I never imagined.
Some of the players I write recommendations for are happy. Some are confused, conflicted, overwhelmed. That’s probably the way of adolescents everywhere, always.
I’m glad I grew up when I did. I hope today’s Staples students say the same, many years from now.