Students who are outstanding athletes are often honored with trophies. Those who shine on stage might receive a standing ovation. And those who excel in the classroom could be recognized with award certificates or mentioned on the honor roll. But a Westminster, Athletic Director Todd Zell makes it a point to call out those driven, talented students whose hard work is paying off. What started with the social media hashtag #yupyoucandoboth has become a catalyst encouraging students to excel beyond one singular arena.
“Athletes are often stereotyped as dumb jocks,” says Mr. Zell. “But Westminster students are in fact extremely successful in the classroom as well as on the field. “I came up with the hashtag about three years ago in tandem with the announcements of team GPAs,” he says. “I wanted to communicate, ‘Yes, you can do both! You can be an awesome athlete and have a high GPA!’” From there, Mr. Zell says, the concept of #yupyoucandoboth continued to be embraced as more and more athletes started choosing to play multiple sports in a school year or participate in concerts or stage performances.
“We celebrate the fact that we are developing well-rounded students,” says Mr. Zell, who believes so strongly in a balance of activities that he has showcased his own talent through cameo appearances in several Westminster musicals. “In order for us to continue to be world-class in academics, the arts, and athletics, we want to recognize and encourage kids who work hard to develop their God-given gifts in all of these areas.”
Still, Mr. Zell works with the faculty to prevent the possibility of burn-out. “Teachers know that I want students to succeed in ‘their’ area as much as ‘my’ area,” he says.
Allen Schwamb, choir director, embraces this collaboration. “I love it when students are involved in music and sports!” says Mr. Schwamb. “They’re the ones who really get the idea that you’re in it for the success of your team, cast, or fellow musicians — not for your own personal gain. They understand that while it’s hard work, it’s also important to be involved in things bigger than yourself. They understand that everyone has to pull their weight in order for the [group] to be as excellent as possible.”
A shining example of doing both — or doing everything — is junior Zach Hughes. A tri-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track; an actor in improv and musicals, and a President’s List honoree, Zach is known among many coaches and teachers as the personification of #yupyoucandoboth.
“I love a lot of different things,” says Zach. “I’m goal-oriented and feel that if God’s given me a talent in something, I should strive to be as good at it as I can. I have a hard-work mentality and try to get the best out of myself.”
With so many commitments, Zach says, setting time aside to spend with God is a necessity. “Reading the Word in the morning is something I love to do,” says Zach. “You give up things you love for things you love more. So I ask myself, ‘Which do I love more? Twenty minutes of sleep or pursuing God?’ That usually clarifies things.”
At home, Zach sees examples of hard work and a love of learning on a daily basis. “In high school, my dad played football, competed in judo at a high level, and received awards in physics and Shakespeare,” says Zach. “He has shown me that you can be an athlete, be interested in the arts, and be an excellent student; you don’t have to sacrifice one for another. My mom, too, has a variety of interests and has changed careers a number of times, most recently working her way through an accelerated nursing program while maintaining her full-time job as a realtor,” he says. “For a while, we both had homework to do every night and were able
to encourage each other.”
Sophomore David Kerckhoff sees using his gifts as a form of worship. “I’ve loved soccer since I was little and have played it year-round since 4th grade,” says David. “It’s my passion, and I want to get better. I play to honor God through the gifts He has given me. Anything I love doing, anything I have talent in, I want to do to the best of my ability and enjoy it.” A passionate musician, David feels equally at home on stage as he does on the soccer field. He plays percussion in Westminster’s band and electric guitar in jazz band.
Students who seem to do it all are often asked how they manage. Many of them, like senior Kaitlin Kittelson, say their strength is not their own. “One verse that really motivates me is Isaiah 40:31, ‘but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint,’” says Kaitlin, who participates in volleyball, lacrosse, and swimming while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. “God always reminds me that my strength comes from Him. Whether I am running or swimming or playing any sport, I know that He will give me the strength I need to power through even when I think I physically can’t make it. He has blessed me so much, and I want to use the gifts He has given me to the best of my ability.”
Kaitlin says that playing three sports a year has also helped her learn time management and how to deal with stress in a healthy way. “With practices every night and tournaments on the weekends, I really have to work hard to stay ahead of my schoolwork,” says Kaitlin. “I know that when I get home from practice, I have to buckle down and study. The funny thing is, my grades are better when I’m in season because I know I can’t procrastinate and wait until later to do my homework. There is no ‘later.’”
In the Westminster Arena, you can’t miss the 10 Pillars of Athletics painted on the farthest wall. Student athletes continue to set a godly example for their peers as they live out number three: Good grades and conduct lead the way.
Follow Todd Zell on Twitter @wcasports.