Grin and Bear It

1. Smile and continue on with what you are doing. 2. Accept the circumstances as they are.

In the world of sports, present-day athletes will always be compared to those they are playing with and against and at the same time compared to their predecessors. In high school, this is especially evident because not all athletes end up making Varsity. Although Varsity teams are traditionally for just juniors and seniors, there are often exceptions which involve underclassmen participating at a higher skill level. Yet, making Varsity is not easy for anyone, and many athletes who are close in skill level may not get the opportunity after all. Many people who end up on JV may feel that they deserve to have a Varsity position.

This separation of levels is important for the growth of a school-wide program, but oftentimes causes conflict among many athletes who may feel differently about where they are put within the system. At the front of all debates are usually the athletes who are on the cusp of performing at the Varsity level, but are either “too young” or do not have the experience in the eyes of the coaches to get the job done. The JV level is used to create chemistry between players that will be the next Varsity performers in the future.

This level is utilized mainly for the sophomore class, yet sometimes freshmen are mixed in to fill voids, as some sophomores play on Varsity. Around the high school community, Varsity sporting events are typically the most attended through the student body due to ideal game times and selective rivals. This atmosphere is created through a number of factors that include the athletes themselves, other students and even parents. Playing for many fans in the stands is known to be one of the most exciting things in sports. The crowds at Varsity games may differ from JV games, which represents one of their many differences. Sophomore Cole Niemi experienced this difference first-hand as he played football this past fall on the JV team, but made Varsity appearances later in the season.

“I feel that JV is just like any other level, but there are a lot less people,” Niemi said. “The good thing is that it is fun to play your sport, but you usually do not have a big crowd.”

The larger attendance at high-level sporting events may be due to the popularity of the athletes and not necessarily their skill level. For example, it is likely that some of the most well-known kids in the school play sports at a high level as well. As a result, other athletes who are not on Varsity may strive to play with a more popular group. Apart from the pressure put on by peers, parents may also drive this idea of superiority into their young athletes. This desire to be a part of the Varsity experience may translate directly to being part of the in crowd and is another reason why many feel they are deserving of a Varsity role.

“Popularity is a big part because everyone wants to be the one to make a big play on Friday night,” Niemi said. “Playing in front of bigger crowds is amazing; there is really no way to describe it.”

Age is also a main factor in drawing the line between ability and opportunity. Being a younger athlete has a number of disadvantages, but also advantages for the future. Showcasing talent at a young age allows coaches of higher levels to realize that an athlete may have what it takes to succeed by the time they are on Varsity. In addition, being able to prove talent and work ethic makes it possible to be fast tracked to the next level. However, many freshmen and sophomores are overlooked initially due to their age. Sophomore Chase Becker is part of the JV wrestling team but sometimes wrestles in Varsity events. He is eager as a younger athlete to prove his talents to his coaches.

“Being the younger player, coaches haven’t really seen you play so it gives you a lot of opportunity to show them what you have to offer to help the team,” Becker said.

On the other hand, even though being young gives athletes an opportunity to show their potential, age is often associated with inexperience. It is easy for observers to assume that a sophomore may not have the talent of an upperclassman simply because the two are not typically compared to each other. Still, if given the opportunity, a mix of ages can work well, but sometimes it results in hostility between teammates and even parents. But despite the issues, age is not a correlation with ability and should not be treated as so.

Despite the controversy, there is a significant difference between the JV and Varsity level in any sport. Varsity games are known to be more fast-paced and a showcase of skill. Essentially, the coaches will determine who plays on which level, and according to Becker, they are usually correct in their decisions.

“I don’t really think I deserve to be on Varsity because the coaches know what they are doing, and if they thought I was suited to be on the team I would be,” Becker said.

The level on which Becker competes has moved up and down by event and he knows the ins and outs of different skill levels.

Despite the fact that several athletes are willing to complain about their placement in a program, Becker has his own opinions. He believes that getting time on Varsity is a big jump from the freshman or JV levels no matter the claims of some of his peers.

“I think the main issue with athletes saying they deserve to be on Varsity team rather than JV is that it’s way harder and some don’t understand that,” Becker said. “It takes a lot of mental and physical toughness to be a top competitor at the Varsity level.”

This realization of position is not easy for any athlete, yet it turns out that the decisions made by coaches are indeed final and are made in order to achieve future goals. Many kids will feel they are stuck on a team due mostly to the pressures around them. Appreciation and work ethic will always be beneficial no matter the talent level.

“Getting an opportunity to be a Varsity athlete as a sophomore means the world to me knowing that all that time spent practicing my sport is being paid off by being a part of such a great team, let alone a Varsity team,” Becker said. “I’m very grateful.”

Although it may feel disappointing to several athletes, not being part of Varsity is not the end of the world even if it may seem like it. There will always be a struggle for athletes who feel they deserve to be on Varsity but do not get the chance. In the end, it is important to always stay optimistic and sometimes the best thing to do is just grin and bear it.