Being the odd one out

Mia Goldstein

“We’re not expected to be the best . . . but everyday we’re proving that we are just as good,” said Shea O’Brien, captain of the Skyline hockey team and Community High School (CHS) senior. O’Brien sat on the windowsill of the second floor looking out onto the courtyard, consumed by the question. 

When athletes elect to enroll at CHS, they are embracing an inescapable obstacle. Their commitment to their sport is confronted as they face challenges like the daily commute across town and the occasional uneasy treatment from teammates. Athletes are found sprinting down E. Washington Street to the transit center, desperate to catch a 3:50 p.m. bus to make a four o’clock practice that they probably won’t make in time. 

CHS is unlike most high schools, and our lack of sports teams subjects us further to an alternative, quirky reputation. The quirkiness isn’t always welcomed, either. Not everyone can appreciate our block schedule, open campus, and overall unconventional style.   

“When you choose to go to CHS you might have to give up things like sports,” said sophomore Stella Valentino, who plays softball for Pioneer High School. “That’s what makes Community amazing. It has a lot of people that do different things and it can incorporate all of it.” 

The lack of sports, however, does come at a price. The showing out to football games, hype of the student section, repping your school colors on game day is just not there. 

Community athletes are torn at the seams of our school unity to be sprinkled around Ann Arbor, all to play sports, cheer, or otherwise represent another school. Some students are initially conflicted with giving up such a traditional aspect of the high school experience but eventually come to accept and appreciate these sacrifices to go to such a unique school.

In eighth grade, O’Brien sat in the Forsythe Middle School auditorium listening curiously as Community students gave their school spiel. At that point, O’Brien wasn’t sure he was willing to give up going to a big school with big sports teams. He obviously overcome his feelings of ambiguity and now couldn’t be more proud to represent the Rainbow Zebra. There are still some hints of bittersweet feelings towards it all.  “I have a lot of pride in going to Community, and some kids get to express their pride for a school through playing sports, but I don’t get to do that as much,” O’Brien said. 

Some claim that Community’s absence of sports teams is part of the magic; there is something special in belonging to one school while simultaneously identifying with another. The sense of community we have at CHS is truly enhanced when students reunite as a school after exhausting hours spent on school grounds that is not your own. Athletes learn to appreciate the time away from Community in order to really recognize how remarkable of a school we have.  “It’s something about how we all spread out and then come back together,” said senior Lucy Scott, captain of the Pioneer hockey and softball teams. The more we’re apart, the stronger we get.

Many athletes enjoy playfully bad-mouthing their opponents on game day; the thrill and tension in the air on those days is something they wouldn’t trade. “We can talk to our teammates or opponents the day of the game which is really fun,” said Covey Hurd, Pioneer hockey player. “It will be gameday, and we will be talking in engineering class, and then two hours later we’re facing off on the ice.” Hurd’s eyes lit up as he recalled the moment. 

Allegiance is certainly put into question as students determine where they stand in terms with other schools. It’s not easy finding a complementary balance of how much devotion to allot between schools and student’s opinions vary. “I can talk about Community for days and I could talk about Pioneer track for days. It’s not that deep,” Jayla Johnson, Pioneer track athlete said. Johnson is equally invested in Pioneer and Community and feels a connection to both schools whether it be through theater or track. “Honestly I don’t go to sports games other than my own. I’m proud to be a Pioneer player, but I don’t actively support the other teams,” Hurd also said, not feeling too devoted to the whole school spirit aspect. 

Jada Hikary, a lacrosse player for Pioneer feels differently. 

“I definitely do have a strong allegiance with Pioneer. I’m always going to love Pioneer and love playing there because that’s my team.” How much athletes associate themselves with the school of their sports teams generally seems to depend on personal experience and other external factors.

But what does it mean to be a Community athlete? The term is often thought of as inferior to the mighty Pioneer, Skyline or Huron athlete. “It’s always been a little bit different coming from Community to play a sport at Pioneer. We’re generally looked down upon by athletes from other schools,” Hurd said. 

Scott echoes Hurd’s opinion. “They seem to expect that I’m going to be lesser.” She understands where this stereotype comes from, though: “It’s complicated; on the one hand, yes, because there has been some self-selection in people choosing to attend Community,” Scott said. Some athletes choose not to attend Community because they are aware of the difficulties it entails. “But on the other hand,” Scott continues, “there are a lot of great athletes that go here and it isn’t something that gets acknowledged enough. When we’re out playing our sport, we aren’t seen as a Community student. When I’m out on the field I’m seen as a Pioneer student.” 

Senna Neubauer, sophomore Pioneer soccer player, considers where you attend school and your athleticism as uncorrelated and shared a valid point:  “There are a lot of athletes that go to Community. It’s a choice of education rather than how athletic you are. You can participate in sports outside of school and it does not play a factor in what sports you play. It’s a personal choice.” 

Being teased is a recurring experience for most Community athletes on top of everything. “I’m always getting teased for going to Community but you can’t fight every battle,” O’Brien said. Like many others, O’Brien chooses to put his head down and trudge through the unwanted comments. In the locker room post-practice, his teammates poke and prod, trying to provoke a reaction, but O’Brien brushes them off unfazed. 

Students find their own ways to combat these interactions with vigor, unyielding to the stereotypes. “Honestly, I try to let it go. If you don’t think I’m as good as you, I’ll prove that I’m better. I’ll go out and the next drill, the next rep, the next game, I try my best to show them that I’m just as good as them,” Hurd says. He is determined to prove Community as an equal. “I definitely take a lot of shit from the boys for being the kid in the locker room who goes to Community, it’s not easy. But it’s worth it and I’d do anything to go to school here,” O’Brien says. 

Despite these drawbacks, Community athletes have been able to manage in positive ways. Being a leader and captain, Scott makes sure her Community teammates they have the transportation they need to get to and from the school they play sports for. At one point, she was there too — cutting out of class early to catch the city bus and having trouble finding places to stash her violin and sports equipment while in an unfamiliar school. Community underclassmen begin their high school athletic career already at a disadvantage and easing the transition between schools is something older students are working towards. 

“That’s one thing I’m really hoping I was able to do with field hockey, and I’m able to do with softball, is make transportation easier and more normalized for younger students, especially Community students,” Scott said. 

O’Brien has formed the Rainbow Zebra Athletic Association in response to these shared struggles, especially among Community underclassmen. O’Brien hopes to connect Community athletes with one another and create an environment where students feel encouraged to play sports. 

“I think it shows that you’re really passionate about your sport because it is extra work to have to go to another school just to play the sport that you love,” Hikary said. It is a strong representation of character to take on the responsibility of going elsewhere to play a sport.

“We are putting representation and variation into Pioneer sports,” Neubauer said. Being a Community athlete is undoubtedly difficult, but the passion these athletes have make the sacrifices worth it.