How No-Cut Athletics Creates A Winning Environment


State championship games are a big deal. Everyone likes to win. But the question is at what cost? At Catlin Gabel, we believe that doing what’s right is even more important.

This philosophy was recently tested during our varsity girls’ soccer state championship match. One of the strongest players on the team had just received clearance to play after recovering from a concussion. To ensure she was ready, she and head coach Chris Dorough ’03 worked out a plan. When he asked her how she felt, she’d give either a thumbs up or down. When Coach asked her in the second half, she gave a wavering thumb signal. He took her out and sent in a sub. The game was tied, and the season was on the line, but her well-being mattered more, not just to Coach but to everyone on the team.

Effort and Talent Culminates into Strongest Fall Sports Season on Record

The girls went on to win the state championship, and the varsity boys’ soccer team won as well. But those victories were only part of our most successful fall sports season ever. For the first time in our history, every varsity team won its league championship, including volleyball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, and boys’ and girls’ cross-country. Coach, player, and goalie of the year honors went to Catlin Gabel team members; our leading girls’ cross-country runner won the individual state title; and the Middle School boys won their league soccer championship.

It was a season to remember, and a thrilling culmination of the hard work and effort of players and coaches. Championships are headline news, and we are proud of our varsity athletes.

A No-Cut Policy Builds Opportunities for Self-Discovery

We know that all students benefit from the lessons that team sports teach. Catlin Gabel’s “no-cut” policy is a remarkable balance of participation and competition. We provide an opportunity for any student to compete on an interscholastic team, whether they have the skills to play at a varsity level or want to try a sport for the first time on a JV team. We also establish teams when there is enough interest, which is how our swimming and ski teams came into being. Even though we do not require participation, as a result of our inclusive approach over 80% of Middle and Upper School students played a sport at school in the past year.

lower school students play basketball in Schauff Circle in the afternoon

Physical Activity is Central to a Catlin Gabel Education

Team sports are a memorable experience, but the lessons of physical fitness, resilience, self-esteem, teamwork, and character are also learned through wellness and PE classes. Our students are passionate about dance, rock climbing, squash, rowing, lacrosse, football, yoga, cycling, and many other activities. They all are exploring their physical potential, setting goals, improving skills, challenging themselves, and achieving mastery. There is joy in growing into your body, discovering what it does well, and how practice makes progress. And there is company and community in connecting with others who enjoy similar physical activities.

Watching our varsity soccer teams win their state championship games, I was struck by the technical skill with which they played, the teamwork they used to their advantage as they moved the ball, and the character they displayed toward opposing players in the hard-fought contests. The running, jumping, and climbing they did as small children in the playground was now channeled into becoming the best soccer teams in Oregon.

Fostering Community Through Shared Experiences

We all share the human experience of play and sport. We engage emotionally, feel pride in our shared success, and are grateful for the moment and the memory. This is why sport fosters community in such a powerful way. When we come together to watch a game or performance, we understand how hard it is; we appreciate the discipline it requires. The community that is Catlin Gabel becomes visible, as we cheer or clap together, in support of our classmates, students, and school.

To continue fostering this connection, Catlin Gabel has, over the years, updated its athletic facilities. This has included expanding the gym, building a track and field complex, and reconditioning our soccer and baseball fields. But these updates do not mirror our full commitment to health and wellness. Now is the time for Catlin Gabel to develop a sports and wellness facility that will serve all students for decades to come.

Creating A Center for Everyone

Our vision for a new Athletics and Wellness Center goes beyond the basketball/volleyball/PE courts, locker rooms, and athletics spaces of a gym. We want to serve sport of all kinds for all ages; to pursue a concept of wellness that includes mental health and well-being, as well as physical fitness; and to strengthen our one-school culture with a multi-purpose community space.

In recent months, we have identified the needs and benefits of a new Athletics and Wellness Center, selected an architecture firm to do the initial design, and formed a design team composed of students, teachers, coaches, and parents. We are excited to move this project forward and will be inviting you to provide input this winter. Stay tuned to learn how this transformational facility will improve every family’s experience at Catlin Gabel.

Learning to Win and Lose with Grace

Coach Dorough knows that sport teaches character, even when it’s difficult. Making mistakes, trying hard, falling short, bouncing back, and sacrificing for others; these lessons come in many ways, including through sport and physical activity. At Catlin Gabel, we seek to be a place where students learn to win and to lose with grace. We want all students to appreciate the importance of physical activity and well-being. We believe that balancing mind, body, and spirit is essential for the life challenges that lie ahead for every student.

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