MIDDLETOWN — It is 2:30 on Wednesday, Game Day at St. George's School. A gentle breeze blows across manicured playing fields overlooking Second, Beach and, in the distance, Sakonnet Light off Little Compton. Fresh lines mark the fields, and an emergency medical kit sits on each bench. The click-click-click of lawn sprinklers interrupts the pregame peace and quiet.
Athletes are warming up on the all-weather track for a tri-meet against Navy Prep and Barrington Christian. The girls tennis, softball, boys lacrosse and junior varsity baseball teams are preparing for their games against Nobles. The JV sailing team is at the Ida Lewis Yacht Club on Newport Harbor for races against Tabor Academy, and the girls thirds lacrosse team is awaiting the arrival of Hyde School.
Just after classes ended for the day an hour or so earlier, a caravan of red vans left the campus, transporting the co-ed varsity sailing team to Marion, Mass., for races against Tabor Academy on Buzzard's Bay and the baseball, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and JV softball teams to Dedham, Mass., to play Nobles.
Every one of St. George's 350 students, numerous Rhode Islanders among them, knows about Game Day because the 112-year-old boarding school requires most to play at least two seasons of sports each year as a means of fulfilling its mission to educate young people in "mind, body and spirit" and to maintain a broad-based athletics program of 48 teams in 22 sports. Most Wednesdays and Saturdays from the opening of school in September until classes end in May St. George's athletes juggle morning classes, lunch, road trips or home games, dinner and study hall.
"They get used to it. That's what we do," said John Mackay, director of athletics for 12 years and head football coach.
St. George's is an athlete's heaven. Any small college would be proud to boast of Crocker and Elliott Fields for football, lacrosse and baseball; the Hersey all-weather outdoor track; acres of fields for junior varsity and thirds (freshman) teams; eight outdoor tennis courts; the twin sheets of the Cabot-Hartman Ice Center; the Dorrance Field House with its four tennis and three basketball courts and a two-lane, nine-lap-to-the-mile track; the Hoopes Squash Center with eight international courts; the eight-lane Hoyt Swimming Pool, and the van Beuren Gymnasium with its hardwood basketball court.
St. George's competes in the 16-school Independent School League with the likes of St. Mark's, St. Paul's of Concord, N.H., Milton Academy, Groton, Roxbury Latin, Thayer Academy and others. St. George's also maintains local rivalries with Portsmouth Abbey, Moses Brown, Wheeler and Lincoln School. Mackay said the program overall is competitive and ranks about in the middle of the ISL pack. Sailing, boys hockey, girls field hockey and girls basketball are perennial powers, and other sports have their moments. The girls lacrosse team was 7-2 after a tough loss at Nobles on Wednesday, and the football team posted back-to-back 6-2 records after a 0-8 season in 2006.
Most coaches also teach at St. George's and reside in or monitor the dorms, so they are available day and night. They set high expectations and provide the support necessary for students to meet and exceed them. And as a counter to the age of specialization in which we live, they encourage students to try something new, whether in sports or in other extracurricular areas.
Four seniors from Rhode Island have thrived in this system.
Phil Royer arrived from Portsmouth Middle School as a soccer player and runner. He didn't know what to do during the winter of his first year so he tried squash with the thirds team.
"I didn't know the rules. I actually hadn't seen a court before," he said Thursday, "so I learned an entirely new sport when I came here, played all four years and will probably play for the rest of my life." He was the most valuable player on the team this winter and recipient of the ISL sportsmanship award.
"I think this school is ideal for a multi-sport athlete, if you're into a lot of different things. It gives you that change of pace each season and cross-training. It's very rare that one sport is so singular that it doesn't help everything else," he added.
Royer also plays drums in the school's jazz band.
Galimah Baysah of Providence is one of the best athletes in the senior class. He was All-New England in football and earned the Coaches' Cup in football and basketball, yet when he arrived from South Providence via the South Side Saints football program and the Wheeler Middle School, he started his St. George's career on the thirds team in football and the JV teams in basketball and track.
"They teach you the fundamentals. Thirds and JV sports really help you with that," he said.
Maddie Carrellas of Middletown said that "whether you're on varsity or thirds, it's just a great experience to be on a team." She mentioned lacrosse's Team Thursdays to build spirit. Last Thursday was toga day.
"It's not always the intense athletic part of it. It's the bonding with the team, too. It's really great," she said.
Anna Mack of Bristol expected to focus on lacrosse when she arrived from the Gordon School in East Providence but discovered cross-country as a freshman.
"I had never tried cross-country before, and I fell in love with it," she said. "There was a level appropriate for me (JV), and I was able to run and try something new, and when spring came lacrosse was there at an appropriate level for me. So there's a very good balance with the intense teams that have winning records and competitive programs and other levels for enjoying the fun of trying a new sport."
Mack had never sung before but tried it and now sings with the Snap Dragons, the female a cappella group. And she and Carrellas also studied marine biology and nautical science during a six week cruise on the school's 69-foot yacht Geronimo.
The level of competition in the ISL varies but can be stiff. Royer, who played soccer in addition to squash and ran track for four years, said that track in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League is superior to the ISL and soccer comparable. There is no comparison in squash, long the domain of prep schools.
Royer plans to run track at Dartmouth. Baysah, captain of the football, basketball and track teams, is going to Wesleyan University and will play football. Carrellas, captain of the girls soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse teams, will play lacrosse at Holy Cross. Mack, a varsity lacrosse player for four years, basketball player for three and runner for two is bound for Middlebury College and is undecided about college lacrosse.
Mackay said 50 St. George's graduates from the last four classes are playing intercollegiate sports, most at the Division III level. Adam Choice of Newport, a 2006 alum who scored 1,193 points at St. George's, plays basketball at Colby College.
A St. George's education is expensive: $41,000 for boarding students, $27,000 for day students this year. About 100 students share $2 million in financial aid.
"We have many students who aren't wealthy come here," Mackay said.
Mackay listed 30 Rhode Islanders among the current group of multisport varsity athletes. A sampling includes senior Leigh Archer of Jamestown, captain of the cross-country team and 2008 ISL honorable mention in lacrosse; freshman Gunnar Bjornson of Tiverton, All-ISL and All-State in basketball; senior Carmen Boscia of Cranston, captain and All-ISL in soccer and captain in lacrosse; junior Lindsey Brooks of Portsmouth, MVP of the soccer team, All-ISL and All-State and captain-elect; senior Max Fowler of Newport, All-New England, All-ISL and All-State in soccer and bound for Brown, and junior Kevin Martland of Newport, a sailor on the 2008 national championship team.
Twelve of the 22 players on the girls varsity lacrosse team hail from Rhode Island, which makes coach Lucy Hamilton's Game Day pep talks a snap when the opponent is Barrington High School, Lincoln School, Wheeler or Portsmouth Abbey.
"This is for Rhode Island pride," she said.