Brains and Brawn: IB athletes dominate in the classroom and on the courts

September heat radiates from the sun and pounds on the players, while dead silence stretches across the court. Zoie Wong, senior, pulls back her racket as her opponent stares her down. She throws the ball up into the air and then smashes it down, the yellow blur whizzing over the net.

Only half an hour before, the captain of the girls’ tennis team was not hammering serves at her competitors, but rather sitting quietly in a classroom. Using the same concentration, she was writing thought-provoking essays, solving challenging differential equations and learning about the world around her through the lens of an International Baccalaureate (IB) student.
Many students play sports during their high school careers and others choose to enroll in the NPHS full IB program. However, most do not realize the commitment it takes to do both simultaneously.

To be a full IB athlete, one must complete the required IB courses in six subject areas, which are similar to AP and Honor classes in difficulty, a 4000-word Extended Essay, and 150 community service hours in just under two years, as well as attend all of the practices and games like every other player.

Most of the full IB athletes had been playing their respective sports long before  they decided to participate in the IB program. They value both the physical and social elements of playing sports for their high school experiences.

“I definitely knew that I was going to be playing tennis before I joined IB, mainly because I’ve been playing tennis for a very long time, and I love the sport. It was also a social setting for me to be able to get to meet new people,” Wong said.

Ben Yang, another full IB student and senior veteran on both the varsity water polo and swim teams, added, “It seemed like a fun thing to do, and also I swam basically throughout all my elementary and middle school days … I also really liked the team aspect, and being part of a (sports) team and having that close bond was honestly one of the most amazing experiences for me.”

When the athletes faced the IB decision at the end of their sophomore year, they faced difficulties committing to the rigorous program, while holding on to their existing sports schedules.

Wong explained that it was not an easy decision for her.

“I personally struggled with a couple of subjects earlier on in high school, so it wasn’t like it was a path that had been predetermined for me,” she said. “It was something that I actively chose because I wanted to learn about certain mindsets that people have.”

Akash Velu, senior and varsity tennis player, also shared his reasoning in doing full IB.

“I went full IB because it is the most rigorous coursework that NPHS offers … it’s a very good learning experience, because you get a very in-depth and broad experience on various subjects, and it obviously looks good in terms of resumés,” he said.

For varsity golfer and senior Mazarine Penzin, the international recognition of an IB diploma was and still is an appealing factor.

“It’s an international program, which is really nice, because I have dual citizenship with the United States and France so it’s a nice opportunity in case I want to go study abroad at one point,” Penzin said.

After the athletes delved into the full IB program in their junior and senior years, balancing the busy schedule proved to be the most challenging part.

“The hardest part is time, because practice is usually two hours right after school, and then when you get home, you are physically tired, but you’re also emotionally and mentally tired from school,” Yang said. “You want to take a nap, but you know that you have to take a shower, do your homework and eat dinner.”

Penzin also feels that time is the hardest element of juggling both endeavors.

“For golf it’s really time consuming,” Penzin related. “A match can take about three hours plus the time that you have to drive there and back… so that is difficult too, because sometimes you will have to stay up a little later just to finish your work and catch up”

To survive, each student devised his or her own coping mechanism.

“I think the main thing is just … concentrating on one thing at a time … so that you can really get the most out of your time while doing (it),” Wong said.

Jack Smith, senior and varsity water polo, volleyball and track athlete, manages by doing his homework in small breaks in between games.

It is not as difficult to manage my time. On the bus rides (last year) and during JV and Frosh games I was able to complete homework or study. Even when I get home I have plenty of time to study. In fact I’m actually really bad at time management, but I can still survive,” Smith said.

As it turns out, playing sports can actually provide an outlet for the students’ studying stress and help them achieve a more balanced lifestyle. Monroe Farris, junior on the girls varsity basketball team, thought basketball benefitted her studies.

“The nice thing about playing basketball is that it serves as a good
break from my academic life. When I play, I am only focused on the game,” Farris said. “I’ve been able to learn specific things from basketball . . . for example, the pressure situations that basketball puts me in has helped me remain calm in stressful academic situations.”
Smith added, “In truth, the IB program and sports work well together. Sports not only helped me to complete activity CAS hours, but they helped me to spend time outside with friends.”

After finishing the majority of their IB courses, the senior athletes get to reflect on their experiences and have all agreed that it has been a worthy undertaking.

“Full IB is very similar to college in that it is a lot writing and you go over a lot of independent work, so in terms of preparing you for college, it is very good,” Velu said.

For many students considering this path, it is the time commitment from both the IB program and a sport that holds them back. However, both Yang and Smith believe that they have benefitted from participating in both IB and in a sport.

“It has given me a better understanding of myself. I get my physical limits better, I get my emotional limits better,” Yang said, “and I just understand myself better.”

“I think doing both sports and IB has allowed me to get the most out of high school and have more experiences than others my age,” Smith agreed. “Plus I made friend groups in IB and in sports that are very different from each other.”

Wong agrees that it is worth whatever sacrifices she made, and that she gained more than she thought she would.

“(It is) making me a more well-rounded person,” Wong added. “I know if I wasn’t in tennis, I’d probably be not as healthy, and I’d probably be a lot more frustrated in general. IB has helped me a lot, just giving me a more worldly view and different ways to look at the same content.”
All of our full IB student athletes are champions both in the classroom and on the field, and the experiences they have received will be some of their brightest high school memories. Now, they are prepared to take any challenges that college throws their way, and knock them out of the park.


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