Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Relics of My GDS Basketball Career

About six months ago, my GDS classmate Parks Neisler (1975) stopped by my office to give me a photograph of our 1974-1975 Boys Varsity Basketball Team. What a flood of memories that picture brought back to me! There we were: ten teammates and Coach Ronnie Digh, youthful and proud in our basketball uniforms on the steps of what was then known as the Multi-Purpose Room ( a name that seems so quintessentially 1970s) and now is the Commons. I often see Lower School students standing in the same spot at assembly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

We were arguably the second best independent school boys basketball team in the state that year. Coach Digh kneels in the photograph just behind our Charlotte Independent School Athletic Association Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champion Trophies. As I recall, we had a record of just under twenty wins and slightly more than five losses. In those days, we played far fewer games. Two of our losses that season were to Oak Ridge Academy in Greensboro: Once in a close game in their gym and once by two points in the first round of the state playoffs in our gym here (now the George F. Henry Library). Oak Ridge cruised through the rest of the state playoffs to become state champions. I am embarrassed to admit that, after 35 years, I still wonder why the ceding committee paired two of the best teams in the state in the first round--time to let that go, isn't it!

We joined a brand new conference that year: the Charlotte Independent School Athletic Association (CISAA) and were its inaugural boys basketball champions. Member schools included Carmel Academy, Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Christian, Charlotte Latin, Gaston Day, Providence Day, and Valleydale. I am 53 years old now, but I still remember the incredibly satisfying feeling of going into the gyms at Charlotte Country Day, Latin and Providence Day and knowing that we were going to clobber them! The CISAA exists today with Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Christian, and Providence Day still members, but Gaston Day School's enrollment is not large enough for us to belong. Still, there is pride in knowing we were champions of that conference in its first season.

With one or two sad exceptions, my teammates have gone on to very successful lives. Andy Warlick, President and CEO of Parkdale Mills, was our 6'4" starting point guard. Dolph Sumner, a prominent Gastonia attorney, was a key substitute. David Lawing, a local banker, was our center. Parks Neisler, who helps run his family's textile manufacturing firm, was a shooting guard. When Parks gave me the picture, I hung it in my office--proof positive to my current students that I really was young once and I really am a true blue Spartan.

Last Friday I was walking back from lunch in the dining hall and decided to inspect work in one of the storage rooms next to Lisa Olson's art classroom. We are clearing out that space for future use. In the corner was a heap of perhaps thirty old Gaston Day athletic trophies. Old trophies quckly lose their value as they are replaced by newer ones. Only truly remarkable trophies, like state championships, find their way into the Trophy Case of the Jim Henry Center. The heap of old trophies in question was in a puddle of water in the corner of this storage room. I couldn't resist them and walked over and reached into the pile and pulled one out. Lo and behold, I held our 1974-1975 Regular Season CISAA Boy Basketball Conference Championship Trophy in my hand! The base of the tropy had been sitting in the water and was rotten.

I brought the trophy back to my office and, yes, it was the same as one of the two trophies in the team picture. In that moment, a weird mood swept over me as I began to wonder how such pieces of my past as the team picture and the trophy could possibly have survived and come back to me. It was another reminder of how fortunate I am to be head of school at my alma mater, where I am not only surrounded by exciting daily challenges, but also important memories and even artifacts of my past.

The trophy was beyond repair. I took the engraved plate off the base and glued it to the top of the team picture. I invite you to come see it in my office if you like. Hopefully, things are happening to our students that will make just as much of a lasting impression. Gaston Day is a place that sticks with you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sharing Our Success

I would like to take a moment to brag about Gaston Day School. In Lower and Middle Schools, our ERB test scores place us among the top schools in the nation. Our 2009-2010 SAT scores averaged just under 1200 (critical reading and math), the highest in Gaston County. The Upper School pass rate on Advanced Placement Exams is over 90%.

The class of 2010 is attending schools such as UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, Washington and Lee University, and Kenyon College. Gaston Day has produced a finalist for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship at Chapel Hill each of the past four years. For 2010, Crawford Rhyne was the only Morehead-Cain finalist from Gaston, Lincoln, and Cleveland counties. In 2009, Charlotte Lindemanis was our first Morehead-Cain Scholar winner. In all the 27 graduates of 2010 were offered over $2.7million in scholarship and financial aid awards from the colleges to which they were accepted.

• English: Our English Department has been recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English for “excellence in our English instructional program.” Blutopia, the school literary and art magazine, earned national recognition, including the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Medal, the North Carolina Media Association Tar Heel Award for the best high school magazine in North Carolina, and the National Council of Teachers of English PRESLM Superior Award. GDS students have earned a remarkable 24 regional, state, and national English writing awards in 2009-2010 alone, including 15 prestigious Scholastic Writing Gold Key awards. Mary Louise Montgomery was one of 15 freshman selected as a finalist for the Thomas Wolfe Award at Chapel Hill.

• Foreign Language: Kassandra Leiva placed 9th in the state on the National French Exam. Eleven Upper School students received gold, silver or bronze awards for their performances on the National Spanish Exam.

• Science: In only its third year, the Gaston Day School Science Olympiad Team advanced for the first time to the State Championship. Mahroosha Hussain and Grace Russell placed 5th in their category.

• Math: Daniel Thompson scored in the 90% and Spencer Thompson scored just below the top third of all participants in the American Mathematics Society Contest, given to the nation’s top math students.

• Fine Arts: In visual and graphic arts, Gaston Day School won 27 Gold and Silver Keys in the Scholastic Arts Award. Gaston Day swept 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places for the Pinnix Prize for the top art work in all Gaston County schools. In band, we had two of the 160 students selected to the All-State band. And, as usual, Gaston Day’s drama productions are some of the best in the country. If you think that is an exaggeration, note that USA Today selected our spring musicals as the best in the state and one of the best in the country.

As important as academics are, good character is even more important. Gaston Day’s mission states that we “will instill a desire to make a positive difference in family, community, and world.” Every Upper School student must complete at least 25 hours of community service per year and many do much more. 30 Middle and Upper School students earned a Bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award, 5 students received Silver, and 12 students were recognized for 250 hours with the Gold designation. Each Middle School grade served one day in the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen. This year, the entire school raised $7,300 for Pennies for Peace to build schools in Afghanistan. Whenever Mr. W. Duke Kimbrell asks me about the school, he is interested in the moral character of our young people. If the commitment to help others through service is an indication, Gaston Day students are compassionate and caring.

The recession has created a challenging environment for the nation’s independent schools. Surprisingly, our opening enrollment for 2009-2010 was the largest in 30 years. Gaston Day has produced modest operating surpluses each of the last five years. We intend to eliminate all debt in the next year. Deferred maintenance, the cost of new technology, and raising faculty salaries are all important issues facing the school. We plan to have a capital campaign in the near future which will focus primarily on maintaining our campus and other capital improvements. We are so grateful for all the ways in which each of you supports the school and for your loyalty in these challenging and exciting times. I am particularly grateful to the Parents Association for helping us equip about one-third of our classrooms with SmartBoards, which replace blackboards as the most advanced, interactive, instructional tool. Thank you, PA.

As we look ahead, the administration, faculty, and staff are committed to building upon the future. We know that we exist solely to serve our students and their families and we are grateful for the privilege.