IHSPA Writer of the Year

Silent tradition

Head coach Garrett Hartwig instilled mandatory quiet time two years ago to provide time for the varsity football team to focus on game day.

Original article published on West Side Story on November 20, 2018.

The rules are simple: be completely silent.

No audible conversations. No getting up and walking around. Just sit, relax and take a few minutes to get a clear head and prepare for the night.

This is what head football coach Garrett Hartwig expects for 15 minutes. This allotted time, deemed “quiet time,” happens before each game to allow players to mentally prepare themselves.

The 49 varsity players sit in the cardio or weight room as far away from each other as possible to avoid any distractions. There is no verbal communication allowed. The players have the 15 minutes to themselves to clear their minds and get ready to play that night.

“Quiet means different things to people,” Hartwig said. “[The room] is just dead silent to walk into, but players listen to music, look at social media [or] some actually do homework … They may communicate through text messaging or social media, but there’s no talking whatsoever. Some students and players take a 15 minute catnap, some just sit and think. It’s just a period that’s completely dedicated to them for 15 minutes before the chaos of the game.”

Hartwig implemented quiet time for the varsity football players two years ago. He got the idea from his time playing college football, where his coaches allotted time for the team to mentally prepare for the games.

After the 2016 season varsity team tried and enjoyed quiet time, Hartwig made the 15 minute period a mandatory part of the team’s Friday night routine for subsequent seasons. Hartwig believes the most important part of the personal quiet time is the repetitive routine and that it is to credit for the football team’s success in recent years.

“I think preparing for a football game or any athletic competition is about routine, and I think that the body is triggered for physical exertion through activity and consistency and this [routine] is part of it,”  Hartwig said. “The more consistent your routine is, the better you will perform. Your body goes through a process of preparing, and this is a time where the body gets all the way down to a completely relaxed state and the mind hopefully as well. You’re hopefully feeling and thinking at the highest level you can for competition.”

Varsity fullback and linebacker Will Hoeft ’20 says that quiet time does not personally help him play better during a game. However, Hoeft believes it is important for the team to have enough time to get themselves prepared for a game and get into a relaxed and focused mindset, whether it be a home or away game.

“I think that football is a pretty mental game sometimes and it just requires a lot of time to get yourself in the right mind frame to go out and do your job and do it well,” Hoeft said.

Although some players may not credit quiet time to better performance in a game, they do accept the fact that quiet time is a required part of the Friday night games and use the 15 minutes to do whatever they personally need to do to get focused.

“It’s not a big factor into how we play, but I think it just helps everybody focus, to just know that they [have] to get ready, and when that ball is kicked on that first down kickoff that they [have] to go,” said running back and defensive end Xarminto Lubuelo ’19. “After quiet time, everybody is in their own zone and getting ready how they get ready … After it’s over you just go get your pads on and get ready for the game.”

While quiet time is a ritual for the team, much of the student body is not familiar with it. This has led to some misunderstandings concerning the team’s schedule, routine and other activities.

One common misconception about quiet time is that the varsity football team gets released from class after sixth period to participate in quiet time. However, the football players are actually released after sixth period to have ample time to eat before the game. Since a large majority of the team has seventh period open during football season, their early release does not actually affect their school work. Because of the way both the school and the football schedules are set up, if the team were to be released at 4:00 p.m. and start practice at 4:30 p.m., there would be no time for players to eat before the game.

The conflicting schedules also mean that the athletes do not have ample time to mentally prepare for the game. Players that do have seventh period classes would leave the school day and go directly to practice. According to Hoeft, this would mean no time for eating, getting organized or going through other processes of preparing themselves, like getting their uniforms ready and doing quiet time.

Although the players are released early from school, the team takes this time seriously. Players utilize the extra time away from class well, as this time is a vital part of their game day routine.

“When we get out, everybody knows it’s not really a time to fool around even though we [have] time before the game,” Lubuelo said. “It’s a time to get your stuff ready, get your protein or nutrients … I don’t think anyone takes advantage of it and just goofs off.”

Many students at West have demonstrated confusion towards the football team’s schedule, citing that other sports are not released early for home games or meets, prompting arguments of special treatment to the football team. However, both Hartwig and varsity football players say it’s fair for the team to take time out of the day to get ready for the game, including eating before the long nights.

“I guess every sport is different and when it all boils down to it, all the sports get different things that other sports don’t,” said Hoeft. “It makes sense why people are a little upset but … [for] wrestling, sometimes we get team dinners and sometimes we get charter buses with a lot of space on them. For wrestling we’ll miss a couple of days of school to go to a tournament out of town. For baseball we get sandwiches up to the game. I feel like there is special treatments each sport gets that some other sports don’t.”

Although football does receive extra time for home games that other sports may not, the time is a vital part of the team’s friday night routine. Leaving school early allows the team to prepare both physically and mentally for the challenging night ahead.

“It takes a while to get ready mentally and there are a lot of logistics that go into football that people don’t know about,” said Hartwig. “I mean, we have walkthroughs, we have quiet time, we have mental checks just to make sure that players remember game plan situations … and it may sound trivial but it’s helped us to be successful over the years.”

 

I owe you nothing

Online Managing Editor Sophie Stephens ‘19 addresses the issue of owing people an explanation during the college process.

Original article published on West Side Story on February 5, 2019.

Everything you do in high school has the chance of being noticed, questioned and even judged. No, West High isn’t an institution that breeds “mean girls,” popularity contests or anything else that may come straight out of a teen movie.

However, in high school it isn’t uncommon for your decisions to be questioned by your peers. Everyone wants to know all the details, whether it’s “hot gossip” topics or more serious conversations. For me, I’ve noticed a repetitive and exhaustive trend concerning college, specifically that everyone’s college decisions are being questioned.

At West, there is no possible way that you can prevent people from knowing the juicy details of where you are applying to college or what your major is going to be. It seems that sometimes you can tell one person what your top choice school is, and the next day 20 more people know.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in college discussions. I myself am guilty of lunchtime conversations consisting of, “Did you hear so-and-so is applying to this school?” or “Blank got rejected from that school.” But I came to realize early on that these conversations do nothing but make me feel like I’m sizing up competition that isn’t really there.

It’s incredibly hard to avoid conversations like these. When someone approaches me and asks, “What schools are you applying to?” it’s not like I can walk away or pretend I didn’t hear the question. But I also don’t feel the need to tell somebody about the choices I’m making if it may lead to judgement or questions. It’s not like this information is top-secret, but I’m trying to navigate college decisions just like everybody else; I don’t want to risk facing judgement for my choices when I’ve spent weeks worrying over making sure they are the right decisions for me.

There is an expectation among people my age that we deserve information just because we requested it. We expect people to tell us all of the interesting stories that the person hasn’t yet shared as if we are, for some odd reason, deserving of the information. For the people being asked, it’s hard to dodge the question. Eventually, we succumb to the pressure and willingly hand over the information to eliminate the discomfort that comes with the expectation to answer.

But you do not owe anyone an explanation for your actions.

There is no need to explain your reasoning to apply to in-state colleges to someone who only wants to go out-of-state because your explanation simply won’t make sense to them. The same goes for explaining why you are attending one school when another school that, to someone else, may provide better academic or athletic opportunities.

Someone once told me that everyone is playing their own game in high school.

Not everyone will be working towards the same goal, not everyone will be interested in the same topics and not everybody will approach college applications the same way. There is no reason that you need to explain your game to someone who isn’t even using the same game board as you.

Can we stop assuming that we are privy to information just because we demand it from somebody? Can we also stop feeling obligated to give an explanation that we don’t want to give?

You do not owe people an explanation for something that does not affect them. We need to stop pressuring people into handing over information they don’t want to share.

Don’t doubt your ability to make the best choice for yourself. Don’t doubt your decisions just because they aren’t the same as your best friends. Don’t let people who feel like they deserve an explanation make you question your choices. As long as what you are doing is being done for your own well-being, you don’t need to explain your actions to anyone else looking at the situation from the outside.

 

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are a newly prevailing form of self-harm that is used by a growing number of teenagers to lose weight or change their body shape, and can be influenced by a number of societal and psychological pressures. Although believed to be harmless, eating disorders can lead to a number of health problems.

Original article published on West Side Story on April 8, 2018.

You start counting calories. 2,000 a day, then 1,500, then 1,000. You count lower and lower until you get to the point where you are eating less than 500 calories a day and burning off more through excessive cardio. Maybe you use diet pills or drugs to stop feeling hungry, or sleep through meals so you don’t have to eat.

Eating disorders vary from person to person. They range from anorexia and binge eating to lesser known eating disorders, such as avoidant/resistant food intake disorder (ARFID). Every eating disorder comes in varying levels of severity and affect each person that struggles differently.

Eating disorders that focus around restricting calorie intake can develop for a number of reasons, many connected with the individual’s mental health. According to Eating Disorders Hope, any psychological, biological or societal negative stressor can lead to eating disorders. Having low self-confidence or facing bullying due to weight or appearance can bring people to develop an eating disorder to feel in control or to try and fix the supposed problem. Eating disorders can fluctuate in severity due to different moods, stress or anxiety.

These disorders don’t happen right away. Often, people who struggle with eating disorders start by dieting and counting calories, but allow their situation to progress to dangerous levels without even realizing the ramifications it has on their health. Eating disorders can get out of control quickly if people do not understand the dangers or do not see their problem as “serious” to their overall health.

Eastern Iowa High School student, who agreed to be interviewed if their identity was anonymous, recounts their struggle with anorexia.

“I basically just didn’t eat for long enough and I would take vitamins so I could be active and like kind of live my day, but eventually it got to one point where I passed out [for ten minutes] in the middle of the mall in Target and my mom freaked out,” the student said.

Eating disorders are not just overly restrictive diets. They involve excessive calorie-burning workouts, and can include the use of diet pills to prevent hunger or other pills and drugs to provide energy with the absence of nutrition.

“I was abusing Adderall not for the reason of school like most people, but because it helps you lose weight. It makes you not hungry, so I just wouldn’t eat for periods of time but still have energy,” the student said.

Those who struggle can feel like they can handle their problem on their own. Some believe that their condition is not life-threatening and that they do not need treatment. They can avoid getting help because they worry about causing problems for others by sharing their condition, or simply believe that their conditions does not affect anyone else directly and should therefore be kept to themselves.

After the student’s situation elevated to the point of fainting in the middle of the mall, they were put into an in-patient care for two weeks and worked with a therapist, psychiatrist and a nutritionist to help get back to a healthy lifestyle.

“The [in-patient] I went to . . . you have to sit at the dinner table and finish all of your food, and no one else at the table can leave until you finish,” the student said. “They lock the bathrooms for like 45 minutes at the end of the meal so people wouldn’t have the urge to throw up.”

Although in-patient treatments can be strict or hard to adapt to, the programs are designed to get those who struggle to a healthy daily habit of eating that will promote long-term change. Other treatment opportunities like therapy and working with a nutritionist help get back to healthy eating habits in a slower effective fashion.

Because of the stigma surrounding mental health and admitting to struggling, many people who struggle with eating disorders do not actively seek out medical help or therapy on their own. More often than not, no one besides the person struggling knows about their condition.

Eating disorders and mental health stigma can discourage those suffering to tell somebody about their struggle. Not getting treatment can often worsen the situation, or can let it progress for longer periods of time than is healthy.

Treatment should have been the next choice for Eastern Iowa High School teacher who agreed to be interviewed if their identity remained anonymous. This teacher struggled with anorexia in high school.

“I never did get treatment for it, and that was not my recommended course of action. I think that anyone struggling with anorexia should get treatment . . . With the stigma that exists with admitting that you have an eating disorder or any sort of mental illness, people keep it to themselves and I just think that, while that might feel like a safe option, it is really so much better to get help if you can,” the teacher said.

This stigma surrounding eating disorders puts those who struggle in a position of fear or anxiety when it comes to admitting to their condition or asking for help. Only one third of those struggling with anorexia get treatment, despite it being the eating disorder resulting in the largest fatality rate of all mental illnesses. Only 6% of those who struggle with bulimia get help. This stigma not only hurts the access to therapy and other help; it also affects what peers know and can learn about eating disorders.

“I was fortunate because there are a lot of people that struggle with anorexia that don’t have that rational processing of it. Like they can’t be like ‘Oh, this is unhealthy for me so I’ll stop.’ They can’t stop, and I think that’s where there are a lot of people much less fortunate than I was,” the teacher said.

It is easier for an eating disorder to go unnoticed because of the low education and little access to facts that peers have about eating disorders, and the misunderstandings that come with that.

Students that have an eating disorder may also feel unsafe or may not be sure who they can turn to in order to share their condition and get help. This can be due in part to the fact that eating disorders are commonly a one-person problem or condition, or that people do not fully understand eating disorders.

Big misunderstandings with eating disorders make it harder for people to believe their situation will be taken seriously. It also makes it hard to improve on one’s own, when stigma and ignorance cloud the facts of eating disorders.

“I feel like as far as eating disorders go, there’s something that kind of sticks with you for a long time. I would say this is still something I hold with me to some degree . . . I feel like my relationship with food, even to this day, is really difficult,” the teacher said.

However, sometimes the only reason somebody does not reach out for help is because they do not know who to turn to. Although teenagers that struggle usually have close friends and family, they may be worried to approach them about their struggles because they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t know how to help. Students may be uncomfortable turning to adults at school like teachers and school counselors because the relationships are more distant and impersonal.

With classes at West filled with up to 40 students per class period, and every teacher having up to five class periods, it is hard to build strong relationships with teachers. The ratio of counselors to students is also too large to build comfortable relationships.

“I feel like so many teacher/student relationships are so distant that a student just wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing to a teacher that they were going through something and unfortunately I think that’s the case with the counselors as well. I’ve talked to a lot of students who say that they just don’t feel comfortable talking to counselors about things,” the teacher said.

Although education and stronger relationships between students and adults will greatly improve the resources someone struggling with an eating disorder has access to, an important first step in decreasing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and mental health issues is cutting down the unrealistic ideals and the stereotypes that exist today. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 40-60% of girls at age six are worried about their weight or about becoming overweight. 69% of American elementary school-aged children say magazine pictures affect their opinion of a perfect or ideal body shape.

“I wish we were more accepting of the idea that there isn’t this ideal body type to have, and that we were accepting that different people have different natural shapes . . . so that we weren’t so judgmental when somebody didn’t look the way we think is ideal, especially since our ideal is not natural,” the teacher said.“I think that is the root of the problem, that we have this unnatural expectation of what people should look like.”

 

Parent perspectives

Athletes attend weekly practices, out of town games and team bonding, but this is only a fraction of what it takes to be an athlete. Behind every athlete is a dedicated support network of parents that are always working to help their kids better their skills.

Original printed in the February 22, 2019 issue of the West Side Story. Online version can be found here.

The stands are filled with cheering fans decked out in green, gold and the student section theme for the night. The illuminated scoreboard shows that you are down in the last quarter. It’s hard for you and the team to stay positive when the game isn’t going your way. You look back into the stands before the next play starts and see a face you know is full of support despite the score. Even if they know you are discouraged, they smile and cheer you on. For a small section of the stands, the most important thing is watching you play.

For Rylee Goodfellow ’21, having her parents attend every volleyball, basketball, softball and golf competition of hers means always having someone cheering and supporting her despite her performance.

“Even if I’m having a bad game or I’m not hitting well, I look at them and they always have a smile so they are encouraging me and or they’ll just give me weird looks and make me laugh,” Rylee said.

Parents may not be attending two-or three-hour practices five times a week, but they are still an integral part of the process. Whether it’s traveling to games, taking tickets or simply doing extra loads of laundry, the parents of West athletes are as committed to the process as their children. Raising an athlete doesn’t come without a time commitment of their own.

For Denise, having her son Alex Boxwell ’19 on the varsity football team means almost three months of Friday nights spent at the football field, which brings changes to day-to-day life.

“You’re really committed for the next ten-to-twelve weeks,” Denise said. “Your life is kind of on hold. You don’t really clean your house as thoroughly as you did before because you’re kind of on the go. … You’re doing laundry late at night trying to get his stuff clean for the next morning and it just alters your lifestyle for a good three months. … First you think, ‘Oh God ten-to-twelve weeks’ now you think, ‘Wow, that was fast.’”

With most sports spanning about three or four months, typically with two games per week, the parents become a close-knit community. By watching each other’s kids grow over the years and having shared experiences of tournaments and travels, the parents grow just as close as the children do with their teammates.

“Since these kids have been together for so long, we have such a long history with the families. We traveled a lot with them, so we were in hotels and lobbies and dinners and washing uniforms in laundry rooms at hotels together,” Denise said. “We really just spent more time with them and that’s what was a unique thing about the group. It brought the kids together as well as the parents.”

Beth Hochstedler’s daughter, Kennedy Hochstedler ’19, has been an athlete since she was a kid. After trying out various sports, Kennedy is now involved in year-round soccer with both West and club teams. For Beth, soccer season means a lot of cheering, traveling and fundraising. She has also met parents, both of other West athletes and from schools around the district.

“You look forward to the season coming up so that you can see everyone because sometimes you don’t get to see them as much when it’s off season,” Beth sad. “It’s a great time to reconnect.”

Mary Goodfellow was always supportive about the amount of time her youngest daughter, Rylee, was spending in athletics. Mary’s philosophy is “the busier they are, the better they do in everything.”

Rylee is currently involved in four sports through school and plays on a club softball team as well. This commitment means Rylee is in season for roughly 75 percent of a calendar year. Her mom’s desire to have her stay busy has helped her focus on athletics and improve over the years.

“If they didn’t come to any games or talk about practices after I don’t think I would have stayed involved in all four sports, but them encouraging me to do all four and stay involved has really helped my mentality,” Rylee said. “They like it that I’m in these sports and it’s good for me. … They are always like, ‘We don’t want you coming home and sitting on the couch all night.’”

Being the girl’s golf head coach at West means Mary has to balance her commitment to the golf team with her commitment to Rylee, including playing both mom and coach to Rylee during the golf season. This includes talking to the softball coach for Rylee when softball and golf schedules overlap.

Although a lot of time is spent in athletic environments, Mary loves the competitive setting. With so much of the family’s time being spent in athletics, it makes it easy for Mary to be involved in Rylee’s growth as an athlete.

“She’ll think she did terrible and I’m always like ‘No you didn’t, remember that pass? Remember that assist?’” Mary said. “I like to focus on the positives, she kind of still tries to dwell on the negatives.”

Parents are one of the biggest motivators for an athlete. They are the people who accompany their kids through the changing climates of sports, from Tiny Tots to high school; they motivate their kids to stay in sports and overall help guide athletes to an athletic career they enjoy.

Denise always made sure that no matter what, either her or her husband, Brian, would attend Alex’s practices as he was growing up. They wanted to be there to watch him play, grow and help him if needed. Their constant presence at practice was one way of motivation, but they also made sure to be involved in their kids decisions for choosing which sports they would partake in.

“We told the kids when they were little ‘You are welcome to try anything and everything you want to, but once you start, you will finish. You’re committed. The team is counting on you. Even if you are miserable you are going to make the best of it,” Denise said. “So they knew whatever they started they had to finish. We wouldn’t let them just up and quit mid season and leave their teammates hanging.”

Parents of athletes are often just as dedicated to the athletic program as their children are. For them, the easiest way to support the entire team is by attending games, even if they may be the only ones in the stands.

“The kids always knew what parents were there,” Denise said. “Even up until the last game of the year Alex always looked up into the stands to see where we were and if we were watching or socializing or not paying attention to him or whatever. I think it meant a lot to him to be there, and we wouldn’t have missed it.”

 

Novel conversations

Author Nic Stone held six student discussions and a special lunch meeting for her book “Dear Martin” on Tuesday, Sept. 18 as the first meeting of West’s diversity book club.

Original article published on West Side Story on September 21, 2018.

A recent rise in minority authors has kickstarted a literary movement that tackles issues like racism and police brutality through young adult fiction. Books like “Dear Martin” provide a way to bring students together through understanding each other’s backgrounds.

The 2017-18 climate survey revealed that minority students at West felt unsafe, unwelcome or targeted by both students and teachers. The administration had to step back and use these results to find ways to create a unified community.

Librarian Jill Hofmockel was surprised by the results of the survey and wanted to create an environment where students would feel welcome.

“Even though maybe we think that we are creating an atmosphere that is supportive of all students, we need to do better in showing students that we care about them and that their representation matters,” said Hofmockel.

She and fellow librarian Beth Belding took action by creating a school-wide diversity book group. Each month, interested students will meet to read and discuss books written by minority authors that focus on central characters from the same background.

This month, students read “Dear Martin.” Students listened to author Nic Stone speak during small group discussions throughout the day Sept. 18. Jo Dixon ‘19 read the book and attended one of the author visits.

“I’ve never really read a book where they hit the facts like this, so blatantly,” said Dixon. “Other books, they’re kind of low key about it but this book is just hitting it head-on and I really like that.”

Author Nic Stone drew on her own childhood experiences and on being a mother to two African American boys for the book. She was also inspired by the story of Jordan Davis, an African American teenager from Jacksonville, Florida who was shot and killed at age 17 because he was playing loud music.

Stone writes books to create characters that other minority readers can connect to and to shine light on the racism and police brutality that is happening in America today. She hopes that the more these topics are written about, the more attention it will get, and hopes that literature will be a way to minimize racial profiling.

“Elie Wiesel was a holocaust survivor and he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986,” said Stone. “Something he said in his speech was ‘It is the memory of evil that will serve as a shield against evil,’ so as long as my book is in print I hope that it will serve as a shield against evil in highlighting some of the terrible things that have happened to black boys over the course of the past six years or so.”

Books like “Dear Martin,” “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas and “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds have created a movement that breaks molds of what historically has been whitewashed literature for young adults. Hofmockel chose “Dear Martin” for students to read because of its new take on topics like racism and police brutality.

“She’s written this book that I think just blows stereotypes out of the water and she’s unafraid to talk about how it makes people uncomfortable sometimes,” said Hofmockel. “I think that it’s healthy to use literature to experience something that maybe you wouldn’t experience and to then use that to grow. Anytime you can use literature to broaden your perspective I think is a benefit.”

The diversity book group named “These Books Are Lit” will meet once a month. The first few meetings will be organized by the librarians, but after that will be run by any students that want to attend. All books will have diverse characters from minority backgrounds. Meetings will try to build understanding between students of all backgrounds and start a discussion about current events.

“People are going through these things everyday and we really need to sit down and think about what they really have to deal with on a daily basis and figure out a way to change,” said Dixon.

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