The Volleyball Tournament: CoBo’s Ingenious Idea

Anna Blake Patrick

The Upper School Volleyball Tournament has taken off, thanks to the hard work of CoBo and the construction of teams including both student and faculty teammates. But this year, the event means much more to the Upper School than mere friendly competition.

I interviewed Senior Community Board Rep. Jonathan S. ’22 about the conception of the tournament to see what it is really all about. “The idea first started because Patrick Barnette sent me a flyer. He said it would be cool to have a volleyball tournament at OES,” he said. “I agreed, and said I just needed to change the rules and think of how to make it happen.” 

But the tournament would go beyond just friendly competition between names on a sign-up sheet. Our student-run Community Board decided to use the idea of a volleyball tournament as an opportunity to create an event that could bring students and teachers together—after nearly a whole year of isolation due to the pandemic—through the nature of sports-based competition. Dorm Community Board Rep. Alfredo R.J. ’22 explained that, “We’ve been hard at work in creating positive experiences for the community, based around the idea of having fun. We want to create an environment where people who normally don’t participate in school events feel invited to.” I think we can all agree that community was one of the biggest things missing from our lives last year, and CoBo has taken on the difficult task of recultivating it during this confusing era of masks on and four to a lunch table.

To learn more about the community implications of CoBo’s Volleyball Tournament, I talked with Sarah Grenert-Funk, the Interim Head of Upper School. I wanted to know why exactly community events such as the tournament are so important—especially during this uncertain stretch of a global pandemic. “I truly believe that we’re all in this together,” she told me. “Our community is stronger when we’re united, connected, and trust each other, and we can build relationships. One might not think that you can do that through playing volleyball, but I am a firm believer that it is not just a competitive aspect, but that team dynamic and healthy, positive competition and just being in community with other people can be one of the most powerful ways to build community, which can then apply to the rest of our lives here on campus.”

Jonathan agreed, especially when it comes to being on a team with a faculty member. “Community events like these are important because they bring people together with their friends and faculty,” he said. “And the team requirements of having a faculty member build the community more. The tournament gives people a common event to talk about, and even if the players don’t know each other well, they have a chance to go out and have fun at no risk.” 

Sarah G-Funk explained how these connections can make a lasting impact on not just social, but academic life. “Even though the tournament is fun and can seem frivolous, it can really do a lot for building those connections that are powerful, which then go into the classroom and Advisory spaces,” she said. “And you see that connection between faculty and students. It breaks down those barriers that some might feel when it comes to teachers and students. At OES, we have always wanted to flatten that hierarchy, which is why we go by our first names for the most part and have a student council that is really engaged and dynamic and responsive to the needs of students and works closely in collaboration with the administration. There’s not and we hope that there’s not a dynamic where it feels like us vs. them, it feels like we’re on the same team, and so literally in this volleyball tournament, we’re on teams together. And that’s what we hope students at OES will understand is special about this place—faculty and students are on the same team. We live that every day in the classroom, and so this is another way we can demonstrate that through a fun activity.”

Alfredo agreed. “I participated with my friends, and I must say, I didn’t really know the opposing team really well,” he said. “But after losing to them, I feel like I’ve got to know them better—especially their faculty member, Joshua Caditz.” Although the circumstances were unfortunate for Blood Bath and Beyond (Joshua Caditz had delivered several merciless serves that ended our lead in a handful of minutes), I agree with Alfredo in that I may never have known about Joshua’s unparalleled talent on the volleyball court if it weren’t for the tournament. And Joshua isn’t the only faculty member I have been surprised by—our very own US Learning Resource Coordinator, Maego Powers, proved to be an outstanding setter when the rest of us students on the team proved to be quite the opposite. 

Even though I’ve only played in one game so far, I feel much more connected to many of our faculty members, just as Sarah predicted. I asked her about how she thinks these newfound connections could impact student self-advocacy, and she had this to say: “When students trust their teachers and feel connected to them, teaching becomes so personal for the teacher, and learning becomes so personal for the student. When students and teachers are connected and they see each other as being on the same team, students thrive in the classroom, and they’re going to have more academic success. They’re going to want to be engaged in class, and seek out their teacher during Office Hours, and they’re going to advocate for themselves about things. And this is something that is so important to our faculty. It’s why you see teachers at athletic events and concerts at plays, and why you see so many teachers involved in this tournament and excited about it, and out to watch other teams when theirs has lost.”

Both Jonathan and Alfredo agreed, and explained that the tournament is truly a fun break from the business of a school day. “I enjoy seeing everyone’s names and the questions that come through whenever something controversial happens,” Jonathan said. “It’s fun to do and exciting when it works. I want to do more events like this because we never got the chance earlier, thanks to COVID-19.” Alfredo agreed. “Let’s face it,” he said. “At the end of the day, the OES experience is about more than just going to class. It’s about living eight hours of our day (or 24 for dormies) in a space where we feel comfortable being who we are. Activities that foster community help people do just that, feel included and welcome. No one wants to go to a school where they don’t feel welcomed.”

Let’s give our thanks to CoBo and Sarah Grenert-Funk for their hard work in creating this fantastic event! See you in the Losers Bracket. 💪