When asked what the most popular CEESA sport at our school is, almost anyone will answer football. Why? Because it is what we most often see around us. Students play it during lunch, after school and even during Physical and Health Education (PHE) classes. Football is the most common sport at AISB closely followed by basketball and volleyball.
These sports make up the “big three” says Alexandru Sota, the Athletics and Activities Director at AISB. Yet, these aren’t the only sports our school offers. I wish to highlight some lesser-known sports offered at AISB and suggest more opportunity and focus be given to these activities by the administration, CCA department and student body.
CEESA sports at our school
Over the course of the year, AISB offers six CEESA sports, two during each of the CCA trimesters.
The AISB co-curricular athletics year is comprised of football and cross country in the fall and basketball and swimming in the winter. During the spring season students compete in volleyball and tennis. Track occurs during the spring season and while it isn’t an official CEESA sport, the team does travel internationally and will be competing in Athens in 2023. Each of these sports is led by a coaching team of either school staff or externally hired specialists.
Popular sports versus unpopular sports
In each season there is usually an imbalance of participants with one sport enjoying more popularity than the others. Football, of course, is the most popular sport no matter where you look. It is, according to sources such as EducationWeek and Sports Brief, the number one sport in the world, whether that be for adults or teens in high school, so it isn’t surprising that our school would follow these same trends.
The “big three” sports at our school are also popular in Romania as a whole, according to BetRomania, a widely popular betting site that collects data on popular sports in Romania based on betting and viewing rates. Football ranks number one, volleyball number three, and basketball places fourth in the most popular sports list. Handball ranks number two in Romania, but as of now, AISB does not offer it.
Swimming, tennis, and cross country are nowhere to be seen on BetRomania’s ranking and coincidentally also in our school community’s understanding.
It’s important to note that facilities play a significant role in the popularity of a sport. The school’s CCA Coordinator, Brad Benson, mentions that “Anytime you offer an activity at school, you want to be able to host that activity on the campus.”
Unfortunately, that isn’t an option for swimming and tennis yet, which may be one of the factors in these sports low participation rates.
Plus, the fact that football is offered from as young as age 2 in our Early Learning Center makes it possible for more children to develop an affinity towards it. Were we to have a pool of our own there would most likely be an aquatics program for the younger children, and thus, a stronger culture towards it in later years.
For example, Kyiv International School (KIS) has a pool, and because of that, in 2019, it was able to host CEESA Swimming at their own in-house pool.
Of course, there are other CEESA schools that have aquatic facilities as well, such as the American School of Warsaw (ASW) who are hosting CEESA Swimming in March, 2023, the Anglo-American School of Moscow (AAS), and QSI International School of Bratislava (QSI), who were supposed to host swimming CEESA before COVID canceled all events.
AISB stands by the DEIJ mission with the aim to provide “equitable access and opportunities” to everyone. Additionally, AISB’s mission states that “AISB engages learners with a rigorous and balanced international education.”
AISB engages learners with a rigorous and balanced international education that inspires students to get the best from themselves and others, ethical in their actions and open-minded in their thinking about the world.AISB Mission About Us
How can students be “open-minded” towards sports in general if there are only three major sports that they are exposed to and that are actively promoted in our community?
As an example, in the fall season of 2022, the girls’ football team saw two matches with Dream Team in September as well as one match with the Bucharest Grand City Football Cup and the Vampire Autumn Football Classic in Bulgaria in October. There was also an off-campus tournament at ISB directly after the Grand City Football Cup on October 8th for both boys and girls.
The number of football matches, along with the CEESA tournaments during the first two weekends of November, is noticeably different than the number of the events the school organizes and/or participates in in other sports.
Another noted imbalance is that in addition to the externally hired football coaches the school uses, referees are also hired for football tournaments while funding for renting or building tennis courts, or maybe even hosting more cross country competitions, is left undiscussed.
A study done by INSCOP, a private sociological research company, shows that 15.9% of Romania’s population chose tennis as the sport they would prefer to practice. So where are the match opportunities for tennis?
The difference in opportunities for participation in tournaments at our school can be clearly seen. Basketball, football, and volleyball events always take center stage while few know about any of the cross-country, swimming or tennis events going on – if there even are any.
Now – how many of these challenges stem from the fact that there might just not be opportunities for those sports here in Romania?
David Hughes, the former CCA Coordinator and Athletics Director and current Vice-Principal of the Middle School, mentioned that for some sports, like softball, there just aren’t any teams in Bucharest.
However, this isn’t the case for all sports. For example, there are many different swimming organizations that are competitive and some federations, like Liga Performantei in Inot, are happy to accept any team that sign up for their competitions. In February of 2023, the swim team was able to compete at the LPIN Cup to gain experience for their CEESA competition in Warsaw.
Of course, higher stake competitions such as Nationals, or other competitions organized by the Romanian Aquatics Federation (FRNPM) need official registration and wouldn’t let an independent, non-aquatics-focused school participate. This is just one of many federations that organize competitions that wouldn’t allow AISB to compete.
When asked what is keeping AISB separate from other sports competitions, Hughes responded, “Especially with more individual sports, the philosophy that we have as a school, towards sport, is very different to the philosophy of some of the competitions that are held locally.”
While asking Sota some follow-up questions on the matter, he mentioned that, in his opinion, the two main things keeping the school apart from the Romanian sports scene are “schedules and alignment.” He says the Romanian leagues are primarily performance-based, meaning the level would “cater to a Varsity team and that’s it. There would be little JV options, which might hurt the program in the long run.”
We’re focusing more on developing players and character building. We’re prioritizing the experience that kids have while they’re in high school as a student athlete. Regardless if you win the championship or come in 5th place .Alex Sota, Athletics & Activities Director
Not to mention, there is the issue of routine check-ups and the balancing of academics and athletics that keep AISB apart from the higher-performing teams.
Sporting opportunities were also significantly affected by the COVID pandemic. The effects were devastating to our school, and as confirmed by Sota, we are primarily an academic focused school, so it will take a while for everything that was available before to be back on track.
While all sports are healthy in their own way, the Aspen Institute created rankings of “healthier sports” in relation to physical activity, safety and psychosocial markers.
For females, the top three healthiest sports just so happen to coincide with our least known sports, with swimming ranking the highest, then cross country and finally tennis. For males it is relatively the same with cross country ranking highest, then swimming and then track and field. All of this data is relative to each particular student and their own personal lives.
Sota shared his views on both individual sports and team sports, saying that some students would like a sport that they can practice individually, where they rely completely on themselves while others prefer team sports to belong to a community and improve their social and emotional well-being.
There are cons to both too. According to an article published by Fresno Pacific University, individual athletes tend to build a negative relationship with losing, taking the brunt of the loss on themselves resulting in demoralization and negative headspaces. In team sports, this concern is more physical as injuries more frequently occur in team sports rather than individual sports.
An important takeaway is that it is wise to rotate the sports that you practice, which is easy thanks to our already seasonal system for CCAs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study advising a year-long rotation of sports since children practicing one sport intensely are more prone to injuries. Dr. Pete Fabricant, a doctor at the HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) notes, “Kids involved in field and impact sports often come in with stress fractures and knee problems.” HSS is a hospital specializing in sports injuries and musculoskeletal conditions that cater to athletes of all kinds, even some high-profile American athletes such as the New York Giants.
If me and Mr. Sota could wave a magic wand and build two tennis courts out back, we’d do it in a second.Brad Benson, CCA Coordinator
Recently, positive developments were made, such as the school renting practice lanes at the new Olympic Swim Complex for the CEESA swim team training sessions instead of sending them to a relaxation pool at a local gym.
Also, for the 2022 fall season of cross-country, the CCA department ran competitions for MS students inSeptember and one for HS in October called the Baneasa BOLT.
Concerning facilities, Sota stated that the CCA department, in their 1-3 year plan, do hope to build at least two tennis courts, a 400m track and floodlights for the large astro pitch. When asked how much the tennis courts could save yearly he responded, “two courts would save the school about 8,000€ yearly, and having 4 would save us 10,000€ yearly.”
So what has been hindering construction?
Nothing actually. After talking with Andrei Nica, AISB Facilities Manager, he mentioned that sports at our school are a pretty big priority when it comes to facilities and resources. “We would like to invest in the sports facilities. Which is why we are trying to accommodate most of Mr. Sota’s requests for the next years.”
The costs for tennis courts are high though, and from what Nica calculated, there is an estimated cost of 45,000€ for two hard tennis courts. Although the financial tradeoff of building these two courts wouldn’t really be seen for about 5 years after the construction itself, the image and status of the school increase with every new facility as well as the obvious benefit of having our own facilities to use.
Another benefit of building our own tennis courts, and in the future other facilities, is that on-campus facilities reduce risk factors. Parents and families are more likely to let their children participate in a sport hosted on campus than at an outside facility.
Additionally, a CEESA school’s requirement is that for every 5 CEESA tournaments they participate in, the school must host one. So even though CEESA events are an expensive production with additional staff as well as hospitality, gifts and food, being able to use our own facilities would let us host more CEESAs and thus participate in more events like Knowledge Bowl, Softball, and Cultural Arts.
And then there is, as already mentioned, the offset renting costs which over time, the school might even profit from.
“Once the budget is approved, we can start working on these tennis courts,” says Nica, when asked when the courts will be built.
However, although sports facilities are a priority for AISB, there is one more thing that Nica said is very important for the school as a whole. And that is being a perfectly functioning school physically, with all systems working flawlessly.
In his and the Board’s opinion, this means working on three projects; expanding the parking lot, automizing the lights and AC systems and installing solar panels on the gym. But once these are complete, and in the eyes of the administration, AISB becomes a well-oiled machine, the priority can, and probably will shift to the sports facilities.
While it is important to highlight the fact that equitable access and opportunities are important and still need improvement, that’s not the main issue faced by these sports.
The issue is that as a school, we forget about our other sports. We’re not aware of cross-country competitions coming up; we’re not aware the tennis team is traveling to Prague; and we’re not aware that there even is a swim team.
Treating a sport equitably doesn’t always mean the same amount of money spent, it means treating the athletes and coaches with the same respect regardless of what they practice or teach.
It means providing every athlete the same amount of opportunities as athletes from other sports, whether that be something as significant as a professional training facility or simply a team t-shirt and group photo.
In my opinion, we are struggling with this. Being part of swimming instead of basketball is seen as sub-par and that shouldn’t be the case. As a community, let’s upgrade our school mindset from having three popular sports to promoting and encouraging lifelong, healthy activity and enjoying all sport equitably.