At Concord Academy, you fill out the paperwork associated with the tiny Approved External Athletic Credit passage in the Course Catalog because you want to pursue your passion. When most of your friends go off to their team sports and their performing arts rehearsals, you hop on your lonesome mode of transportation and go practice your sport, eight hours per week, 12 weeks a season. Theoretically, it is easy.

Emma Somol ’23 fences épée most days per week. “I’m doing [external credit] because CA doesn’t offer the thing I do, and I want to do the thing I do. I’m grateful CA lets me do that,” she said. Travel is a 30–70 minute one-way commute; waits at the train station hinge on a volatile commuter rail schedule. “[Well], I’m so glad to be able to tailor my own schedule,” Emma remarked.

Emma’s approval process was easy, with only one year of fencing under her belt. For me and my five-year recurve archery career (a sport which CA, regrettably, does not offer), applying was easy, too.

Athletes in CA-offered sports feel immense pressure to “accommodate” CA. Thomas Ysrael ’23 asked to train externally through winter for an international tennis tournament. Thomas grew up in Guam and considered tennis far more accessible than what many of the continental U.S. believe today. Notably, CA has also granted approval for more resource-intensive sports historically, even in New England. Thomas was still denied approval due to inequity concerns.

For all the joy of collaboration—which there is much to be found of—it would be reductive to claim that the existing Athletics and Team Experience program is all sunshine and rainbows. Some students probably take advantage of their external credit to escape a toxic team dynamic. For others, because CA advertises its structured offerings as its most accessible way to participate in athletics, CA fails at accommodating anyone unable to thrive in such a program. One anonymous student left a team sport this year to treat an eating disorder. They wished to apply for credit to train privately but never did, ultimately concerned that the request would be denied because CA already offered the sport.

Many external athletes have been at CA for over two years; in meeting athletic course requirements for underclassmen, they have already participated in CA team options. “I did not make my [CA] friends doing Track and Field; I made them in class. I feel so much happier doing [gymnastics, an activity] I’m dedicated to and that I’ll do in my future than some sport I’ve never been attached to before,” Betsy Corrin-Norris ’23 said.

P Plunkett ’23 has been doing gymnastics since they were a child. During the year they took off from school, their team held them together and kept them connected to the local news stirring outside.

Director of Athletics Sue Johnson tried to explain the reasoning behind CA’s External Credit option. Johnson had created the option seven years ago. She believed that the policy would attract more students to the community by ways of “an official channel for students partaking in outside sports to still train for credit.” For students participating heavily in CA-offered sports, options such as Team Manager and Individual Strength and Conditioning would leave time in their schedules to train during off-seasons, albeit for no credit. Students seeking a medical exemption would need to talk to the Health Center. “I feel like we’re doing the best we can to help people who do sports we don’t offer and for people who specialize in sports we do offer to [leave] time they need,” Johnson said. Any more liberties, and CA would be unable to confidently ensure the quality of its own athletics programs.

Still, the pressure to be part of the so-called community is deeply relatable. “I should not be needing to make a choice between other communities and this one. Sometimes I want to hang out with my other community, and sometimes I feel like this community alienates me for that,” Emma declared. Or, at least, makes one choose. The problem lies nowhere but the system for propagating a binary in and out and deciding, without student input, where CA can and cannot reside. We often operate assuming CA is solely a school environment. We believe that we are only obligated to make that school friendly, welcoming, and open to change. In working under that assumption, we alienate our own.

None of this is to say that CA is deliberately trying to isolate its students. Rather, when an individual’s passion and what CA offers do not click, the individual is meant to bend to CA, not the other way around. Ergo, only CA can choose to let students pursue what they wish for credit, and, if need be for integrity reasons, reserve time for a conversation about the program. Common sense should dictate that each individual, as part of CA, is fiercely integrated into spaces whose territories are at all times fluid. Contrary to popular belief, CA is not a bubble. It will never be a bubble. And, we need to address that.