The Opinion of the Smoke Signal Editorial Board
It’s true that MSJ is seen primarily as a top-100, nationally-ranked, SAT-destroying STEM high school. We have an 89% Asian student body, and are surrounded by so many stereotypes that an outsider may perceive us all as a homogeneous community with purely academic goals. What people don’t talk about, however, is that MSJ is also really, really good at sports.
Woah. “Mission San Jose High School”, “good”, and “sports” in the same sentence? Especially after recent events, some believe that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’re here to prove them wrong.
MSJ athletes have incredible talent and passion; coaches are devoted to their players; hundreds of students join our twenty-five seasonal Frosh-Soph, Junior Varsity, and Varsity sports teams each year; and many of MSJ’s teams hold impressive records.
So why do some still think that our school isn’t an athletic powerhouse?
Last Wednesday, Athletic Director Tom Thomsen and Principal Zack Larsen announced that the football program would be discontinued for the 2016-17 academic year. What should have been a reasonable discussion about the reasons behind the cancellation snowballed into a conversation about the shifting focus from athletics to academics at MSJ. From there, social media and misinformed rumors transformed this discussion into an argument about the ethnic backgrounds of MSJ students and the connection between cultural ideals and this shifting focus. Within hours of an article posted online by the San Jose Mercury News about the program’s discontinuation, the discourse became a debate heavy with racist undertones. Some said that a majority Asian population at MSJ puts such a heavy focus on academics that there is no time for athletics and extracurricular sports. Others took it a step further by implying that individuals from certain races are simply less competent than others when it comes to sports.
There are two critical issues here. The first is that such racist remarks have no place in a vibrant and diverse community such as MSJ and Fremont, especially in the twenty-first century. Second, there is no shifting focus from athletics to academics. Recent years have seen some of the highest -level athletic involvement and performance at MSJ over the last decade. In the 2014-15 season, the Girls’ Volleyball team was undefeated with a 14-0 record. The Girls’ Tennis team in the same season also went undefeated with the same record. In 2015, Swimming dominated the leader board, placing first in 15 separate events and continuing a legacy of swimming program excellence that has lasted for the past three-and-a-half decades. Both Boys and Girls Swimming have won consecutive MVAL championships almost every year since the early 1980s. Last year, both Boys’ and Girls’ Cross Country teams had 6-1 records and Track and Wrestling ended their respective seasons with impressively high win-loss ratios. One of the most prestigious wrestling tournaments of the season is held annually at MSJ, drawing hundreds of wrestlers from around the state to this last major tournament before NCS. Golf was undefeated with a 5-0 record, and Badminton crushed the division, ending their season on a 16-0 streak. This was no surprise from the Badminton team, as they have been MVAL Champions for the last 10 years.
What was the result of this domination?
The Rob Vares Varsity sports award is given to the highest-performing team with the most points in the Mission Valley Athletic League. Points are given to teams based on the strength of their season records. Likewise, the Jim Sperou All-Sports award is given to the school with the most combined points across both Varsity and Junior Varsity teams. Last year, MSJ placed second in the running for both awards, just behind James Logan High School. This year, MSJ is the first place contender for both awards.
There’s no doubt that we’re good at sports. And we’re getting better. But the overreaction to this football decision speaks to a far larger problem in Fremont and the greater community. The criticism of the decision is largely rooted in the notion that a school without a football program is an “un-American” school: the NFL is a major part of mainstream American sports culture and football is the most popular high school sport. However, instead of criticizing the fact that our diverse and unique community doesn’t conform to the image of “normal America”, people should embrace the different interests that reflect this diversity. The reactions to the football decision indicate a mental disconnect between the multiple steps to the same process: diversity, inclusion, and equity. While diversity is having someone at a party, inclusion is making them feel welcome enough to dance, and equity is actually having them dance. Suppressing and criticizing MSJ’s unique identity, instead of allowing it to thrive and celebrating it, is problematic and hypocritical: it’s diversity for the name of it, without inclusion or equity. Schools without a badminton or cross country program don’t meet nearly as much criticism as ones without football. The sports that MSJ currently thrives in and loves build character, resiliency, and athleticism to the same extent that a football program would.
The decision to discontinue the football program is just that: a logistical decision, not a reflection of MSJ’s student body or athletics program as a whole. “It was a lack of interest with our student body. We had 12 kids signed up. We’ve had no coach apply for the position since our previous coach resigned. Mostly concerned about numbers,” Thomsen said.
While football may be losing its hold on the student body here, the shift in interest is simply one of many cyclical waves of popularity any student activity goes through–be it on the MSJ or national level. We’re still one of the best when it comes to our remaining twenty-five athletic programs, and we plan on staying that way.