By Kim Eng, Director of Athletics

When it comes to the benefits derived from participating in sports, I think most people would cite the obvious physical advantages of getting in shape—as well as the mental benefits athletics often provide in terms of building discipline, teamwork, and grit. One important aspect of sports that I feel is often overlooked and underappreciated, however, is the incredible manner in which athletics can serve as a catalyst for building community.

On that note, I had the pleasure in June of traveling to Salt Lake City to watch the Eastside Prep Boys Ultimate Frisbee team participate in the National Championship Invite. I already knew I’d be consistently blown away by the caliber of athletes I’d see on the field and the dizzying array of throws, catches, and defensive plays displayed in each and every game. What I didn’t anticipate, however, is the equal amount of awe I experienced witnessing what transpired on the sidelines.

Simply put, in all of my years of athletic coaching, spectating, and participation, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more moving and enthusiastic display of sports-related community engagement and celebration. And I can assure you, I don’t make this claim lightly. Over the course of two long and grueling days of competition, I found myself engulfed in a sea of moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, cousins, classmates, alums, current faculty, past faculty, and a rogues’ gallery of other well-wishers who had all traveled hundreds—and in some cases, thousands—of miles to cheer on our intrepid student-athletes. In short, even though we were the visiting team (so to speak) and playing against schools with de facto home-field advantage, given their location only a short car ride away, I never felt like an interloper. Or an underdog. While my phone’s GPS assured me that yes,  indeed, I truly was standing on a grassy field in Utah, the incredible turnout of diverse and enthusiastic supporters made me feel that I spent the entire weekend, well, in Eagle Country.

To add a bit of context, for those unaware of the Ultimate team’s accomplishments, the team had a truly impressive year and ended up taking first in the Emerald Sound Conference—in addition to winning the Washington State Championship. What’s more, during this recent excursion down south, they completed a clean sweep (3-0) of their opponents in pool play, pulled off an epic comeback in the semifinal game, and fell just short in the final match to take 2nd place honors in the entire country. In terms of athletic records and win/loss accolades, it just doesn’t get much better than that and their accomplishments will deservedly go down in EPS history.

And yet, without hyperbole, I will again state that my memories of this weekend will not be entirely about what transpired on the field. Instead, I will retain equally fond memories of the community of supporters that showed up to the tournament, a group consistently acknowledged as one of the largest, friendliest, and most spirited fans in the entire massive multi-field complex. If I counted correctly, we had nine alumni from all over the country make an appearance, some driving through the night to make the trip. Not to be outdone, however, faculty members Karen Mills and Ryan Winkelmann also drove twelve hours to support our students; and our Student Life Coordinator, Karla Harris, flew out on her own dime to show her Eagle pride. What’s more, beloved former EPS faculty member Anthony Colello drove four-and-a-half hours from Idaho with his wife and toddler in tow to support the seniors he had once taught in fifth grade.

But the list doesn’t stop there, by any means. Also roaming the Eagles sideline were grandparents hailing from countries all over the world (Canada, Macedonia, and Malaysia to name a few) who were adorned in EPS attire and shouting ebullient cheers in their native languages—as well as potential curse words, one can only assume, given the reactions they displayed when a given play went sideways.

One also couldn’t miss EPS parent Joe Belfiore trotting around the perimeter of the field like the Energizer Bunny the entire time, taking thousands of action shots of the team even though he no longer has a child on the roster. He was simply there, as a member of the Eagles community, due to his love for the game, his daughters’ success on the Girls Ultimate team, and the awesome experience his son had enjoyed on the team in previous years.

And don’t even get me started on the world-class logistical wizardry the EPS parent community displayed over the course of the weekend. From coordinating all of the pre-trip details (flights/hotel/transportation) to arranging meals (for the entire EPS community) to laundering the team’s grass-streaked uniforms, I assure you, the parents were on it. Even though they weren’t the ones calling the plays or busting their tails on the field, they knew they could play a vital role in the team’s success by ensuring the students only needed to focus on one thing—winning the next game in front of them.

This selfless spirit I get to witness from the Eagle community, day in and day out, is one of the best parts of my job. Without fail, I’ve seen the same attitude, engagement, and sense of inclusivity displayed by the supporters of every one of our teams, at every level of competition. I’ve seen the rowing parents travel across the country to support Jacob Chaney and Rishay Puri at the Youth National Championships in Florida. I’ve marveled at how the volleyball parents make sure there are healthy snacks on the buses to all of our away games. And while many may not realize it, our cross country and track teams wouldn’t even be allowed to compete without many parents stepping forward to volunteer as course navigators and measurement-takers.

As the old saying goes, you may not be able to see the wind, but you still know it’s there. And in the same manner, I believe the sense of community and inclusive culture that ties together every single one of our sports teams is an achievement every bit as (and perhaps more) important than whatever the scoreboard might reflect in a given game, match, meet, or regatta.

In closing, sure, I’m a homer. I love the Eagles and it’s my job to pump up our school’s athletic programs and accomplishments, so I can understand why you’d take my opinions on this matter with a healthy grain of salt. Do I merely get caught up in the moment? Is the community support at our events really all that different than what you’d find at any school? Am I merely exaggerating for effect or for the sake of a good story? I honestly don’t think I am, but in the name of objectivity, let me recuse myself and simply share a quote one of our students spotted on social media from Andy Guss, one of the Ultimate tournament’s national organizers:

“The Eastside Prep parents charmed everyone with their enthusiasm and celebrations. They were some of the most outgoing and warm fans I met the whole weekend, and seemed to absolutely embrace the celebratory aspect of the event, running the length of the bleachers after points and bringing little types of bells and noisemakers for everyone. It wasn’t an ‘in your face’ type of cheering, rather their joy was completely infectious and I think even Lone Peak (the team EPS played in the championship game) parents were happy to join in. I felt that those fans radiated the joy and support that should be a model for sidelines in youth sports.”

Sure, frisbees just happened to be filling the air, but the above observation is one that accurately reflects the entire spectrum of our athletic community. It’s a spirit I’ve seen at every homecoming. And Senior Night. And Spring Tailgate.
And in the face of every student-athlete, from those who have mastered their craft to those just dipping their toe in the water for the first time, willing to bravely face an intimidating new adventure.

At the end of the day, sports has a truly special power to bring people together—and here in Eagle Country, I think we’ve bottled a pretty unique brand of it!