Competing for Cannon — be true to your school!

The message below is from our Head of School, Matt Gossage.  A former college athlete and a parent of four athletically-inclined children, Matt understands the challenges facing today’s student-athletes.  

The longer I live the more I am convinced that I grew up during a simpler time. I am also aware that I have reached an age where I can be accused of granting memory wide open spaces to transform the past into something smooth and simple and solid under my feet. Actually, this conclusion about my simpler past is driven more by the daily responsibility of watching and working with young people as they take on layers of life, options, and complexities that never existed for me at their age. It is not that I did not notice. It is not that I have forgotten. Things were just simpler.Basketball MS Girls

I want to pull out one sliver of life to contrast the simpler “then” to the more complex “now.” In the ‘70s at my high school, a young woman or man had one place to participate in athletics. You played for your high school. During the school year, there were no AAU teams, club sports, or academies. If you survived the cuts, you played for your school team.

Things have changed. Things have become more complex in the world of youth and sports. The simple two-lane road that led during my youth to playing for your high school team has now become a vast interstate with an attractive exit every mile luring students away from their high school team to programs outside of school offering special opportunities, instruction, exposure, and the ultimate—connection to colleges.

The coaches of these programs tend to make this entire proposition a case study in micro-economics. Has the family considered the opportunity costs lost if the young person foregoes the premier team and all the potential advantages waiting just down the road? Some of these programs have boldly staked out their claims right in the middle of the high school season for that sport. The message to the young athlete is clear and direct: To play for this select team you do not play for your high school team.

I remember taking the different jerseys of the high school teams I played on and tracing with my finger the number on the jersey or the name of our school. I would hang that jersey in a special place in my room. I finally had earned the chance to play for my school. The teacher who taught me calculus was my coach; the students with whom I went to school were my teammates. We were working to build something for ourselves and our school. We wanted to win a region title. We wanted to play in the state tournament. We loved knowing our friends would be in the stands, and we knew when our other teachers were there pulling for us. None of it felt transactional because it was communal.

I have the greatest respect for the 258 Cannon students who participated on a Middle School, junior varsity, or varsity team this fall. I am so excited to hear that 151 Cannon students are on a varsity, junior varsity, or Middle School team this winter. They are doing something important. In many respects, they are working against the social tide. I want to tell you a little about three seniors who have chosen to compete for Cannon during their respective careers.

Thomas Price: Thomas started playing football at Cannon in the eighth grade to stay in shape and become stronger for baseball, which he began playing at Cannon in the sixth grade. From this introduction, Thomas developed a deep love for a new sport. As captain of the football team this year, Thomas plays in the middle of the line. Thomas receives little recognition during the course of the game. He practices and plays because he loves it. Thomas gives a great explanation as to why he plays sports at Cannon:

“I play because of the coaches of each sport. The coaches care so much about their respective sports, but more importantly, they care about the players off the field along with the players’ families. That personal connection is hard not to return to each season and play with all I have for the coaches who care so much.”

Nikolas Stylianou: Nikolas plays soccer and runs track at Cannon. In my opinion, he is one of the best soccer players who has ever competed at Cannon. This year, Nikolas was named to the all-conference, all-region, and all-state teams. During his time in high school, Nikolas played club soccer for FCCA, and he was named to the State of North Carolina Olympic Development Program. From the first time he could play in Middle School all the way through his senior year, Nikolas has chosen to play soccer for Cannon. Nikolas offered these reasons for playing at Cannon:

“I play soccer at Cannon so I can spend time with my friends. I enjoy the company of my classmates outside of the classroom. I also like playing on the team because I feel a responsibility as a leader to help my teammates get better while also improving my skills. I also see it as a good way to get to know other kids from other grades in the Upper School. I got to meet and know freshmen, sophomores, and juniors on the team that I otherwise never would have met.”

Maija Roses: Maija has been a competitive swimmer since the age of four. She possesses an incredible set of gifts, and she has worked hard to cultivate those gifts. She swims roughly 22-24 hours per week. And yes, she does swim for SwimMac Carolina as well as Team USA, but the point is she swims for Cannon also. This Junior National Champion who swims all over the world also swims for her high school team. When I asked Maija why she swims for Cannon, she said the following:

“There is a certain type of pride that comes with the Cannon School name. When I compete, I do not just represent our School’s name but also what our School stands for…our core values. Also, I hope my experience with the sport is helpful to the team. I try to teach my teammates especially how to deal with the pressure of racing, instead of just scoring points for us. A team is built by a group of knowledgeable and hard-working individuals, not just one person scoring points. I believe our team this year has the chance to do amazing things.”

Speaking with these three students encouraged me. I also know there are other seniors who have made deep commitments to play for Cannon. These three students are truly representatives of the students who choose to compete at Cannon. I hope the brief sketches of these three students encourage you if you have children participating in Cannon’s athletic program. If your children are younger, I hope you can begin to see what students can learn and how they can grow by playing on a team at Cannon. There is no end to what a young person can learn from competing at our School.



Matt Gossage

Head of School