Twelve years ago, the Stevenson sports program began with three softball games against Legacy High School. Stevenson won one, lost one, and tied one when the umpire received a phone call and had to work another game. That tie, a quirky fluke occurrence that defines the first bit of Stevenson sports history, is just one of the many memories that sticks with Athletics Director, Nick Alexandrakos. Ever since its inception, Nick been at the helm of Stevenson sports.
“I think about the process,” Alexandrakos said. “I think about the evolution, I think about when I first started here — and they didn’t have after school programs — to where we are now. There’s so many memories.”
Alexandrakos has done it all, from recruiting Stevenson students to become student-athletes, to purchasing uniforms, to helping build up the Metro League, which Stevenson founded along with Legacy and Winston Prep.
“I think Nick does a phenomenal job of balancing that we want there to be some passion and competition and making sure that each student feels comfortable,” Stevenson Clinical Director Lana Farina said. “He works really closely with the clinical team and advisors to see which students would benefit, not just from the physical exercise but from everything else that goes with it. And he’s great at spreading the joy associated with sports.”
Farina praised Alexandrakos’s physical education classes, noting that the veteran coach and teacher challenges pupils by developing individualized workout plans that put a premium on competing against one’s self instead of against others. These methods keep anxiety low in Stevenson athletics and prevent jealousy from rising up in Stevenson’s basement gym, which is decorated with photos that have come to define Stevenson’s sporting history.
“I think they’ve all been through some similar struggles that led them to switching and transferring to our school,” Farina said of the Stevenson student-athletes. “And I think they feel very supportive and protective of one another, which helps buffer against feelings of competition; they’re very accepting of each other. I think they really cheer each other on. This isn’t a school where students are putting each other down all the time, or getting angry if they miss a shot.”
“I think the culture of Stevenson really broadens the scope of who can be an athlete,” Farina added. “So it’s something that can be possible for every student. And I’ve seen students enter our school and say, ‘oh no, I could never do that. I have no skills. I’m not an athlete,’ to then trying something, whether it’s soccer or track, gaining confidence, building momentum, and actually doing really well in sports. And it’s an amazing transformation. It builds our students’ confidence.”
Farina and Alexandrakos both alluded to the idea that exercise is a wonderful antidote in a world that, more and more, values technology and a sedentary lifestyle. Chris Ongaro, Head of School, went a step further and offered, “With decades of research looking into the benefits of exercise for mental health, Stevenson sports provide important wellness opportunities.”
“There are countless distractions,” Alexandrakos said. “It’s not easy to be a teenager in this day and age, but I still think that being a part of a team, being a part of a group, being a part of a positive movement, is more appealing than any sort of technology that’s out there right now.”
“There are many benefits to students getting the recommended level of activity,” Farina noted. “Obviously, it’s going to benefit their physical health, help them develop healthy habits, maintain a healthy weight. It can also prevent the risk for future medical conditions. Aside from that, exercise can really help our students reduce their stress and their anxiety, which is so important because many of our students do struggle to find positive ways of managing that.”
By this June, there will have been 12 years of Stevenson co-ed softball, 11 years of boys basketball, 11 years of co-ed soccer, eight years of co-ed track, six years of girls basketball, nine years of the annual ski trip, and 11 years of the annual trip to see a Mets game. While a variety of sporting experiences already exist and thrive at Stevenson, there are others, like flag football and a girls volleyball tournament, that are on the horizon.
“Because of such small classes and such a small school, the camaraderie is really unparalleled,” Alexandrakos said. “We’re bumping into each other every day and we’re also doing volunteer work and we’re also preparing for games. All these events, all these moments shared, just build a real team-first mentality.”
That team-first mentality is something that Alexandrakos preaches consistently at Stevenson. So much so that it might even be the school’s sporting mission.
“I think it’s really important to shift the focus from ‘how does something impact me directly?’ to ‘how does this impact the group?’” he said. “Just knowing that there is value in putting the group first. I think that’s a gift and it is going to help the students, not only here at Stevenson, but in life after Stevenson.”