Mind and body: athletics at Great Hearts Monte Vista


When I was a student at a large, public high school in San Antonio, it seemed like there was an unbridgeable cultural divide between the jocks and the nerds. Then, when I went to college, at Trinity University, I sat next to football players who could lead Socratic discussions in upper-division History seminars. Mens sana in corpore sano: it’s not just a motto on the wall of the Bell Center, it’s part of the school culture. It was a great higher education experience, but I didn’t expect to find that in a K-12 school.

To be honest, I was first attracted to Great Hearts because of the classical curriculum. While waiting for my son, F.T., to move up the waiting list (earlier post; he got an offer in June) I have gotten to know the school better, and I am really impressed with their approach to athletics. Most charter schools, understandably, put academics first and offer sports as a form of recreation. Great Hearts aims to educate each student as a whole person by offering rigorous academics and competitive athletics.

Great Hearts Monte Vista Athletic Director Joel VanDerworp | San Antonio Charter Moms

Athletic Director Joel VanDerworp

As mentioned earlierJoel VanDerworp is the Athletic Director of Great Hearts Monte Vista in San Antonio, the first campus of Great Hearts Texas. VanDerworp recently spoke about the athletic program to parents and students gathered in the gym at Great Hearts Monte Vista North, the campus at Trinity Baptist Church, serving grades 6-9 in 2014-15.

VanDerworp will serve multiple roles at Great Hearts Monte Vista. In addition to serving as Athletic Director and coaching cross country, he will also teach Humane Letters, an essential part of the curriculum in grades 9-12. At Great Hearts, Humane Letters is a two-hour Socratic seminar that covers the subjects of Social Studies and English Language Arts and Reading. That balance between academics and athletics is something that Great Hearts wants its students to experience, too.

At the meeting, VanDerworp read aloud from the purpose statement of the Athletics Handbook:

In keeping with the broader mission of Great Hearts San Antonio, each Monte Vista sports program will strive to build a community of young men and women committed to moral, intellectual, and physical excellence. By participating in athletics, each student will be afforded the opportunity to grow in humility, perseverance, spiritedness, courage, and loyalty, and the coaching staff is expected to act as vital examples of these virtues.

The school is committed to ordering athletics within the mission of the academy and preventing the emergence of a separate “jock” culture as is often seen at other schools. At Great Hearts Monte Vista, athletics does not exist as an island of its own, but as a noble enterprise that assists the Academy mission of developing students in character and wisdom.

How will Great Hearts build this culture, and transmit it to the students? VanDerworp said that it’s the responsibility of teachers, staff, and parents to model the right behavior alongside the students. At Great Hearts, the goal is to “win without compromising integrity.” According to VanDerworp, “We care about winning, but we want to win the right way.”

Great Hearts Monte Vista North will offer these athletics programs for 2014-15:

  • Football: Coach Daniel Gardner, formerly of San Pasqual High School in California, will coach 6th-9th grade boys, with practices at Olmos Basin Park, and competing against charter schools and private schools in the Independent Schools Athletic League. Athletic fees will be $350 per year; families in need can apply for aid through the front office.
Great Hearts Monte Vista North football coach Daniel Gardner | San Antonio Charter Moms

Football coach Daniel Gardner

Great Hearts Monte Vista North swim coach Jennifer Jones | San Antonio Charter Moms

Swim coach Jennifer Jones

  • Cross country: VanDerworp and his sister, Gwen, will coach boys and girls in grades 5-9, and students will participate in UIL competition. Athletic fees will be $250 per year, with aid available.
  • Volleyball: Great Hearts is still looking for a high school coach; second-grade teacher Andrew Duininck will coach grades 6-8. The volleyball teams for grades 6-8 will compete in the Independent Schools Athletic League; the 9th grade teams will play an independent schedule against charter and independent schools in the San Antonio area. Boys and girls will play. Athletic fees will be $250 per year.
  • Basketball: The teams for grades 6-8 will compete in the Independent Schools Athletic League; the 9th graders will play against local charter and independent schools. Athletic fees will be $250 per year, and there will be boys’ and girls’ teams.

The basketball and volleyball teams will be able to practice in the gym on campus. (Readers, if the gym looks familiar, it is—see this earlier post.)

Gym at Great Hearts Monte Vista North | San Antonio Charter Moms

Gym at Great Hearts Monte Vista North

VanDerworp hopes to add more sports in the future as the school grows to include grades 10, 11, and 12.

Elementary school students will have access to sports programs through Future Stars. Programs will include basketball, soccer, martial arts, volleyball, field hockey, flag football, and baseball/softball.

Great Hearts promises to help students strive for the true, the good, and the beautiful, both in academics and in athletics. I am looking forward to seeing Great Hearts achieve its goal “to cultivate true gentleman or lady scholar-athletes,” as VerDerworp put it.

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