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Empty nets, empty nests 

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It is a curious and unique experience to sit in the stands as a parent at a Quaker athletic competition. Quakers are all about "peaceful settlement" and "stillness." A popular Quaker T-shirt reads: "Don't just do something. Sit there."

At Carolina Friends School, students cheer their classmates on with "Fight! Fight! Inner light!"

Many years ago, as a much younger parent of much younger children, I sat for hours in a circle with 200 other seekers, raising concerns about the place of organized sports, if any, in our school. Quaker meetings are not like SportsCenter. People speak from the silence, calmness and consensus rule. No one has to ask anyone to turn off a cell phone.

An early home for school PE classes, the Quaker Dome is the ugliest outbuilding in Orange County. Rusty and dented, it is also one of the most loved, hosting numerous potlucks, dances, singers and skateboarders. I remember shooting hoops in that echoing steel canyon to calm myself down before a middle school parent-teacher conference. The decision to build a new basketball gym across the driveway was earth-shaking to say the least. That brand new, wide-windowed green gem was a success from the very first day. It rocks 12 hours a day, with backpacks and sports bags cluttering every corner.

I doubt the athletics director, a former psychologist, had any idea what he was getting into. With the neighborhood carpool, I used to drive by his house every day and marvel at the baseball field he built for his sons in their backyard, complete with full-size backstop. That should have been a clue.

When a few girls asked if they could have a swim team, he invented one, driving hundreds of hours to rented pools, often waiting in the parking lot while the kids swam laps. That first year, he took five girls to the state championships. My all-time favorite sports memory is of watching last year's state meet, the 200-meter free relay, as each girl swam a personal best. There was some serious Quaker cheering going on that afternoon. Quite a cacophony really, as the other teams in that division were Christian schools and Hebrew academies from all over North Carolina.

This winter, both the boys' and girls' basketball teams are ranked in the top 10 of the state; they have identical 10-1 records. A pair of senior boys, each now way over 6 feet tall, best friends and classmates since preschool, are averaging double-doubles. One is a giant puppy of a rebounder whose heart and body are always in the right place; the other cuts to the basket with elastic grace not unlike Jon Scheyer and dreams of a Division 1 bid.

The seasons turn. Volleyball, dance, swimming and soccer. Her troop hanging on her every breath, a gentle, mindful dance teacher talks about emotional landscapes and strong individuals coming together as a community. Teams and communities, coming together, coming apart.

We sit at the edge of our seats, on the sidelines of swim meets, dance concerts and basketball games, in awe, appreciation, and with a few tears, as our children fast break through their senior year.

  • It is a curious and unique experience to sit in the stands as a parent at a Quaker athletic competition.

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