Some sports don’t make the roster

Wallis Rogin, Reporter

Ever heard of the St. Mary’s dance team? Or fencing team? Or softball team? 

Probably not. Only some upperclassmen have, and even then, these sports are pretty “forgotten” among the St. Mary’s community. 

The fencing team went from winning state championships to being nonexistent in 2022. Ashley Grafland (‘21), captain of the fencing team in 2020, explains how she was there for all of the ups and downs with the fencing team. 

“I was pretty much the last team member to be on the team before it fell apart,” she said. “ I led it through the good days when we had great results, when we had membership in the low teens and when I graduated I was the last active member.”

However, in the 2021-2022 school year, Zoe McMullen (11) brought the fencing team back to life, but she was the only person to participate. 

St. Mary’s does not have the facilities needed for fencing on campus, so every day, McMullen would commute to MUS and train with the boys’ fencing team. 

“It wasn’t the worst environment, but it definitely wasn’t the best,” McMullen said. “I really did enjoy it. It was just the fact that it was at MUS…, and I just didn’t want to go there everyday, but I would be so happy if we had a fencing team here.”

Because of the lack of participation among other factors, the fencing team finally came to an end when McMullen decided to pursue something different. 

But all hope is not lost for aspiring fencers. With the addition of a new after school fencing program for the Lower and Middle school, there may be more students interested in this sport at the high school level soon – meaning, perhaps a revived fencing team will return to the Upper School in the future.

St. Mary’s Athletic Director John Bartholomew said the athletic department is open to any suggestions regarding new teams or reviving old ones. 

“If there was enough interest to make something happen, we would consider [adding a new sport],” Bartholomew said.

But such attempts do not always work.

Several members of the class of 2023 attempted to reintroduce softball to St. Mary’s during their sixth-grade year, but it did not turn out as planned. 

One of the leaders of this effort, Kayla Gurley (12), played softball for a church team and was looking to continue playing at school, but there was not a team. So Gurley gathered a group of her classmates and talked to the athletic department about reinstating the team. 

“We had it all planned out. We were going to do it on the old field with the batting cage,” Gurley said. “But they said since it’s a spring sport and lacrosse was at the same time, they needed the field for that.” 

Without a space to practice, there was not enough interest to start a softball team. 

Another factor that gets considered is whether there are other schools with teams to compete against. Since there are very few women’s softball and fencing teams in the school’s division, it is difficult to find teams to play against. 

“There’s very few schools in Memphis that actually have teams within our region,” Bartholomew said. “It seems to be there are not enough kids here and not enough teams to play.”

When the dance team was active, they rarely struggled with this issue. There was no shortage of teams to play, but for former dance team member Grace Ugwueke (‘16), it was difficult to manage the academic rigor with the time necessary to have a dedicated dance team. 

“We were pretty good… but SMS focuses on academics more than sports,” Ugwueke said. “We did our best for what we had, [and] in our local competitions, we did well.”

Around a decade ago, the St. Mary’s dance team was at its peak, winning titles and going to Nationals, but after the core group of dancers graduated and not many students in the years below were interested, the dance team fell apart.  

Adding new sports and reviving old ones shouldn’t always be the goal, according to Bartholomew.

“St. Mary’s girls already do so much that it is hard for them to be at practice every single day, so the more we offer, the less dedicated our students are to other sports,” Bartholomew said.

St. Mary’s size limits the number of sports that can be offered since participation becomes a significant issue. Many students look to extramural programs and clubs to partake in sports like gymnastics, cheerleading or horseback riding. While there may not be an interscholastic team for softball, dance or fencing, there are opportunities outside of school to compete on a team. 

Even though softball, fencing and dance are not on the list of sports right now, there is another familiar sport that the athletic department may look into adding. 

“Flag football is on the docket within the TSSAA to become an official sport,” Bartholomew said. “And that is something that is on the radar across the entire state.”