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Staying Motivated Amid Uncertainty: The Winter Track Team’s Unique Training Approach

Photo by Ada Yeomans

As COVID-19 cases rose and GFS transitioned to remote school, many winter sports teams were forced to switch to all-virtual, individualized training. However, the winter track team took on a different training approach to preserve a sense of community: Head coach Conrad Haber designed a hybrid winter training program to allow for a balance of both safe, in-person practices and structured virtual practices. 

The Wissahickon has been affectionately dubbed the “GFS COVID-19 Training Base,” since most of the team practices there each week. Haber thinks it is important for people on the team to meet up because “the track team is like a giant family and it sucks to be separated from your family for a long time.” These informal practices allow for the team to support and encourage each other. Haber also acknowledges how important athletics are in contributing to a sense of normalcy. Simon Donovan ‘23 agrees: he appreciates how these informal in-person practices allow his teammates “to all push each other to do our best and strive for better.”

When kids do decide to train together, all COVID-19 mitigation protocols are followed. 

The team is doing its best to stay motivated even amid all the uncertainty. Simon is working on keeping the team morale up with consistent training and a positive mindset. Haber is trying to be there for the team when they need it, but says “the motivation has less to do with me and more to do with the team itself.”

Even the team’s virtual training goes a step further than other sports teams. The team uses an online training portal that delivers individualized workouts to each runner, with the expectation that they train either alone or with a group 5-6 days a week. Even when the team is training at home, Haber says, “some are training with their parents/siblings, some are meeting up in the morning in small groups to train with teammates who are their neighbors” to maintain that sense of community.  

The team is also focusing on competitive goals for the future, including developing high-level racing skills and qualifying for high-caliber competitions, such as the Penn Relays and the PAISAA championships. 

When they can compete again, the Germantown Friends track team will be ready. 


COVID-19’s Effect on Fall Sports

Photo by Laxmi McCulloch

Sports this fall season have been far from usual. Because of the collective decision of the Friends School League (FSL), all competition for the foreseeable future is postponed. For the boys’ soccer team, this has drastically changed the daily practices.

“The absence of games has caused some of the intensity and focus that the program usually strives for to be relaxed a little,” says team captain and senior Lucas Johnston-Peck.

While typically varsity and junior varsity practice separately, this year everyone is combined on the same team. “This year the captaincy means taking responsibility for more kids than normal,” says Lucas. “We are trying to emphasize the importance of hard work on the field and off it.”

In addition to goal setting and skill improvement, captains also get to bond with their teammates. With a combined team, these captains now have a unique opportunity to get to know the underclassmen. “While there’s a lot of new faces,” says Lucas, “it’s a fun job getting to know the people who are going to carry the program forward in the coming years.”

Girls’ soccer coach and GFS alumnus Manolo Sanchez is also keeping a positive attitude. He explained the implications of the current practice schedule on the team: “It has allowed us to be more focused and concentrated on other things that we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “Things such as team culture, skill development, etc.”

Empowered by his positivity, the players match Sanchez’s spirit. As he points out, “[The athletes] are just so grateful to be around each other in person, so their energy and enthusiasm has been great.” 

Girls’ soccer team captain, Ella Shay ‘23, explained that team bonding is a bit more difficult this year. With this year’s lack of competition, Ella says, “We don’t have that one shared goal that we have during a regular season.” However, she’s still excited. “We can have fun with each other without the pressure.”

In the more relaxed environment, captains have dedicated themselves to continuing the cherished bonded team culture. Junior Joanna Lin, girls’ tennis team captain, shares her experience, saying, “Team chants, huddles, and other celebratory behaviors were characteristic in our other regular seasons.” Joanna is determined to keep the closeness between athletes while socially distant. She explains, “As a captain, I feel it is one of my responsibilities to help bridge my teammates together towards more of a unified team.”

Similarly, girls’ field hockey team captain, senior Naiya Mainigi, believes, “Every year it is the captains’ job to encourage, cheer, and bring the enthusiasm.” This year, without the motivation of upcoming games, Naiya says they are “working much harder to create a fun environment where people are still excited for practice.” 

The coronavirus could have hindered team unity, but leaders like Lucas, Sanchez, Ella, Joanna, and Naiya made sure this was not the case. They led with enthusiasm, creating consistency amidst a new school year with very little set in stone.

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Going with the Mountain Elevation: How to Stay Calm and Cool on Four Scenic Bike Routes Just Outside the City

Photo Credit: Amar Mohamed

I first started mountain biking over two years ago when my dad’s friend, Mahesh, took me on my first ride on Thanksgiving day. And boy, am I thankful for that ride, because mountain biking has become an integral part of me. As we were riding through the trails, I was scared of all the obstacles including sharp rocks, slippery roots, and steep drops which could send me to the hospital if I negotiated them incorrectly. All I could think about was the worst case scenario, but halfway through the ride, I tried to find the flow of the trail. I adapted my riding to ride with the trail, instead of against it. In this way, mountain biking is almost meditative because the only thing a biker focuses on—in fact, the only thing a biker CAN focus on—is the trail, lest they make that trip to the hospital. All the worries of the “outside world” vanish when the tires meet the dirt. On the trail, it is just the rider, their bike, and the trail. I had clearly fallen in love with the sport.

I returned to school after Thanksgiving break, feeling special and unique for having tried a sport no one else had. I soon learned that I was wrong. Other riders have come out of the woodwork. Now, we have a small mountain biking community at GFS. We planned and went on rides on most weekends. I learned that even the head of the upper school, Matthew Young, is a rider! 

As much as my first trail experience was a wonderful introduction to mountain biking, there are a couple of tips and tricks I wish I had known when I started, and I would love to share with the GFS community.


Cadence Cyclery is a good place to rent a bike in Philly. Make use of your local bike shop by talking to the people who work there. They are invariably friendly and always willing to share information about local trails, gear you will need, etc. 

Make sure you wear good protective gear. I recommend a sturdy helmet and knee pads, elbow pads, full-fingered gloves, a water bottle that fits a bottle cage, and a bike rack for your car.

If you wish to buy a bike, start out with a beginner bike and work your way up to the best bikes. Doing this will allow you to determine if you like the sport enough to invest more of your money (or your parents’ money!). Mountain biking is not an inexpensive sport!

Locations: Easiest to most difficult

Belmont Plateau (Fairmount Park): This is a good place to start mountain biking in the city, as the trails are mostly hard-packed and flowy with minimal roots and rocks. It is a 9- to 10-mile loop with several places to exit the loop. Since there is not much change in elevation on this cross-country style trail, it is not too physically challenging. They have a pump track (a short loop consisting of humps and banked turns) and a jump line (a series of jumps) which is fun to do before or after a ride. Caution: The Belmont trail system is a bit confusing. I got lost on my first ride there. 

Wissahickon (Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill): The Wissahickon (or the Wiss) is a great cross country riding spot that has trails for both beginners and advanced riders. It features flowy sections, a 14-mile loop, rocky sections, and a few jumps here and there. There are plenty of unique and fun sections to be explored, so boredom is not a concern. It is very easy to ride certain portions of the loop by connecting them with Forbidden Drive, which is a gravel road. The trail system at the Wiss is well-marked and is fairly easy to navigate, but it is still useful to have a map. There is a fair amount of elevation change, making it physically challenging at certain points. I recommend you complete a difficult stretch and then reward yourself with a snack or a meal at the Valley Green Inn

Mt. Penn (Reading, PA): Mt. Penn is a trail system that is geared towards advanced mountain bikers. The trails are very rocky and have technical features and extended jump lines. This trail system requires you to pedal up relatively smooth access roads and trails to get to the top. From the top, the trails that bring you down vary in difficulty. If you like flowy trails and getting your tires off the ground, I recommend the A-line trail. Mt. Penn has a fair amount of elevation change, making it physically taxing. 

Spring Mountain (Montgomery County, PA): Some of you might know this place as a ski resort. But when it is not ski season, Spring Mountain becomes a destination for mountain biking. This place is not for the faint-hearted. It has obstacles and features, such as 6-foot drops and rock gardens, that are hard to navigate on two feet, let alone two wheels. But if you are an experienced rider, this place offers challenges that few other trails do. The runs are short here, but after multiple laps of 400ft of climbing,  you will want to go to Wawa, which is 4 miles away, to replenish your calories. 

Pure adrenaline, pure speed and pure feeling. These are the things I experience when I fly through the trails, seemingly at mach two. Mountain biking has changed me for the better…well, mostly. It has introduced me to a whole community of riders. A community that accepts me no matter how skilled or unskilled I am, no matter how expensive or inexpensive my bike is, and no matter the color of my skin. Everyone is equal. Actually, Fabio Wibmer is an exception. He is beyond human! You have to look him up.
Please enjoy this video I made of ride at the Wiss.

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Tigers Travel To Gator Country: GFS Basketball at the KSA Invitational

Photo Credit: GFSchool Twitter

A day after Christmas 2019, the GFS varsity basketball team set out on a five day trip to Orlando. In the days to come, the team would play three games in the KSA Invitational, and see if they could bring home the coveted trophy.

In the first game, the Tigers blew out the Priory School, a boarding school from California which previously held an 8-1 record, with a final score of 60-37. Leading the way were junior guard Ben Istvan with 17 points, and sophomore point guard Matt Johnson with 15 points.

They went on to play a tough Portsmouth, Ohio team the next day. With eight seconds left in the game, star forward Ben King ‘22 hit a shot which gave the Portsmouth team another chance to win, but the Tigers persisted. “Gotta get this board right,” King said. After achieving one more defensive stop, they knew they were making it through. “I was hype that we won,” said King, whose first GFS career game winning play had pushed the Tigers into the championship round. There, they would face a New Jersey high school, Bishop Eustace Prep, in a much anticipated final. 

All the hard work they put into the season came down to this one game. Bishop Eustace started the first quarter hot by hitting a couple threes, but some good team defense from the Tigers allowed them to stay in the game going into the second quarter.  After some forced turnovers by Eustace forward Amiri Atkins, Bishop Eustace was up 22-16 going into halftime. GFS attempted to get ahead by out-scoring the Crusaders 18-12 in the third quarter. With everything tied up going into the final quarter 34-34, it was set to be a nail biter. 

Unfortunately, the Tigers struggled offensively and ended the fourth quarter against Bishop Eustace 4-10. In the end, the Crusaders held the KSA Invitational trophy, while the Tigers fell just short. For the season overall, the team averaged 57.9 points per game, but were held to 38 points per game due to many live ball turnovers by Bishop Eustace. 

** and GFS Basketball twitter were both used for stats.

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Annual Germantown Community Tournament is a Slam Dunk!

On the weekend of December 6, the Scattergood gym was packed. Fans crammed into the bleachers to watch the GFS Tigers play their way to a Germantown Community Basketball Tournament victory. 

“The tournament was fun and it was great to have so many people out to watch the games,” says captain Nolan Grady ‘20. “The best part of the tournament is playing in front of a crowd. Normally only parents and a few students are able to come and support the basketball teams, but at the tournament, the gym is packed.”

The community tournament may lack the pressure of a Friends League duel, but it surely compensates with exciting play. 

“All the games were very competitive and entertaining and everyone watching was really into [them],” says Neil Bennett ‘22. “It was really a great atmosphere overall.”

GFS Tigers aren’t the only ones who come to watch the madness. The tournament brings together local teams that wouldn’t otherwise play each other, such as Bodine High School, Simon Gratz High School, and Parkway Northwest High School. 

“It was very surprising and cool to see the student turnout from other schools,” says Bennett. 

The influx of fans is what sets this competition apart from so many others. The Germantown Community Tournament provides a great environment for athletes and fans alike, and is the perfect escape from these bleak, winter months.

**Picture Credit: Scott Foley**

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Big Leagues Lecturer: Ryan Howard Speaks at GFS

The Germantown Friends School annual Mercer Tate lecture is an opportunity for GFS middle and upper schoolers hear from “prominent speakers from various fields of public service.” The lecture series was created in honor of Mercer Tate, GFS class of 1948. Tate himself was “a dedicated public servant devoted to the GFS community and to Philadelphia,” and all of the speakers emulate these values. 

Ryan Howard, a retired MLB player-turned-entrepreneur and his business partner, Wayne Kimmel, gave this year’s lecture. Introduced by the captains of the GFS softball and baseball teams and prompted by questions from Kimmel, Howard talked about how his childhood experiences led him to the big leagues.

Students were excited when they heard that Howard would be speaking at our assembly because he’s a big-time baseball star that many grew up watching play with the Phillies. Students didn’t know, however, about his entrepreneurship and public service. Howard chairs the SeventySix Capital’s Athlete Venture Group. He also works with The Big Piece Foundation, which he founded with his wife. 

Howard’s lecture left students wanting to learn even more about his public service endeavors, and inspired our community to reach for the “big leagues” on and off the field.

**Picture Credit: Scott Foley**