When Dan Lewis was a student at Arlington High in 1980, he entered a program called Survival, where the goal was to learn enough skills to build a shelter and survive in the Massachusetts woods for three days with nothing more than some matches and a can of chicken.
Lewis passed his trial, went on to participate in the Dartmouth Outing Club during his college years, then worked as a guide for Outward Bound before returning home to teach English at Lincoln-Sudbury.
“It had a real affect on me,” Lewis said of the Survival program. “There’s been a cultural shift away from that type of education, and classrooms without walls. I’d like to see it come back a bit. When I got out of college, I knew what I wanted to do.”
Lewis recalled how his father was a Lincoln-Sudbury teacher in the 1970s, when outdoor education was part of the core curriculum. Starting in 1980, Proposition 2½ restricted budgets statewide and those programs were cut, so it fell on a passionate faculty to keep the spirit alive by leading outing clubs. And Lewis has carried on that tradition as co-leader of the Lincoln-Sudbury Outing Club for the better part of a decade.
Like most extracurriculars, outing clubs have experienced significant restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet while transportation remains a hurdle, there is nothing inherently dangerous about students hiking, biking, or climbing with safety protocols in place.
Activities vary from program to program, but Lincoln-Sudbury is still able to get students out for local adventures. On Sunday, Lewis took a small group of students rock climbing at Hopkinton’s College Rock.
“Massachusetts is not a big draw for adventures but there are a lot of welcoming spaces,” said Lewis. “There’s a lot of access, just maybe not the big vistas.”
At nearby Concord-Carlisle, the outing club is undergoing a revival. Seniors Caroline Jantzen and Isabella Cupp have been involved with the group for four years and recently welcomed new faculty advisers, Owen Curtin and Mike Parato.
Curtin, who runs a music recording studio at Concord-Carlisle where students can play music (singing is prohibited during the pandemic), got involved with the outing club when a group of freshmen, led by Alexander Burgel, approached him about a mountain biking club.
“They came to me a few weeks into school,” said Curtin. “They didn’t have a foothold in the community and that’s a hard time. I thought it would be a shame to let this thing die on the vine.”
With two mountain bike trips to Estabrook Woods already in the books, Curtin and his students hope to form an official mountain biking varsity club within two years. That corps of bikers joins Jantzen, Cupp, and a group of outdoor enthusiasts who have remained active individually, but are craving social interaction in a natural setting as they spend their days at their computers engaged in hybrid learning.
“So many students are sick of their computers,” said Cupp. “It’s more important than ever that we get people outside, to step away from all the craziness, get into nature, and take a deep breath.”
Once these clubs get rolling again, student-athletes that are unable to compete in sports classified as high risk may flock to them. Jantzen, who runs indoor and outdoor track, said she’s already noticed a trend of students who aren’t on track teams coming to voluntary workouts.
“A lot of kids are missing out on seasons or their seasons are being cut short,” said Jantzen. “So we want our club to be a totally accessible outlet.”
Other programs are struggling to get back on track. The “M3” program, combining students from Medford, Melrose, and Malden, had been growing exponentially with events planned throughout 2020, but founder Niklas Tower said his program is in hibernation due to the pandemic.
At Shrewsbury High, art teachers Kristine Cobb and Sarah Williams have been running their outing club virtually, with students and instructors going out individually and using video calls to connect and show their surroundings. Cobb said the administration recently gave permission for the club to meet after school and use the adjoining network of trails for hiking and snowshoeing.
The pandemic is even testing clubs that have been running for nearly 50 years.
Richard Nickerson was a 21-year-old math teacher at Noble and Greenough when a group of seniors approached him to run the outing club. He learned some skills from his students, including how to whitewater canoe. Now, 46 years and several instructional courses later, he’s educating a new generation in those fields.
“Back in the early days, we were flying by the seat of our pants,” said Nickerson. “I’m not sure that would fly in this era, so I’ve gained a lot of experience and training.”
In a typical year, Nickerson will lead 15 to 18 trips that range from winter hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, to kayaking Class II rapids.
Those options are currently tabled, so the club offers day hikes at Blue Hills Reservation, where students and faculty can arrive independently. Nickerson said those hikes are extremely popular given the shorter time commitment and the fact that many of Nobles student-athletes have fewer athletic commitments.
Access to the outdoors and the skills necessary to thrive in outdoor recreation are becoming more valuable in these trying times.
For some graduates, these clubs have become the key to a future career, so is time to consider investing in outdoor education again as part of a curriculum?
Lincoln-Sudbury alumni Ryan DeLena and Isaac Bernstein are both enrolled at Northern Vermont University’s Johnson branch, where DeLena has a platform for his passion as a backcountry freeskier, and Bernstein is close to graduating with a degree in Outdoor Education Leadership.
Both seniors credit the L-S Outing Club for inspiring their career path, and Bernstein said he may someday come home and try to teach a class on the subject, if possible.
“The fact that the outing club was there, that opened the door for me,” said Bernstein, who is currently getting hands-on experience with the American Mountain Guide Association and other organizations.
“My love for nature took off and I knew that is what I wanted to do for a career. It’s extremely valuable and there needs to be more opportunities for kids to integrate outdoor recreation into their education.”
▪ The fourth annual A Shot For Life Gauntlet took on a new format this year. Usually a 24-hour, 5-on-5 basketball game meant to loosely symbolize the nonstop fight for cancer patients, the event shifted to two sessions at Hanover’s Starland Sportsplex on Saturday and Sunday.
Athletes participated in four-hour shifts, alternating between solitary shooting exercises and a 3-on-3 game of “Lane Ball” in which players stayed with socially distanced lanes as they competed in a fluid contest.
“This year has been a grind,” said ASFL Founder and CEO Mike Slonina. “A lot of organizations have been forced to close down but we continually found ways to innovate. We changed the event entirely, but it was really cool to see how many people wanted to be a part of it still.”
In addition to the 90 participants on site, 100 shooters participated remotely as the organization worked toward making a combined 24,000 shots within the time frame. Slonina and his staff traveled around Massachusetts hand-delivering ASFL jerseys to everyone who participated.
▪ The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released guidelines Friday that included health and safety protocols for youth and high school sports. Wrestling and competitive cheerleading will not be allowed to compete, but basketball, hockey, and lacrosse, can practice and compete with modifications.
The guidelines also indicated that high school football practices and games will be allowed during the Fall II season from Feb. 22 to April 25.
The MIAA COVID-19 Task Force and Sports Medicine Committee will meet in the coming weeks to determine the nature of modifications. Postseason tournaments have been cancelled for the winter season.
▪ The Bay State Conference announced it would not start winter sports activities until Dec. 7, delaying the start of practices by one week from the eligible start date of Nov. 30.
▪ Stoughton named former 1,000-point scorer and Hockomock League MVP Evan Taylor as its boys' basketball coach. Taylor had served as an assistant on John Gallivan’s staff . . . Archbishop Williams named Bill Berman as its boys' basketball coach. Berman had served as an assistant on Jim Dolan’s staff.
▪ Lynn English and Lynn Classical informed the Northeastern Conference they are petitioning to leave the league and join the Greater Boston League starting in the fall of 2021.
▪ The following athletes recently announced their college commitments:
Basketball: Kate Bossert, Dana Hall (Vermont), Duncan Bubar, Newton North (Wheaton); Aidan Callahan, St. John’s Prep (WPI); Nick Johnson, Rivers (Wesleyan); Matt Mulvey, Brooks (Swarthmore); Addison Phifer, Hopkins Academy (Roger Williams)
Lacrosse: Patrick Crogan, Lexington (Georgetown); Owen Sedlacek, Belchertown (Nazareth); Jack Taylor, Lawrence Academy (Jacksonville).