The art of athletics

Jes­sica Brown’s back­ground has con­vinced her of the value of school sports pro­grams. That’s why she is bring­ing them to a per­form­ing-arts high school.

Hav­ing grown up as a tri-sport ath­lete and an All-Amer­ic­an col­legi­ate com­pet­it­or, Jes­sica Brown cer­tainly un­der­stands the value of team­work. 

Al­most 30 years later, she con­tin­ues to em­brace it every day. 

Since her com­pet­it­ive col­lege years, Brown has traded in her cleats for a clip­board at the Arts Academy at Ben­jamin Rush in Mill­brook. She now serves as prin­cip­al of the cre­at­ive and per­form­ing arts high school in the Far North­east, and has also im­ple­men­ted its vari­ous ath­let­ic pro­grams. 

“Ath­let­ic pro­grams give stu­dents a sense of school spir­it and teaches them to be part of a team,” said Brown, who has served as Ben­jamin Rush’s prin­cip­al since the school dis­trict con­ver­ted it to an arts school in 2008. “It’s in­tel­lec­tu­al. You have to think about strategies. And it teaches ca­marader­ie and lead­er­ship. 

“I think just be­ing a prin­cip­al, you have something sim­il­ar to the coach­ing role that I learned from be­ing a cap­tain,” ad­ded Brown, who went to Kenyon Col­lege in Ohio and was team cap­tain for the lacrosse and field hockey teams in the late 1980s. “You learn how to be a team play­er and be a lead­er when needed.”

Brown’s past ac­com­plish­ments are cer­tainly help­ing her build a fu­ture at Ben­jamin Rush. They’ve also helped her earn a place in the Kenyon Col­lege Hall of Fame.

Brown will join the 24th class of in­duct­ees for the hall of fame ce­re­mony dur­ing home­com­ing week­end in Septem­ber.

“I was so shocked and honored when I found out,” said Brown. “It is just such an hon­or to be chosen.”

She played four years of varsity lacrosse and field hockey at the school, serving as team cap­tain for both squads dur­ing her seni­or sea­son. 

In 1988, she broke the school re­cord for most goals scored in a single lacrosse sea­son with 50 — a re­cord that she held un­til 1992, when Cary Loomis net­ted 53 goals. 

On the lacrosse field, the former of­fens­ive wing was a three-time All-Amer­ic­an, two-time All-Re­gion se­lec­tion and was se­lec­ted as her team’s most valu­able play­er three years in a row. 

As a goalie for the field hockey squad, Brown has the third-most ca­reer saves in Kenyon Col­lege his­tory, with 601. She was a two-time All-North Coast Ath­let­ic Con­fer­ence honoree and was named as the team’s MVP in 1985. 

“I loved play­ing both lacrosse and field hockey,” said Brown, who gradu­ated from col­lege in 1988. “It gave me ver­sat­il­ity. In field hockey I was goalie, so I played de­fense, which is totally op­pos­ite from play­ing a wing. I liked the fact that I played po­s­i­tions so dif­fer­ent from each oth­er.”

These days, Brown is still very much in the game. She’s helped in­tro­duce six ath­let­ic teams at Ben­jamin Rush over the past three years. 

The Arts Academy at Ben­jamin Rush, loc­ated on Knights Road, opened in 2008. There were 115 stu­dents en­rolled in its in­aug­ur­al class.

“I re­mem­ber hear­ing from the kids that there are no sports here,” re­called Brown. “It’s a totally new ex­per­i­ence in a new school. You’re set­ting tra­di­tion. The stu­dents picked their own mas­cot — they chose the Knights, be­cause we’re loc­ated on Knights Road. They voted on col­ors and picked black and purple. For this first class, es­pe­cially, it will be a spe­cial time, be­cause they helped cre­ate the tra­di­tion in the school.”

This school year, Ben­jamin Rush will sa­lute its first gradu­at­ing class. The school has ex­pan­ded to 520 stu­dents.  

The school’s four varsity pro­grams en­com­pass girls vol­ley­ball, girls soc­cer, and boys and girls bas­ket­ball. The two new­est teams — boys base­ball and girls soft­ball — have ju­ni­or varsity squads.

Ac­cord­ing to Brown, many of the Ben­jamin Rush ath­let­ic pro­grams should ex­pand with­in the next few years, but there are two ma­jor factors that must be con­sidered. 

“One, it’s based on what the stu­dents would like and if we have enough stu­dents who want to par­ti­cip­ate. We’re a small school; we can’t of­fer everything,” Brown ex­plained. “And in terms of adding sports, ob­vi­ously fund­ing needs to be con­sidered. It’s been chal­len­ging in this cli­mate with the (school dis­trict’s) budget crisis, but we’re hope­ful.”

Rush’s ath­let­ic teams com­pete in the Pennsylvania In­ter­schol­ast­ic Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation. The school also of­fers a co-op pro­gram with George Wash­ing­ton High School that al­lows its stu­dents to try out for any Eagles pro­grams that are not offered at Rush. 

“I think it’s so im­port­ant for schools to have ath­let­ic pro­grams,” said Brown. “It teaches them how to lead and gives them con­fid­ence. That self-es­teem can trans­fer to the classroom and the school in gen­er­al.” ••

Ed­it­or Melissa Yerkov can be reached at my­

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