I graduated from Wootton High School in Rockville, MD (a suburb of Washington, D.C.), which is one of the best high schools in the U.S. I was very lucky that my parents made sure my sister and I grew up and lived in a great community and public school system like the one in Montgomery County, MD, so that we could have an excellent education (Montgomery County, MD actually has the highest population of residents with post-graduate degrees in the U.S.).
For almost all other high school students at every other high school across the U.S., having a great high school football team predicates what makes for a great high school experience. Students that start on the high school varsity football team get big perks, as the starters are idolized by the school and the community. Many of them are interviewed on local television, they are the celebrities of their communities worthy of praise and admiration.
But, at Wootton High School, this never happened, as our football team was the worst. More students would make fun of us than were fans of us (especially our soccer team, which at a normal school in the U.S., you would be more likely to be made fun of if you’re on the school’s soccer team vs. being on the school’s football team, but as you can see, Wootton High School was not normal and our soccer team was actually one of the best in the State of Maryland). For all my four years of high school, I played on that football team.
Here’s a team photo of Wootton High School’s Varsity football team during our 1999/2000 season.
Washington, D.C. is a city that attracts people from around the world, and Wootton High School is intellectual and diverse. I had friends from all different religions, cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups. Suburban Washington, D.C. was a terrific place to grow up – the climate had all four seasons, and the layout had a mix of the big city with lots of nature and surrounding public parks.
Wootton High School had a great reputation, and its proximity to Washington D.C. provided students with amazing opportunities. Students that were interested in medicine got internships at the National Institutes of Health, those that were interested in politics got internships at U.S. government agencies, and those that were interested in banking and international affairs got internships at The World Bank, all while they were students in high school.
At Wootton High School, it seemed like every student and every team and club was a winner. Our physics club won international honors, our cheerleaders and dance teams went to national competitions, our theater and chorus was known around the country, and our soccer team frequently went to the state championships. In my freshman year of high school, the Wootton High School baseball team won the Maryland State championship).
I was part of the Class of 2000, and many of my classmates went on to doing big things, including entrepreneurs Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury and Dave Posin of Soliderfit, and actors Kate Siegel and Christian Mortensen (actor Utkarsh Ambudkar and poker player Phil Galfond were in classes below me). In high school, classmate Sebastian Zimmer was a member of the U.S. kayak team, and classmate Saskia Miller modeled for Abercrome & Fitch. Even my high school prom date, Jennifer Tabach Gerst, went on to work directly for President Barak Obama in The White House (and my sister met President George W. Bush when he came to visit Wootton High School in 2001). Even O.A.R. band members Marc Roberge, Benj Gershman, Chris Culos and Richard On met while they were students at Wootton High School. These are just a few of the many incredible students I went to high school with.
But, for all of this that is truly awesome, there was one thing at Wootton High School that was truly awful… our football team.
In my senior year of high school, our football team went 1-9. Yes, that’s right, we only won one game. We only beat Blair High School by one point, 6-7, because they failed to score on what would have been a game winning an 2-point conversion after scoring a game-tying touchdown. Blair High School went 0-10 that year, so beating them was not something to brag about, as we were just 1 point from going 0-10 (that being said, our senior year football team actually did do better than our football team the following year, that team actually went 0-10).
Wootton High School’s mascot is the Patriot, and the record we had in 2000 resembled the one that the NFL New England Patriots had in 1990 when they went 1-15 (actually, in 1990, Wootton’s High School football team won the Division II Championship).
I was certainly a part to blame for our losing record. I was a starter on the football team, and my position was Center. My height was 5’10” and my weight was 170 lbs. For those of you that don’t know football, I was very undersized to play that position. Most Centers in high school should be at least 6’ and weigh at least 200 lbs (or even more), and that extra height and weight makes a big difference. Most of the other players on our team were undersized as well. We had a couple really good football players, but like any team, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
As an example, here is a photo of Darnell Dockett who played for Paint Branch High School, which was one of the teams we played against. This is what a real high school football player should look like (Dockett eventually went on to play in the NFL).
And this is what would happen to you pretty much on every play if you were undersized.
Obviously Darnell Dockett was an exception, as most high school players don’t eventually play in the NFL, but I will tell you every since person I would go against on the football field was much bigger than me.
But, even though our record showed us as losers, were we actually winners?
As I think back on my time being a high school football player, we actually had a lot of wins that our record did not capture. When you work so hard and sacrifice yourself and put yourself out there every week, all of us as teammates, friends, and football players were actually the real winners. Even though we lost nearly every game, there were many things we did that made us winners.
We practiced and trained very hard.
We started football training a few weeks before school started every Fall, and had football practice everyday after school throughout the season. We ran up steep hills (i.e. the Robert Frost Middle School hill), we practiced in the rain, in the snow, in the heat, and in the cold. We even drank water out of garden hoses. We ate together and went to the gym together, and when we saw a teammate fall we picked them up. We were a family.
Here’s an image of a group of our football teammates at one of our football banquet dinners with our amazing group of student volunteers that would assist the football team every season.
We never let anyone tell us we couldn’t achieve what we wanted.
We wanted to play high school football, a game we all loved. We knew we weren’t that good, and we would likely lose every game that we played. Every team was bigger and stronger than us, but we still played each game like it was our last.
This is a photo of me in 1999, my senior year of high school (don’t ask me about my haircut).
Most importantly, we created long-lasting friendships and memories.
Every game was like war, and we gave our opponent everything that we had on the field. We were tough and fearless, and it took me days to recover from the physical strain inflicted on my body after every game. It was through all this that created strong bonds between our teammates.
Here’s a group image of many of us a couple years ago, morning the funeral of one of our senior year team’s best football players and friends, Karl Heiser.
Even though my high school football team was the worst, it was through my experiences being on that football team where I developed the true understanding and sense for what real teamwork and winning is all about.