It is no secret that despite more and more rigorous admissions policies, there are certain high schools that send a disproportionate number of students to Harvard. Roxbury Latin, Philips Exeter and Philips Andover, the list goes on; all these schools have long-established academic traditions that allow their students to distinguish themselves for the admissions office.
There are certain schools that endear themselves to Dean Fitzsimmons and company for another reason: their athletic programs. Over the next few weeks I will be exploring this interplay between academics and athletics in the admissions process, beginning with two public schools in California: Los Gatos and Corona Del Mar. Each school has six student-athletes on Crimson rosters, the most of any public school in the nation.
A COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT
As public schools, Corona Del Mar and Los Gatos are not able to recruit and support athletics in the same way that their private counterparts can. However, both schools have benefited from being in prosperous communities with high property taxes, and therefore greater school funding.
“I don’t know if it’s justified, but you hear other people say that it’s the public school that acts like a private school,” sophomore football player Andrew Berg said of Los Gatos, his alma mater.
Los Gatos is located in the heart of Silicon Valley and is host to the headquarters of Netflix and Image Shack. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, over a quarter of families living in Newport Beach, where Corona Del Mar is located, have an annual income over $200,000.
“A lot of this can be attributed to being in a community where we’re privileged to have these opportunities,” said Evan Zepfel, a senior on the men’s water polo team and Corona Del Mar graduate. “There are parents who have the time and money to drive us to practice every day and we’ve just been lucky to have the opportunity to dedicate this much time to athletics. Without the support network back home, I know I wouldn’t be here and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that most of us wouldn’t be here without athletics.”
There is, however, a difference between excelling in athletics alone and being able to handle Harvard’s academic requirements.
Brandon Vance, now a bartender and track coach at San Jose City College, coached seniors Christine Reed and Nico Weiler in the pole vault at Los Gatos.
“Traditionally, the school values academics first,” Vance said. “The community here is very strong, and the high school doesn’t support sports that strongly. Realistically, the message from the administration is school first. So you end up having these kids like Christine—one of our better students—that is also an athlete. You really get well-rounded kids.”
A TRADITION OF SUCCESS
“Every single person at Harvard from Corona Del Mar is an athlete,” Zepfel noted. “Now that I think about it, as far back as I can remember, every person from my school who went to an Ivy League, or Ivy-League-caliber, school was an athlete.”
The Corona Del Mar water polo program has won 13 California Southern Section championships and, with Evan’s younger brother Ben joining the class of 2016, will have had at least one representative on the Crimson for eight straight years.
“I have no idea why it’s happened,” Zepfel said. “When I was a senior, there were three seniors on the team. We were the top three students in our class and we went to Princeton, Harvard, and MIT. There’s definitely a tradition of academic success combined with success in the pool.”
Corona Del Mar has also benefited from the presence of freshman Evan Ramsey. Ramsey’s father, Christopher, is the Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Water Polo, and part of a larger community in Newport Beach, which is very supportive of water polo.
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