MSD athletes create sense of community through team chemistry

Ryan Shimony and Reece Gary

Fourth down and 5 yards from the end zone, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School varsity football team is ready to score. Down by just a few points and only a few seconds left on the clock, the Eagles seek an important play that will determine the outcome of the game. With fans in the bleachers cheering them on, the Eagles snap the ball and the quarterback searches for an open receiver. A strong throw and skilled catch connect, leading to an exciting Eagles touchdown. While the play would likely be attributed to the playbook or athleticism of the team, many players would say that the victory was a result of none other than the team’s connection and bond. 

Before each sports season, teams across the MSD athletic programs begin to form. Some teams undergo major changes, such as the loss of previous seniors, acceptance of new freshmen or even the addition of a new coaching staff. Nonetheless, rosters take shape and the teams begin to practice and prepare for their upcoming seasons. 

During a team’s development each season, much more goes into practicing than the simple development of athletic skills. In fact, many teams focus on developing skills that allow a mere roster of names to become a team. 

“Showing up to practice everyday, encouraging each other and helping each other improve mistakes are little things that really build team chemistry,” quarterback Ryan Spallina (15) of the varsity football team said. “We are able to form lifelong friendships, call each other brothers, rely on one another, trust one another and help each other move forward throughout the season.”

For many, teams consist of not just teammates, but also some of the athletes’ closest friends. Outside of practices, many teams tend to spend time together to further their pre-developed connections.

“We celebrate victories as a team, and we build additional chemistry from other team bonding, such as team dinners and playing ultimate frisbee after practice. This allows us to connect on and off the field and work better as a team,” lacrosse defender Alec Gordon (20) said.

Spending lots of time together, teams ultimately form strong bonds, and athletes feel more a part of the MSD community. 

“Team bonding has shaped us into a team by allowing us to get closer,” lacrosse attacker Lilly Shortz (20) said. “Having fun at the games makes being a part of the team special.”

Chemistry growth between teammates is a crucial part of the season for MSD athletes. To many, the sport they love provides more than just the sport itself.

“I am so grateful to be provided with what has become one of the best experiences of high school by MSD athletics,” cross country and track runner Tevye Singh said. “Meeting so many people and having great coaches ultimately changed my life.”

As many athletes show time and again that there are social benefits to being committed to a team, many also enjoy the athletic benefits as well. Ergo, chemistry between teammates aids team performance, ultimately accomplishing more than just the foundation for friendship. 

According to a 2018 study conducted by the McCormick School of Engineering of Northwestern University, athletic programs across five professional leagues were examined for their seasonal performance through linear regression modeling. In other words, teams were observed to find if their performance benefitted from previously built chemistry from past seasons. The study looked at past season statistics of the teams that had previously built chemistry and made a prediction for how they would perform in upcoming seasonal statistics.

If the researchers could better predict improved statistics for teams with previously built chemistry, then there is evidence that the teams’ successes are a result of such chemistry. So, a higher rate of correct predictions means that chemistry is a factor in team success. 

The result of the study was just that. Researchers saw an increase in percentage of correct predictions; thus, sports teams were proven to meet expectations of better performance when having team chemistry.

The study’s message translates to MSD athletic teams as well. As each new school year brings a roster with the addition of new players and the loss of old ones, the returning members of each team, along with the coaches, take on the task of leading their teammates. As each MSD team connects more, they develop on the path towards success.

For example, in 2021 and 2022, the MSD varsity baseball team won back-to-back state championships. While the victories resulted from the tremendous effort and skill of the team, having returning members of the initial championship roster allowed the team to be better connected and prepare for the next one. As a result, the team benefitted from their predeveloped chemistry to bring home two consecutive state titles, a feat that other returning players will attempt to continue in the upcoming 2023 season as well.

“The closer we are off the field, the better we play and succeed on the field,” varsity baseball infielder Jacob Herzberg (4) said.

While many fans see MSD athletics as the simple competition between athletes, the teams comprising the athletic programs are ultimately so much more. To many athletes, such as Spallina, the best memories during their athletic careers are not made on the field, but are made off the field with their team.

“My favorite team memory is when we were coming back from last year’s game against Coconut Creek,” Spallina said. “Going into the game, nobody thought we could beat them. We beat them 32-14. Everybody thought we were going to lose, so the bus ride after the game was really a special memory that I hold deep inside my heart.”

As MSD athletics progress throughout the year, their continuous success will be shown not only in their athletic performance, but in their team connection and communication. The bond between teammates ultimately provides the groundwork for all of MSD’s sports programs, and MSD athletes are proud of the teams of which they are a part of.

This story was originally published in the February 2022 Eagle Eye print edition.