Friday, February 4, 2000
When a Vacation Is Not a Vacation
Concord's new school superintendent, Dr. Ed Mavragis, has stirred up a hornet's nest with his decision to allow varsity athletes at Concord-Carlisle High School to miss games and practices during April school vacation without any repercussions. Up until this year, varsity athletes had to commit to being available for half of the nine-day vacation period, or else refrain from playing a spring varsity sport. I know several students in both my son's and my daughter's classes who opted to give up their senior year of play because of the possibility that they might need to look at colleges one more time during the vacation, before making that fateful May 1 decision. Many families I know have decided against a family vacation in order to insure that their children not be penalized.
I'll admit, I never understood nor liked this policy. After all, the week is called "April vacation week," and who among us takes a vacation but returns for all committee or staff meetings during that time? Most students today, especially on the high school level, work hard and deal with daily stress, so don't they deserve a vacation week where they are actually "on vacation?" In this era when family values are declared all but missing in action, it's refreshing to see a school administrator who puts the family first. I applaud Dr. Mavragis' willingness to give this a try.
However, because of this decision, four coaches at the CCHS have handed in their resignations because this policy change has made the school a place where they can no longer, to quote one of them, "concentrate...on teaching values like integrity and teamwork rather than focusing on wins and losses." It's a shame that these coaches' first response was to resign, thereby leaving their players in the lurch, wondering who will coach them this year. If they were so concerned with emphasizing "integrity and teamwork," perhaps they should have voiced their protests, even put them in writing, then coached this season, assessing the impact of the new policy. If it proved, in fact, to be a serious detriment to the athletic season, then the coaches could back up their protestations next year with hard facts. But this way, nothing is proven. Unfortunately, whatever the policy, it seems that the student athletes are the losers.
The Meaning of Mean
Chapel Hill, North Carolina seemed like an ideal place for relief from Carlisle's winter viciousness. Its mean daytime temperature for January and February is about 50 degrees, and mean snowfall is less than two inches for the entire year. Combine these climate advantages with the liveliness of the nearby Duke and UNC communities, the exceptional quality of North Carolina's state park trails and its mid-Atlantic location, an easy 2-day drive from home, and Chapel Hill fit our ideal winter respite profile perfectly.
We tasted these bountiful treats last winter, spending four weeks of hiking and golfing, flavored with a delectable array of other spices the "Triangle" area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) is known for museums, theaters, concerts, college basketball and great food. Not only did the area deliver on its statistical climate promises, it far exceeded them. Daytime temperatures were in the mid-seventies, establishing new records and further tantalizing our taste buds. Snow was a no-show, and sun was the rule.
Based on the success of that initial scouting expedition, we confidently planned our return visit for this first winter of the new millennium. Left behind were all thoughts and artifacts of New England winters, such as boots, shovels and cold-weather gear. Naturally, we were greeted soon after our arrival here in Chapel Hill with the area's worst winter snowstorm since records have been kept 20.3 inches in the Triangle. And just like last winter, we are witnessing record temperatures but lows instead of highs. With daytime highs around 30 and nighttime lows in the teens, the snow and ice cover is being preserved into its second week. Worse still, a new winter storm watch is in full gear as these words are written. ("A second storm of a lifetime! News at 11.")
Now, what's a 20-inch snowstorm to rugged veterans of Carlisle winters? No big deal, right? Well, it turns out to be a very big deal. Snowplows down here are few and far between. Residential streets are left to nature's melting schedule, which for normal times and snowfalls is probably a day or so. Parking lots in apartment complexes, such as the one we're holed up in, suffer the same fate. Plowing contractors? No such thing.
In contemplating this dilemma, our first reaction was to question the accuracy of those statistical means. On further reflection, of course, it was obvious that accuracy was not the real issue. In fact, our two winters of experience in Chapel Hill actually support the accuracy of the 50 degree mean daytime temperature (seventies one year and thirties the next)! What we really should be questioning is the meaning of means. Certainly they are not suitable as a predictor of any given season. But over 10 to 20 year periods, despite global warming, El Ninos, La Ninas and other climatic perturbations, temperature and precipitation means tend to stay remarkably constant.
The one positive result to come out of nature's dirty trick on us has been a deeper appreciation of the skills, resources and preparations of the Carlisle and Massachusetts DPW crews, who generally keep our winter imprisonments down to a day or less. And we've definitely confirmed that sneakers and plastic pails are less effective than boots and shovels for digging cars out of the snow!
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito