The B team
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This is the environment for a jv football game, an environment that has become commonplace for Hinsdale Central B-level athletic competitions. “The goal of jv football is to keep participation. Jv football kids don’t get a chance to play at the varsity level,” said Paul Moretta, Central’s athletic director.
While these athletes may not bask in the same glory as their A-level counterparts, they’ve found a niche at the B level. They enjoy the low-intensity, low-hostility environment that gives them an opportunity to impress the coaches, entertain their parents, or just enjoy playing the game.
“It would have been fun to be on varsity, but I really enjoy being on jv1 [tennis],” said Leah Schmidt, jv1 tennis captain “It makes playing tennis a lot more fun instead of pressure-filled like it might be if playing on varsity.” Because B-level games foster a more relaxed atmosphere, they are appealing to a variety of athletes.
B-level athletics are widely available, as “We strive to give as many opportunities as possible,” Moretta said. In general, B-level athletics allow coaches to select larger teams and to make the athletics scene more accessible. B-level athletics may be more relaxed, but they certainly aren’t meaningless, especially for the athletes who participate in them on a weekly basis. And the games vary in competitiveness. “There are only a handful of schools that are challenging for jv1, but some tournaments contain good competition because they bring in schools outside our conference,” Schmidt said.
Coaches and sports approach B-level athletics in a way that they feel is appropriate for their sport. For basketball, B games are fairly competitive. In fact, “B games can end up being more difficult than A games, and B-team players frequently develop into varsity. This was the case for our own Marco Milincik, who played in college on a basketball scholarship,” said Jeffrey Wirtz, basketball coach.
B-level athletics extend to a variety of sports, and most of these athletes have grown to embrace their situation. Sports with larger, no-cut teams tend to have more tiers in their programs. The football team has two freshman teams, a sophomore team, a jv team, and a varsity team. This differentiation allows coaches to place players in positions in which they can flourish and contribute to the team.
“Teammates try to help in areas in which you struggle, and my family doesn’t care where I play, as long as I’m enjoying it, which I am,” said Tony Block, a jv football player.
B-level games are mostly attended by parents and, occasionally, a few dedicated friends. Few students even know about the games, and even fewer make it a goal to try to attend some. “I wouldn’t mind seeing more fans at jv games. However, as long as I can play, I am happy,” Block said.
Furthermore, they are hosted at less-publicized times and in more distant venues. And for some sports, these athletes wear different—and many times, older—uniforms. Some athletes say that they actually prefer the occasional low-key environment, in which they can experiment as a switch-hitter, three-point shooter, or 200-meter runner.
B-level-sports attendance has traditionally been less than A-level participation. But a more ominous trend has characterized Central sports lately. “Support of student performances in all events has dropped in terms of people coming to watch friends,” Wirtz said. And if varsity athletes aren’t being recognized, B-level athletes are essentially neglected. And, because of this, coaches have witnessed personal-pride struggles for athletes participating at a lower level. “Anytime you’re competing, you want to be at the highest level: an elite player in the program, but not everyone can be that,” Wirtz said.
As a result, B-level athletes provide the ideal outlet for players to maximize their athletic experience, and playing time can help athletes fine-tune their skills.
“B and jv are just labels, which can change. They are primarily opportunities for student participation and game experience,” Wirtz said. Plus, the consensus is that all athletes are treated equitably and fairly. “I think the treatment between jv1 athletes and varsity athletes is somewhat equal,” Schmidt said.
Athletes acknowledge a dominant spirit of cooperation in jv and varsity-level athletes. While there are structural divides within each program, Block said the program as a whole collaborates and encourages. “We are still one team. We make each other better; during offensive team drills, the starters help us see what we need to improve and how to become better athletes,” Block said. And this support system isn’t just relegated to the football team; most Central athletes say do whatever is necessary to help the team improve, and many times, this includes mentoring B-level athletes.
Currently, the future of B-level athletics is murky, with possible changes coming in the near future. A few new jv teams may be constructed, and other B-level teams may be replaced. At the moment, however, budgetary restrictions are preventing significant B-level-program renovations. The programs will continue to be modified. Moretta said, “Of course, we are limited by facilities, coaching stipends, and money. But what we have is standard.”
Limited may just be the fate of B-level athletics—limited exposure and even more limited appreciation.