Led this season by co-captains Nate Hefner '19, Kyle Aanstoots '19, and Ray Fluet '20, Big Blue has its sights set on a conference win.
Since joining the Pingry faculty in 2000, becoming Head Coach of the Boys’ Varsity Football Team in 2008, and Interim Head Coach of the Boys' Varsity Track Team in 2010, specializing in sprints and hurdles, Coach Shilts has gone on to guide dozens of Pingry student athletes to reach their potential. Many of his former players, runners, and sprinters have gone on to successful collegiate careers. And it's worth nothing that all current Pingry record-holders in the hurdles are boys or girls who learned the event from him.
Coach Shilts was, himself, a successful college athlete, as an outside linebacker and four-time varsity letterer for the College of Wooster’s football and track & field teams. After several teacher-coach experiences at independent schools on the East Coast and beyond (including the Bullis School, Maryland; Cranbrook Schools, Michigan; and The Hill School, Pennsylvania), he arrived at Pingry—a physically formidable football coach running rigorous practices while nurturing the talents of budding writers. For his impact in the classroom, he received the 2003 Herbert F. Hahn Junior Faculty Award and the 2005 Norman B. Tomlinson Chair in the Humanities.
Whatever came of that track & field season in 2004, when Coach Shilts and his father each had a star hurdler in competition? Jamil McClintock ’04—a 2015 Pingry Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, who went on to set records at Brown University—took top honors by winning the 110 high hurdles at the Meet of Champions that year. Old rivalries die hard.
“I had just made an assist to tie the game when I heard a pop,” he recalls. “I fell to the ground and knew something was wrong.” Six hours later, he was in the operating room to repair a stress fracture in his tibia and growth plate. He was disappointed to lose out on his freshman season, to be sure. But the lessons he learned through recovery were valuable ones. “Getting over the injury was pretty hard, but I learned how to be resilient,” he recalls. He attended home games when he could, but spent most of his time focusing on recovery and academics. He won’t soon forget how Assistant Coaches Wayne Paglieri and Jeff Patten visited him in the hospital before his surgery. Or how often Associate Head Coach David Fahey ’99 would stop him in the hallway at school to ask how he was doing.
Anthony looks forward to his comeback in the fall, and to reconnecting with his passion. “I’m a pretty quiet person; I let my soccer do the talking. When I’m on the field, I’m not thinking about anything else.”
She says the rigor of the two-hour practices, not to mention dedicated time in the Strength & Conditioning Center, have made her a better athlete. “I dreaded going to the weight room at first—the planks, neckercizes to protect from concussions, barbells, sprints—but I really grew to love the team lifts every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00–4:00 p.m. I love being all together.”
As for future athletic goals, Sandra, a shooting guard on the Girls’ JV Basketball Team, wants to score as much as possible, and perhaps even hit 1,000 career points and a spot on varsity by her senior season. “It’s a lot to score in just three years so I'm not 100% sure that I'll do it,” she says of her goal. “But I am 100% sure that I will put in my full effort and play to the best of my ability!”
Winning two back-to-back state championships as a sophomore is pretty special. Equally special, he says, is being part of—and learning from—such a close group of teammates. A lacrosse player since the second grade, Ben, who also plays basketball for Big Blue, credits his fellow Pingry teammates and the tough competition they face during the season with helping him to improve his game. “But also,” he adds, “the academics have taught me how to manage my time and be productive when I’m not playing. I’ve learned how to prepare better—know when I have an away game, know what work I need to get done, and be proactive about it.”
Halfway through his high school career, Ben is hoping to put another two state championships under his belt. But he doesn’t lose sight of the advice he and his teammates got one day from Coach Webster. “We all talk about the championships, he told us, but it’s really not about the championships. It’s about the relationships you form with your friends and teammates; you consider them family.”
“I thought that 2:15 was a good goal for the race, but that 2:14 and 2:13 would be my limit,” she recalls. “But running 2:12 and placing second really surprised me. I was trying to keep the #1 runner in my sights the whole time. During the race, several runners passed me and then I passed them again. When I saw the clock in the last straight-away I was just so excited. My whole family and extended family were there cheering me on. Even my younger brother’s wrestling coach came!”
She broke Pingry’s school record yet again, earning the 10th fastest time of any high schooler in the nation, and the best time for a freshman.
The race, she says, was a standout moment in a successful freshman athletic campaign, one that included helping Pingry’s 4x800 meter relay team to a ninth-place finish at Nationals one week later, and, helping to lead the Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse Team to a #10 state ranking that spring.
She credits the support she got from Pingry coaches for allowing her to pursue her lacrosse passion, and not shoehorn her into the outdoor track season. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to play one sport all year; I want to be versatile as an athlete. Track and cross country [which she ran in the fall] are individual sports and I put pressure on myself. Lacrosse is different because it’s a team sport and there’s more togetherness. I really enjoy both,” she says.
Which is why, when asked what Big Blue goals she’s most looking forward to achieving in the years ahead, she can’t quite decide. “I’m excited to step up more in lacrosse next year, as seven seniors are graduating. I won’t be the freshman on the team anymore; I can step into a bigger role. I’m also excited to get faster and improve my 800 time, especially now that I have the confidence. I want to break 2:10. That’s going to be exciting.”
Winter season: Basketball team—again, to try something new. Spring season: Carson, a lacrosse player since Grade 3, proudly makes the Middle School Girls’ A Team, the only sixth grader that year to do so.
Her passion for sport, she says, is partly attributable to her sister, Avery ’19, who is captain of the 2018-19 Girls’ Varsity Field Hockey Team, and her brother, Tripp ’21, who was part of Big Blue’s varsity lacrosse lineup as a freshman. But Carson is quick to point out what benefits she sees for herself: “Sports helped me in the transition from the Lower School to the Middle School—being on teams is a great way to meet other students. And it’s great in the Middle School now to have the freedom to pick what sport we want to play.”
Next year, she’s considering a return to her beloved field hockey in the fall, perhaps giving squash a try in the winter, and, of course, keeping up with the lacrosse team in the spring. Thinking ahead to her athletic career in the Upper School, what are her goals? “It would be great to make varsity field hockey and lacrosse as a freshman, but I know that’s really hard,” she says. “I just want to make an impact on whatever team I play on.”
Off the turf field, and outside of Pingry, Jared plays competitive lacrosse for his town team, the Cougars, as well as for a club team, NJ Diesel. This winter, he’s considering joining an indoor box lacrosse team. He has also played basketball for as long as he can remember, most recently for his YMCA team and with an organization called Starting 5ive. He plans to try out for his town team this coming season. Flag football is yet another interest of Jared’s; he is playing in a local league for the first time this year.
You might forgive an active student athlete like Jared for yawning in PE class, but he is just as passionate a competitor in the Lower School’s gymnasium and fields as he is on his own teams. Dodgeball and Capture the Jack (a variation on Capture the Flag, devised by Lower Schoolers) are his favorites, but it’s easy to see he gets excited about playing any sport with his friends. “I just finished the cross country unit; we had to run a lot. And I’m doing a unit on pickleball now. It’s all fun!”
Does he bring any lessons from PE class into the classroom with him? “One thing I learned from Mr. LaFontaine [Lower School PE teacher] is that school comes before sports,” Jared says. “He tells us, ‘Work hard, play hard.’ Sometimes, when I’m working really hard, I like to do sports to give my mind a break.”Jared looks forward to playing lacrosse and basketball when he moves up to the Middle School next year. “I think it’s going to be fun to be able to play for my school,” he says. He remembers his former lacrosse coach taking him to see Big Blue versus Bridgewater-Raritan (the coach’s alma mater) in the semifinals of the 2016 Tournament of Champions, at Kean State University. He was only in the third grade at the time, but the experience clearly made a big impression. “Pingry ended up winning!” he remembers, smiling.
In the spring of 2015, as a freshman, she finished second in the Tournament of Champions, a highly competitive contest in which the best-of-the-best across the state face off. In the spring of 2016, with her lowest score ever (66), she won the competitive Skyland Conference Championship, defeating a local competitor who had bested her the year before at the same tournament, and with whom she had been in friendly competition since the age of eight. Her freshman and sophomore years she was named to the all-state golf teams. She also happens to play squash, and has been a member of Big Blue’s varsity team since her freshman year.
Outside of Pingry, Ami competes on the American Junior Golf Association's tour, the highest level junior tour for ages 12-18. She also competes in USGA’s Girls’ U.S. Junior Championship series, the largest series of tournaments for girls under 18. But, in the eyes of this 16-year-old, success outside of Pingry doesn’t diminish the importance of being a part of her school team.
In 20 years, when she looks back on her athletics career at Pingry, what will she say about it? “They were some of my best years ever,” she answers, without hesitation. “Being part of a community that values athletics and academics, where you get to be a student and a team member, what could be better?”
He credits his coaches—and his father, who moved to the United States from Haiti when he was 4, and went on to captain his high school baseball team—for instilling in him the importance of a strong work ethic. His junior year, the first year he made the varsity team, he earned All-Conference honors. It also happened to be his strongest year academically. He doesn’t think it was a coincidence. “When something doesn’t work out, you have to work hard to make it work out,” he says.
Miles, who plans to attend Bucknell University, arrived at Pingry in Grade 5, and began playing Big Blue baseball as a seventh grader. Over the years, he has played baseball on many elite travel teams to hone his skills, all to be at his best for Big Blue. His pride at being a Pingry athlete, and his devotion to the team, are readily apparent.
He remembers one moment in particular, his junior year, when the team faced one of the toughest competitors in the state, Morristown Beard, in their annual Headmaster’s Trophy game. It was the best team they would face all season. Early in the first inning, one of their batters hit a single; Miles, ready in left field, caught the ball and threw to first. Out. The team would go on to a dramatic, 6-2 win. After the game, captain Bryce Weisholz ’16 congratulated Miles, telling him he had set the tone from the very beginning.
“The thing that excites me most about playing baseball for Pingry is the camaraderie with my teammates. These are people I might not usually be connected with off the field, but when we’re on the field together, we’re all one team, with one common goal to win and have fun and make each other proud.”
She was down in a big tennis tournament, playing poorly against a girl she should have easily upset. She lost badly, and was distraught. “I was embarrassed, but Coach Diaz pulled me over and helped me to regroup. He arranged a time for us to review all my previous matches from the season to figure out what I was doing right and where I could improve. He and Coach Weber were so comforting and supportive throughout the season. Ultimately, I learned from that experience not to stress out so much, to stay positive. On or outside the tennis court, you just can’t let yourself get down.” She adds, after reflecting for a moment: “If a teammate of mine gets sad like I did, I hope I can comfort her the same way my coaches did.”
Indeed, the team community is what Jessica cites as most valuable to her as a Big Blue athlete. A calligrapher and aspiring rock climber, tennis player and sabre fencer, she is drawn to pursuits that require hand-eye coordination and fast reflexes. But far more than honing these skills under the guidance of expert coaches, she says, it’s the close-knit group of friends, her teammates, who have given her the most. When asked to capture Pingry athletics in a short phrase, she replies, thoughtfully, “A sense of belonging.”
Come spring track season, he won every 800- and 1600-meter event he raced. A year later, as an eighth grader, he avenged his runner-up status in both meets the year before by winning the competitive Ed Scott Invitational—on Pingry’s home course—and Gill St. Bernard’s Great Pumpkin Run.
Henry’s love of the sport—and talent—is a family affair. His older brother, Stewart ’14, who captained Big Blue’s cross-country team his senior year, competed for Dartmouth College for a year (an injury forced an early end to his running career). His older sister, Anna ’18, also a standout runner at Pingry, recently broke the indoor track school record in the 3200-meter run. A lover of math, who also plays ice hockey in the winter (“I like to go fast!” he says), Henry embraces the work ethic and persistence that running require. “Like schoolwork,” he says, “you get out of running what you put into it.”
The gesture, which suddenly committed the basketball captain and lacrosse player to a third, nearly full season of sport, exemplifies the tenacity and spirit she feels as a Big Blue athlete. And she loves everything about the role—running out onto the lush green of Miller A. Bugliari World Cup Soccer Field, shooting hoops in the drudgery of winter with a tight-knit group of friends, the bus rides back from lacrosse games, which, even if they followed a loss, still somehow, after some song and banter, felt like wins.
“Together” is the word she would choose to sum up her athletic memories at Pingry. “At the end of the day, we all come out after a hard day of school and we’re with each other. Some days we just want to go home, but we gather our teams, a small nerdy school often facing much larger opponents,” she says. “We have to win together or we’re not going to win.”
“’This is an existential game,’ he said to me. ‘You’re a very good freshman, you know your place on the team, but it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; you play like you play and good things will happen,’” recalls Jack. “I will never forget his words. We lost that game, but our defense, which I’m proud to be a part of, held Hillside to 18 points, one of their lowest scoring games all season.”
What word would this three-sport athlete use to sum up Pingry athletics? Pride. It’s not only the school chant, he says, it speaks to the greater character of the school, and the coaches’ commitment to—and expectation of—the players.