Millennium Begins new PSAL Chapter with John Jay Campus Sports Integration

Elijah Weiss and Agatha Ryan

Like many students in the John Jay building, Princess Castillo would often pass by the campus pool as she walked to the gym for PE class or from volleyball practice. The basement level pool is hard to miss with its penetrating smell of chlorine barely masking the aroma of swimmers’ sweat, but, like most students on the John Jay campus, she had never been behind those imposing, boldly labeled pool doors. As a 10th grader at John Jay School for Law, she had not had the opportunity to participate in a swim team–until this year. 

As a freshman, Princess was a member of the John Jay Volleyball team. The team was comprised of students from across the John Jay campus–except for Millennium Brooklyn, which had its own team, a joint program with Millennium Manhattan. But as Castillo put in work in volleyball practices, she stole glances at the girls getting ready for swim practice. Much to her dismay, her coach informed her that the team was exclusively for Millennium students. Later that year, the students at the John Jay School for Law were given a survey asking if they wanted to merge the schools’ sports teams. Not knowing the full extent of what the merger meant, Princess chose yes, in hopes that she could join the swim team. In part due to the student survey responses, the campus announced a merger of all PSAL Athletics programs on the John Jay Campus, effective in Fall 2021. 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought tremendous change—some temporary and some long-lasting. At Millennium Brooklyn, housed at the John Jay Campus with three other schools, this vital change to the sports program was made in a noble effort to mend divisions between the four cohoused schools. Organizations like the John Jay campus council have long critiqued the perceived inequities between the schools on the campus, and the separate sports programs are the most visible example of this imbalance.

Opened in 2011, Millennium Brooklyn initially paired up its sports with its sister school, Millennium High School, in Manhattan. It was a move that made sense in many ways—the schools share a pedagogical model and both operate NEST programs for accessible education. They were founded on the same principles, and even share a similar advisory system. But it was soon clear why this system was problematic; Millennium’s student bodies, proportionally more white and Asian, were effectively separated from kids from the other three high schools, which had more Black and Latinx populations. Additionally, the system had inequities in terms of pure access. Millennium simply had more sports teams on offer; more students on the Millennium campus had the option to join a team because the school had more teams overall: not just basketball and soccer, but cross country, fencing and table tennis. As if to add insult to injuey, the John Jay gym had only a dedicated fan section for Millennium, and just one for the other schools.

For these reasons, the change was a long time in the making, after years of pushing by students and parents across the campus. “It’s something that a lot of people from all of the schools wanted to do for a while, and with the break in the action from Covid, we felt it was a good time to do it,” Coach Friedman said. “Covid gave everyone the chance to reset.” The goal? To bring the campus closer together and to increase the number of sports teams available to students like Princess.

Despite the merger, however, several teams still have a majority of Millennium students on their roster. According to Coach Hines, his cross country team this fall was still primarily made up of Millennium runners. “Because the season started in August,” he explained, in addition to the fact that none of the other schools had previously had a cross country program, “the cross country team only had two members from Park Slope Collegiate.” With the rest of the team populated by Millennium students, “it was tough, especially for the non-Millennium kids.”

The numbers back that up. 85% of the students participating in fall sports were either Millennium Brooklyn or Manhattan students, who make up roughly 55% of all students eligible to participate.

In the first semester Campus Council meeting, students from PSC, CASA and John Jay school for law shared that they felt isolated or judged in tryouts for teams by Millennium students. In another Campus Council meeting, students shared that the attempt to integrate schools with the new “We are One” slogan ignored the campus history of racial segregation. The club minutes note that the verbiage “diminish[es] all the activism and hard work that went into making this integration happen.”

However, even with these early struggles, students are beginning to see the upside of the sports programs merging. Once wary students from different schools have slowly started embracing each other. “In the beginning, people would hang out with their friends, as they would in school,” Coach Hines noted. “We did see pretty separate groups, but as the season went on, little by little, I think people were integrated much better.”

Coach Friedman notes that the merger has spurred a wave of athletic accomplishments.  “Our volleyball team was number one in the city, we have the fastest kid in the city in cross country, our girls’ soccer team made it to the final eight, the boys’ team made the playoffs… every team [has been successful].” 

For coaches, the merger has presented a challenging but welcome adjustment. Coach Hines, when asked about his initial reaction, said that he was excited about the opportunities that were made available to students across the campus. “I think it can help lead to a better understanding of who else is in this building and how are they the same as us or how is their situation different,” he said. “Because things have been separate for years… I’ve never really worked with teachers and students from the other schools until now.”

Many students, like Princess, felt the same. She attended swim tryouts in late August. “I had never been on a swim team before,” she explained.. Entering a new world of sets on the clock, dives, and flip turns was at first overwhelming for the newbie swimmer. “I remember when she [swim team Coach Kovalkova] was talking and saying that we were going to swim 4x100s and I was like ‘Wait, what is that?’ I was so shy to ask, I just kept on swimming until everybody else stopped.” Eventually, though, under the guidance of Coaches K and Fey, Princess learned the lay of the land (or pool, rather). She committed to the grueling practice schedule of two hours a day, five days a week, and steadily improved her strokes and splits. “When I walked in there, I was so shy and thought, ‘Omigod what if people make fun of me for how I swim?’ Instead, everyone just tries to help you.”

The most heartening consequence of the merger was the fact that genuine friendships across school boundaries emerged throughout the season. Princess underlined how her teammates were all incredibly supportive, which made the overall environment of the swim team fun. Although the majority of many members of the team were from Millennium, and the juniors and seniors were returning swimmers, Princess insists that “Everyone just tries to help you out…It’s nice to know nobody there is belittling you.” For the duration of the season, returning  swimmers and coaches helped Princess learn how to dive, swim against the time and navigate the chaos of high school swim meets.  “Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was everything I wanted it to be.”