Outdoor Collegiate on the Rise

The Upper School Handbook describes Outdoor Collegiate as follows: “Outdoor Collegiate is dedicated to providing opportunities for students to experience outdoor activities such as rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, slacklining, trail running, mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, and more. We provide after school activities, weekend activities, and break activities for interested students. Outdoor Collegiate believes in expanding comfort levels while utilizing best- practices with qualified guides. All activities are ‘challenge by choice.’ Students will have the opportunity to take on leadership roles with both their peers, and with their less-experienced classroom teachers.”

Outdoor Collegiate is a program that is becoming much more popular among the Collegiate student body. It started off as just an after-school program in its first year, 2010. Now they offer weekend and break trips, such as surfing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, skiing in Colorado, overnight canoeing/camping trips, and backpacking trips. Each season is centered around a different area. The fall season is centered around the river, while the winter focuses more on indoor rock climbing. They are looking at offering a mountain bike team in the spring. Everyone who has been asked about Outdoor Collegiate has a quick and positive response.

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Outdoor Collegiate’s ride.

The program was established five years ago by Brad Cooke, a history teacher in the Upper School. “I believe very strongly in the transformative experience of being outside. I believe that people who have a connection to their natural environment are much more likely to take an active role in protecting it,” Mr. Cooke says. It gives students a chance to get a sports credit through something other than Collegiate’s traditional sports offerings. Outdoor Collegiate is also assisted by Mr. Josh Katz, a teacher in Collegiate’s Upper School English Department. Together, they supervise the students and coordinate the logistics of their activities. Mr. Katz started off as “a part-time chaperone,” but was very interested in becoming more involved once he realized how great of an experience he was having. “Mr. Cooke needed another faculty member to go paddleboarding with him and a group of students on Tuesday afternoons, and since I’d been lamenting missing the chance to go paddleboarding this past summer, I selfishly jumped at the chance,” Mr. Katz comments. Not only is Mr. Katz having a great experience, but the Collegiate students involved in the program are as well.

Douglas Williamson (‘17) is doing Outdoor Collegiate for the first time. When asked how her experience with the program has been so far, she said, “It has been really good. I hurt my knee in field hockey and could not play anymore, so I chose Outdoor Collegiate and I am really glad I did.” She is having so much fun on these fall afternoons that she could not choose a favorite part. “I’m not sure I have a favorite part. You do something different everyday, so you don’t know what to expect. I really like going down to the river and rock-hopping and swimming,” she told me. This program is a great opportunity for students to partake in an after-school organization. If you do not play a sport in a certain season, or unable to, Outdoor Collegiate provides a choice worth consideration. I asked Douglas if she would recommend it to another student, and she said, “Yes I would. It is really fun to get outside after school. It’s really chill, and everyone in it is really nice.”

Outdoor Collegiate is becoming more attractive to students each year and is on the rise. This year, Collegiate and Trinity are competing in their first paddleboard race. More can be read about this here. When asked about his personal goals for the program, Mr. Cooke said, “My goal for Outdoor Collegiate is that every student coming through the Upper School will have some exposure to it before they graduate. That may be an after school season, or it may be just a day trip. We are not there yet, but we get closer every year.” Because more members of the Collegiate community want to get involved with the program, the already present success of Outdoor Collegiate is likely to continue.

Photos by Evan Justice.

About the author

Evan Justice is a junior at the Collegiate School.