Bell schedule strains athletes

Just arriving home at 7 p.m. after a long, sweaty football practice, junior and varsity football player Oliver Marburg still has hours of homework to complete.

Tired and sore in the evenings, Marburg said because the varsity football team practices Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., he struggles to balance sports with his academic work every day of the week.

“I’ve been getting home late. I’m tired. I’ve got to take a shower. I still have to do homework,” Marburg said. “So time management is definitely a thing we’re going to have to figure out because it’s kind of hard to manage all that with the late practice ending.”

In 2019, the California State Assembly passed a bill mandating schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., starting with the 2021-2022 school year. Now, in the first year back from the COVID-19 pandemic, Paly has shifted its start time even
further back.

All school days start at 9 a.m., with Wednesdays and Fridays ending at 3:30 p.m., Mondays ending at 3:50 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays ending at 4:10 p.m.

While this schedule might be a perk for those who prioritize their sleep, Marburg said it has a large negative impact on athletes’ schedules.

“(Practices) are starting a lot later, obviously, because of the bell schedule, and getting out a lot later,” Marburg said.

Athletic director and football coach Nelson Gifford said he sees where student-athletes are coming from in their complaints about the late release times in the new bell schedule.

“Homework is always a challenge,” Gifford said. “When you’re an athlete, you’re staying up later and you’re waking up early. It’s always going to be hard.”

Gifford also said because a limited number of facilities are available, practices can get pushed back even later for some
sports.

“You can only fit so many people in the gym at a time,” Gifford said. “For us, it’s just about trying to maximize our space, our time and our access to resources.”

And while some coaches have discussed moving practices before school, Gifford said for many sports, there are challenges in this potential shift.

“I don’t think (morning practices are) going to be a thing mainly because most of our coaches are walk-on coaches and they have jobs,” Gifford said. “That would conflict with coming at that time.”

Gifford also said the fact that many schools Paly competes against get out earlier than Paly does makes having a game schedule that accommodates the new bell schedule is difficult.

“The games are fixed at 4 o’clock,” Gifford said. “We have made adjustments on our own end to hold some contests later if teams agreed to it, but we can’t unilaterally change those times.”

Because of the conflicting game schedule, the girl’s volleyball teams are particularly affected by days that end at 4:10 p.m.

“Every time there’s fourth period, because games are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, (freshmen players) have to skip it and leave early,” varsity volleyball player Hillary Cheung said.

Assistant Principal Erik Olah was the chair of the bell schedule committee that recommended this year’s schedule for approval.

Olah said he feels for the athletes who have a large homework load.

However, he said he recommends athletes take advantage of prep periods to get work done, leaving less to do after school.

“I’d really like to make sure that they utilize that time in the prep to get some work done,” Olah said. “I know there might be some tendency to take a little break during that time, and that’s OK. But if you have a bunch of homework waiting for you when you get home at night at 7, try to get as much as you can done ahead of time.”

Olah said creating a schedule that takes into account everybody’s perspective is a challenging task — the interests of athletes and coaches have to be balanced with students, teachers and parents across the entire school district.

“Any shift that you make, you’re going to have some pushback and you’re gonna have some things that get out of balance,” Olah said. “Maybe it takes a little bit of time and a little bit of adjustment, but hopefully everything can balance back together.”