Great Hearts, Great Players: An Interview with Athletic Director Jonathan Rickey

Great Hearts, Great Players: An Interview with Athletic Director Jonathan Rickey

Q: WHICH VIRTUES DO SPORTS AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN GENERAL CULTIVATE?

A: Sports cultivate humility, courage, respect, diligence, integrity, justice, and perseverance. It’s important to teach our student athletes to be humble in their successes, and to remember that their success is won, not just by them, but by the whole supporting environment, including coaches, teammates, family, and academic environment. I want us to be most proud of our whole team, not just one outstanding player, so they don’t go from honoring to idolizing. In our schools we have non-athletes coming out for athletics, and there’s courage right there. One of Glendale Prep’s assistant basketball coaches had never played basketball before she started, and now she wants to coach for the rest of her life. Daring to do something you’re not already good at or familiar with is a type of courage you’ll use throughout your life. Respect, for the team you’re about to play, the officials, and your own coach, is essential. For players who are used to mouthing off to their families and teammates, joining a team with a coach who won’t put up with that is a cultural shift. If a team thinks they’ll kill another team and then they end up getting beaten, it’s often because they did not respect the other team enough.

Diligence is something that you understand when you see athletes who really put in the
time and effort. You’ll see diligent coaches, just like diligent teachers, who get the most out of the time they are given. Students can go on vacation but still run or lift to stay in shape. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. You won’t overreact to another player or talk down to your opponents or the teammates who play more than you. Justice is such a big deal in sports because
there’s really a lot of unfairness in sports. For instance, in soccer you can dominate the game but the opponent can still score or kick that one goal and you can lose. We need to learn how to respond when things do not go well for us. Lastly, perseverance is going through the struggle of being a sixth grader on an A team or a freshman on a varsity team, putting in the hours and finally seeing some glimpse of what you have done by hopefully getting some accomplishments later on. I love the Great Hearts teams that persevere through hard times.

Q: HOW DOES PHYSICAL EDUCATION INTERACT WITH STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC DEVELOPMENT?

A: Sports, like academics, are about being able to work with others who are not necessarily your friends in order to accomplish a goal. When I taught Kindergarten PE, I would bring out the big parachute in our first week. We use this as a tool to say, “we can’t have fun unless we all work together to get it up.” We want our students and student-athletes to do their best at all times. As a classroom teacher [teaching sixth grade US History] I would say, “we have fifty-five minutes together, so I want your best, and I will give you my best. I want your immediate focus as soon as you walk in that door.” This applies to athletics, as well.

Q: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF SPORTS IN BUILDING SCHOOL CULTURE?

A: We talk about how the school is one culture. There isn’t a separate athletic culture, academic
culture, drama culture, and robotics culture; it’s all one culture. Our athletes shouldn’t do what
is outside the mission of the school. If you can attach yourself to something, whether it’s sports,
choir, or chess club, you will own something on campus and be a part of it. Athletics gives almost anyone an opportunity to be good at something. If you can’t handle a ball, go out for track or cross-country. Aligning yourself with the school and being a part of something gives students pride and a sense of belonging. I always say that our team is defined by our worst person on campus, and I want all students to be great people. If someone sees a soccer player in detention, that’s what they’ll think of the soccer team. The student-athlete has to be a great person, not just a great athlete.


Jonathan Rickey is the Great Hearts Arizona network director of athletics. This is his fifth year
as network director and fifteenth year at Great Hearts. He helped found Glendale Prep and was
their first athletic director for ten years. He has coached for over twenty years. He has two sons who are both three-sport athletes at Glendale Prep, and he will have a Kindergarten boy at Archway Glendale next year.

Image: Great Hearts Trivium Quarterfinal, Veritas Prep vs. Chandler Prep, 2020, Anthony K. Lam

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