By Gianna Addario
---- — SALEM — Since Andrew Betts started as the athletic director at Salem Academy Charter School two years ago, it’s been a goal of his to put the sports program on the map.
Salem Academy opened its doors in 2004; the athletic program was founded a year later. The school is host to nearly 400 students from grades 6-through-12, and over 50 percent of the school’s students participate on at least one athletic team for the Navigators between the fall, winter and spring seasons.
“As a school we offer a wide range of athletic teams for the size of our school,” noted Betts.
The Navigators currently have 10 varsity sports, a handful middle school teams as well as club lacrosse. The varsity teams compete in the Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization, a league that was created in 2004. There are 15 other schools involved in the MCSAO, including KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate in Lynn, Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett and Prospect Hill Academy in Cambridge.
Since Salem Academy does not have its own athletic facilities, it works with a number of different organizations to help find places to practice and play games. In the winter Betts works with the Salvation Army, Salem Boys and Girls Club, Salem YMCA and the Jewish Community Center of Marblehead.
Over the past eight years the program has grown into what it is today, though more and more opportunities are continuing to pop up for the potential of adding more teams and additional sports into the mix.
Salem Academy Charter School is ranked the fifth best high school within Massachusetts by U.S News & World Report. It is known as a school with a rigorous workload, and participating in sports there is a major commitment for students. They get to school for an 8:30 a.m. start time and don’t get out of the classroom until 4 p.m.
“It’s a lot for them to balance,” Betts said. “We also have a longer school day and longer school year (than most schools). This helps show that many of our students are truly impressive student-athletes to be able to balance academics and athletics. Their academic load is meant to prepare them for college; that’s the goal for all of our high school seniors.”
Softball spurs spring success for school
This spring proved to be especially beneficial to the school’s softball team, which earned its first trip to the playoffs with a 9-6 record. Coach Annie Brobst was selected as the MCSAO Coach of the Year, while freshman Tara Deschenes was named the league’s Player of the Year.
Senior Arianelle Diaz and freshman Robyn Hendry were also selected to First Team All-League, marking the most successful softball season in school history.
“Our team grew really close over the season,” said Deschenes, a Salem native and the starting pitcher for the Navigators. “Everyone was really supportive of each other and worked together to become a team. We spent a lot of time bonding and doing fun things together. We really learned to communicate, and I think everyone really improved on their playing skills.”
The Navigators had a complete turnaround from last year after winning just one game. Deschenes was even named Athlete of the Month for the month of May at Salem Academy and finished the season with .605 batting average and 133 strikeouts on the mound.
The baseball team finished with a 6-9 record and made its way to the semifinals of the league tournament. Sophmore Brian Rodriguez was selected as a First Team All-Leaguer while sophomore Ben Craven was selected as to the league’s honorable mention list.
Boys and girls track finished up a very successful campaign at Salem Academy with Briana Pinto, Laura Sawin and Itua Eghe all qualifying for individual events at this year’s Championship Meet. The highlight of the season came during the championship meet when Eghe, Jack Emerling, Roy Galang, JC Reinoso and Marquis Draper placed third in the 4x100 meter relay, receiving a bronze medal for the first time in school history.
Challenging and uniquely rewarding
The club lacrosse team, which plays other area school’s junior varsity teams, wrapped up the season at 3-10. With only four seniors graduating, coach Shamus Mruk is looking towards a bright future for the program.
“It’s a constant struggle to field a team because at SACS we have tougher academic and behavioral standards than most schools, which makes it difficult at times to have numbers,” said Mruk, who has also been a teacher at the school the past six years.
“We practice on a patch of grass at (Salem) Willows that has no lines and is not a regulation size field for lacrosse.” There were 20 boys on the team this season, 14 of whom played last year; the rest were new to the sport. We play teams that are either new as well or junior varsity.”
From his past experience, Mruk is used to coaching kids with years of experience. He does, however, find it challenging and uniquely rewarding to coach his Navigator players.
“My players are dedicated to the game, and I feel a great sense of pride when I see how much they’ve improved over the course of the past year, and this (spring) season in particular,” added Mruk. “Lacrosse is a sport that demands a great deal of skill, which takes time to develop.”
Betts, along with many of the coaches at Salem Academy, are focused on the growth of the athletic program moving forward. Having recently completed the school’s most successful sports season since they opened their doors is a great place to build off of.
Salem Academy Charter School Years in existence: 2004 Athletic Program: 2005 Athletic League: Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization (MCSAO) Athletic Director: Drew Betts (Second year) Varsity sports: 10, including boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, and boys and girls spring track. Other sports offered: Club lacrosse, middle school girls and boys basketball, and middle school girls and boys cross country. Mascot name: Navigators Enrolled students: 340 between grades 6-12.