Tulsa’s only PreK-Grade 12 independent Episcopal school celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2021-22.
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Vol. 9: OSSAA vs. SPC

Holland Hall and the OSSAA – Today’s Student-Athlete Experience.

When Holland Hall made the decision in 2015 to change its athletic conference affiliation and leave the Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC) to join the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA), it was a chance to engage more fully in the local and regional communities, reduce the number of school days that student-athletes missed due to travel, and compete against like-sized schools. The SPC, of which Holland Hall had been a member since 1967, is made up of schools primarily in Texas, with almost all having larger enrollments than Holland Hall. The OSSAA is comprised of public and private schools throughout the state of Oklahoma and divides schools into classifications based on school size and geographic location.Beginning in the fall of 2016, Holland Hall began competing in the OSSAA in all sports other than field hockey, which became an independent sport playing outside of an organized conference, and realigned several sports’ playing seasons to coincide with OSSAA guidelines. The realignment resulted in softball moving to the fall season and soccer moving to the spring, which left basketball as the only winter season sport. This allowed for the creation of Holland Hall’s first wrestling program, a winter sport, in 2017.Now wrapping up the school’s third year of competition in the OSSAA, it’s possible to reflect on trends and outcomes that have emerged from the switch.

Finances and Participation

Easily quantifiable comparisons are possible in the areas of the school’s operating budget and in student participation rates. There has been a 60% reduction in travel expenses related to athletics since Holland Hall left the SPC. Many teams still travel, but the need for hotel rooms and charter bus transportation is greatly reduced with OSSAA competition. In addition, playing more games and matches locally and hosting more events at home has resulted in nearly triple the amount of money coming into the budget from admission fees charged to visitors.Any concerns over declining student participation rates with the switch to OSSAA, either due to the loss of field hockey’s conference affiliation or students being unable or unwilling to play multiple sports, have proven to be unfounded. This year, more than 85% of Upper School students have participated in at least one competitive sport and 45% of students are playing two or more sports. For the spring season alone, ten Upper School students are participating in more than one sport.Field hockey has continued to thrive under the direction of head coach and alumna Christy Utter ’92. Participation has remained steady in the Upper School program, with about 30 athletes enrolling each year, and Middle School enrollment is increasing, with more than two dozen participants this year. Our players continue to excel in the sport, with nearly 30 athletes going on to play collegiate field hockey since the inception of the sport at Holland Hall, including after the school’s departure from SPC competition.“The field hockey program continues to attract talented and extremely dedicated student-athletes. Although scheduling has its challenges at times, we are able to play a full slate of games for our Varsity, JV, and Middle School programs. We schedule Casady as our final game to give us a State Championship atmosphere and opportunity for elite competition at the end of the season. We have at least one player ready to commit to her college of choice to compete in field hockey in 2020!” ~Christy Utter ’92, Head Field Hockey CoachMembership in OSSAA has also reinvigorated Holland Hall’s JV athletics program, allowing students the opportunity to hone their skills and become stronger athletes at the sub-varsity level, something that was increasingly difficult in the SPC due to transportation, budgetary, and scheduling issues. Most JV teams now play nearly as many contests as their varsity counterparts, strengthening all teams in the long run and, more importantly, affording the well-rounded arts/athletics/academics experience Holland Hall wants all students to enjoy.

Attendance, Two Ways

When Holland Hall was a member of the SPC, students and coaches traveled extensively to competitions outside of Tulsa. The SPC had grown to include 19 schools, with the most recent additions being in far south Texas. More out of town trips to more distant schools led to more missed school days. Coupled with other absences for academic field trips and programs like the ISAS arts festival each spring, some students missed more than a dozen days of school each year. As Holland Hall is first and foremost an institution committed to preparing students for success in college, missed class time increasingly had become a concern. With 90% of OSSAA contests being held within 90 miles of Tulsa, missed class time is now greatly reduced.With more competitions being held at home or nearby, the other attendance issue that has emerged is that of fan support. The attendance at games and matches has grown both at home and on the road. This year all basketball playoff games were held in Tulsa County, allowing Holland Hall fans of all ages to support our teams. For the basketball state tournament, more than 50 students rode a spirit bus to Oklahoma City to join dozens of other students and families in watching the girls and boys basketball teams play in the state quarterfinals. As a comparison, in the final year of Holland Hall’s SPC membership, the girls basketball team won its 12th SPC championship in Houston in front of only about two dozen family members in a gym otherwise filled with home-team Kinkaid fans. Home football and basketball games now draw near-capacity crowds and our cross country and track and field invitationals are the largest in program history.“Being a Dutch fan is the best feeling in the world. Because it’s such a small community, I know every single person on the field, on the court, or on the track. Being able to see everyone compete and do such amazing things is what makes our community so special.” ~Claire Sherburn ’19, Dutch Spirit Club

Postseason Home Field Advantage

In 48 years as a member of the SPC, Holland Hall hosted only one SPC tournament (conference championship), in the Fall of 1997, for football, field hockey, volleyball, and cross country. The remaining 143 SPC tournaments were held in Texas, largely limiting Holland Hall’s fan base to just the participating athletes and their families. In the three years of OSSAA membership, Holland Hall has hosted seven football playoff games, two state regional volleyball tournaments, two district championships for boys and girls basketball, nine playoff games for boys and girls soccer, and one tennis regional qualifier. In the 21 playoff contests we have hosted, our teams have only lost four times. Home field advantage and playing in front of a spirited Dutch crowd makes a difference in the success of our teams and the overall athletics experience for our students.With local competition comes local recognition. Playing against teams in Texas with no local name recognition limited the press coverage given to Holland Hall and our students. In the last three years, there have been numerous articles published about Holland Hall athletics and the old and new rivalries fostered by local competition. Before joining the OSSAA, Holland Hall students were not eligible to earn all-state honors or participate in the All-State Games. In the past two years, more than 100 students have been recognized with all-district, all-conference, and all-metro honors, and 15 athletes in seven different sports were voted to all-state teams and invited to participate in the All-State Games in the summer.“Holland Hall has hosted 29 OSSAA state playoff games over the past three years. Our record is 24-5, so it has positioned our teams for great success by playing in front of the Holland Hall community. The competition against other Oklahoma schools has given us a chance to welcome other Oklahoma communities to our campus and it has provided the opportunity to reciprocate with future games with these schools.” ~Steve Heldebrand, Athletic Director

Challenges

With every major change there are challenges. Moving to the OSSAA means there are no longer three non-overlapping sports seasons, as was the case in the SPC. Students and coaches have had to adjust to the various timelines of different sports and navigate the conflicts for multi-sport athletes during the overlap. Particularly tricky is the transition from football to basketball for boys, as the winter season begins October 1 but football can stretch into December, and the transition from winter to spring season when it is also common for students to participate in more than one sport.One treasured aspect of SPC competition was the team bonding that came from overnight travel. Most sports that had overnight trips in the SPC have retained an overnight trip where possible, with field hockey taking several multi-day trips each season to play in festivals around the country.

OSSAA: Beyond Sports

While much of the attention has been paid to sports, the first “A” in OSSAA stands not for Athletics, but Activities. As an OSSAA member, Holland Hall has participated and competed in — and is eligible to win — state academic bowl events, and our band and orchestra are allowed to perform and be rated at state-wide competitions. Similar competitive options are available for Mock Trial, Model U.N., and Debate. Providing the opportunity for students to compete in and win competitions on the fields, courts, classrooms, and stages is an important component in Holland Hall’s mission to pursue excellence in all areas of the student experience.Holland Hall’s long history includes traditions and experiences that were fleeting (boarding school) as well as a few that have lasted throughout the school’s century-long life (white graduation dresses). Membership in the Southwest Preparatory Conference served the school very well for many decades, and early results indicate the OSSAA will be a good fit for years to come. As Holland Hall adapts and changes to meet the needs of students today and in the future, the mission to “provide a challenging, comprehensive educational experience” will continue to drive administrators and school leaders to make decisions in the best interest of students, faculty, families, and the Holland Hall community.