Stepping onto the field as the newest member of the boy’s varsity soccer team, Nolan Lenaghan initially felt nervous attending his first practice. Not only was he small and scrawny, he was also just an 8th grader. To his surprise, rather than be welcomed with hostility, Nolan was immediately accepted as one of them. Now as a senior at Ossining High School, and captain of the team, Nolan is able use this personal experience to see younger teammates as welcome additions, eager to bring their new and diverse talents to the team. Reflecting on his role, Nolan said, “As the captain, it’s my responsibility to not only be the voice that makes them ‘wake up,’ but also encourage them. It’s a sport and it is competitive, but at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be fun. You only play high school soccer once so you have to enjoy it.”
This attitude of savoring the moment also transcends to his academic life, where he views the occasional late night, not as a burden, but part of the high school experience. While he may have lost a lot of sleep over his studies, Nolan says, “It’s worth it in the end, because it makes you stand out.” With a score of 1510 on the SAT and a weighted GPA of over 100, Nolan is certainly standing out. When asked about Nolan, his guidance counselor wrote, “He is an exceptionally gifted student who combines an incisive intellect and a myriad of interests with a ceaseless work ethic. Not surprisingly, Nolan is in the top of his graduating class”.
It is through his hard work and dedication that Nolan discovered his academic interests. In fully applying himself to his studies, he discovered that not only did he excel at math and biology, he enjoyed the classes and is now considering a career in radiology. Due to his knack for the subjects, Nolan even tutors his peers in those classes. Nolan has been able to recognize patterns in the way that some students learn differently. Similarly, there are also players with unique personalities and goals. “Not everyone understands things the same way that you do so you have to find a way to articulate things to them so that it makes sense to them,” Nolan says. Of course part of his tutoring is about mastering the actual material, but Nolan knows that it is “…also about teaching them to be confident and to be excited to learn because once you change your attitude, the sky is the limit for you”.
Nolan’s dedication as a scholar and as an athlete stems from the support of his family, and particularly his father, who has been the biggest inspiration in his life. Even though his dad commutes to the city everyday, he never misses a 4:30pm kickoff and can be counted on to snap the goal-scoring celebratory picture from the sidelines. “I am inexplicably grateful that we have gotten to bond over sports and life in general…There has never been a time that he hasn’t wanted to go out and practice with me.” Nolan’s father has taught him that “there is always another game,” and this notion has been extremely helpful when getting through difficult losses like last year’s section finals.
After the heartbreak of last season, Nolan “…would love nothing more than to cap off my high school career by finally going the distance.” So far, their season is off to a good start, but whatever the outcome, Nolan has been able to see how soccer has been a unifying force in Ossining–how the field is nearly always full, and the way it brings people together. It is this community in Ossining that Nolan will miss when he attends college next fall.
While he claims that he is “still short,” the insecure 8th grader who first took the field all those years ago has long since gone. Nolan Lenaghan now stands out as a vibrant member of his community and will continue to do so in the future, where his dad will certainly be standing by with his camera in hand.
Q and A with Nolan Lenaghan
How do you balance community involvement, as well as academic achievement, with the commitment of athletics?
Balance is sometimes very tricky to achieve when you are committed to many different activities or ambitions, but it is completely possible. I feel as if athletics force me to be diligent with my school work, there is a set routine that I have become accustomed to. I plan out what assignments I need to complete on certain days in order to compensate for the time that I spend on a bus traveling to an away game, for instance. There is the occasional late night, but I choose to view those nights as part of the high school experience and attempt to immerse myself in my work (which is not always easy, because some work just doesn’t appeal to me as much). From my perspective, community involvement and academics are intertwined. There is not much time for community service on weekdays, but there are other ways to positively impact my community, such as tutoring my peers on my free periods. Community involvement doesn’t necessarily mean that you must help various people at once. The impact that you can have on one individual is just as fulfilling as, for example, performing a job at the local food pantry, something else that I have frequently done in the past.
What motivates you most on the field, court, etc.?
I don’t feel as if I need an extra push when I’m on the field. The adrenaline that surges on the day of a game is enough to get me to the level that I want to be at. I am incredibly passionate about soccer and I hold myself to the highest standards because I am a firm believer that if you are going to do something, you must do it wholeheartedly. I also feel a slight responsibility to put Ossining on the map as a powerhouse in local soccer; I was trusted to play on the varsity team as an eighth-grader, so I have had plenty of experience thus far. I have been a part of successful runs over the years, but I would love nothing more than to cap off my high school career by finally going the distance. We experienced heartbreak as a team last year when we lost in the section final, a memory that has upset me for quite some time. I’m of the opinion that a unifying force in Ossining is soccer: you almost never see the high school field empty, but at the same time, people who have no experience in soccer enjoy coming to the games.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment (could be academic, athletic, community-related)?
The accomplishment that I am most proud of is maintaining a weighted GPA that is over 100. I have put countless hours into my academics and set myself up to take the most challenging courses that I possibly can; it is thrilling that I have been able to attain the numerical equivalent to “perfection” thus far. I am not perfect of course, but I have no shame in taking pride in my grades.
What is the most rewarding part of achieving feats for your team?
The most rewarding part of achieving feats for my team is the authenticity and joy that I can provide my teammates from the experience of winning tense, highly attended soccer games. Most players do not get the opportunity to play past high school and there is something different about playing for your town and your school in front of all of your friends and family. Last year when we went on a deep playoff run, everybody was having fun, including the kids who usually didn’t log too many minutes. These memories really do last a lifetime. There are some specific games, incredible goals, and many team oriented jokes that I will remember for years after I move on from Ossining. Whenever I can help my team be successful, I feel great pride because it is almost as if I am enriching the high school soccer experience for my teammates as well as myself.
Is there someone who has inspired you, or helped you meet your achievements?
My dad has been the biggest inspiration in my life. I used to be a three-sport athlete until last year, when I decided to pursue soccer full-time. Even though it was difficult to give up the opportunity to play three high school sports, my dad supported my decision. I actually think his love for soccer has grown; he doesn’t miss a game, which is remarkable because he works in the city and always has to book it home in order to get there for kickoff. My dad is basically also my personal photographer, I always know where he is so that he can take pictures of my goal celebrations. I am inexplicably grateful that we have gotten to bond over sports and life in general; I remember playing wiffleball out on the street with my dad for countless hours from a young age. There has never been a time that he hasn’t wanted to go out and practice with me.
How do you involve yourself in the community?
Peer tutoring is my favorite way to get involved in my academic community. I am lucky that some things come naturally to me, because I know certain topics and concepts are difficult for others. I am eager to share my knowledge with others; everybody should have a positive outlook on learning and the exploration of their interests. In the broader community of Ossining, I particularly enjoy working with young athletes. I have assisted at soccer, baseball, and basketball practices before, attempting to be a positive model of what a real student-athlete truly is, especially when representing Ossining. I have also done work at the Ossining Food Pantry by organizing donated goods and making bags full of food depending on the needs of the people. Although I work away from people, in the food pantry basement, it is gratifying to know that somebody somewhere will enjoy the products of your work. As an individual, I feel the best way to involve myself in the community is to relate to as many people as possible. I am fortunate to have been in the dual-language program. I provide this example because many times I feel like I have made Spanish-speaking only peers more comfortable by speaking to them in a language they understand. People appreciate when you make the effort to relate to them. Just this year, one of my teammates was knocked unconscious in a game. I texted him later that night in Spanish (he was new to Ossining schools as of halfway through last year) that we were thinking of him and hoping he was feeling better. When I saw him the next day at school, he gave me a big smile and a high-five. That was definitely a moment of personal pride.
If you could describe your experience as a student-athlete in three words, what would they be?
Exhilarating, Unregrettable, Dynamic