The Power of Connections, Both Physical and Virtual

Author’s Note:

I held off submitting this article because in late February/early March, our world was changing and I was no longer sure about the significance of this alumni news story.

But now, in light of what’s transpired, I’m fascinated by our fundamental need to connect, reach out and remember, be nostalgic and reminisce, catch up, and hear about the goings on of people in our lives. The comfort and sense of peace that accompanies conversations, texts, video chats, and social media platforms, where we can revisit the glory days (fictitious or otherwise!), catch up with old friends and colleagues, and keep up in a virtual way have provided me with some calm and belonging. My semi-permanently parked car, my idle hockey equipment bag, and my empty gym office no longer provide the comforts of routine and connection.

And so, in deference to the power of making connections and “having your teammate’s back,” I have written this story. Please reach out and call or text that former teammate, classmate, bandmate, or castmate. Get your dopamine hit, brighten their day, connect with your past. It’s helping me to manage this new “normal.” Please be safe and stay in touch.

-Mark Burleigh, May 2020
CDS Faculty Alumni Liaison

It might be the lighting, the smell, the sound, or just the “feel,” but when you walk back into your school gym, regardless of how much time has passed, you are transported back in time. Playing a sport, spending significant time and energy, making sacrifices and honouring commitment during your sentimental and developmental years all contribute to this feeling. You know what I’m talking about. You just know that you’re in YOUR gym. It doesn’t matter how much time has expired from the clock since you last stepped onto the court.

And so it was on February 20, as I walked from my post in the Junior School gym toward the Senior School gym to welcome and host our Alumni Association’s 2nd Annual Open Gym Basketball Scrimmage for the current Senior Boys’ Basketball team and CDS basketball alumni, I encountered a couple of familiar faces who needed some help with directions.

These alumni had not been back to CDS since graduating in 2001 and 2010 respectively – and standing in the hallway outside our Senior School office, I was the lone familiar face at that time of day. Both “boys” had featured prominently in my career as a coach and teacher. They loved basketball and phys-ed, and we had some catching up to do.

As we talked and walked, I gave them a running commentary of the “new” building. As we turned the corner and walked through the hallway toward their gym – past their grad photos on the wall – we reached the point where “old” Senior School meets the “new” Senior School, a space that had been their guidance office.

It was then that they heard the unmistakable sounds of basketballs, voices and squeaking sneakers drawing them toward their old gym. They stopped talking and their pace quickened. I felt I was watching two adult men become the “kids” whom I had taught and coached, their adolescent grins and excited expressions so recognizable, as they drew back the same wooden doors to reveal that recognizable parquet floor. The memorable dim lighting. The banners on the rafters. The unmistakable smell. They were met by the sights and sounds and smells of home.

They encountered a gym full of faces and kindred spirits gathering to play, shoot some hoops and bury themselves in their passion. There were familiar faces of former teammates and teachers. They made new connections with fellow alumni from different eras. Professional networking and an employment opportunity was even discussed. They met current players, teachers, coaches and parents. The current members of the Senior Boys’ team sensed this was more than a game of basketball. They soaked it all in, as their older opponents reconnected and settled into this nostalgic space.

Then they played. They competed and experienced that “feel” once again. They felt at home. And they had a sense of their metaphorical and very real CDS home court advantage.