Winter Sports School in Park City closes its doors for the winter |

Winter Sports School in Park City closes its doors for the winter

Douglas Greenwood, of the Record Staff

As November rolls in, most students throughout Summit County are gearing up for the second term of the school year. The Winter Sports School in Park City is preparing for a different shift in academia. The school is approaching its winter break, which lasts from mid-November to mid-April.

Seventeen seniors will graduate Nov. 12, while the rest of the students devote the five-month break to athletic training.

The school’s off-set year is designed for students who are heavily involved with winter sports. With some U.S. Ski Team hopefuls, as well as notable free-riders and a speed skater slated to graduate, the Headmaster Rob Clayton says most publicity stems from the school’s strong emphasis on sports. But Clayton recently described the academic focus of the school as rigorous.

"What makes it more rigorous is we don’t have any elective courses other than art," he said. "This school is not for everybody."

With a shorter school year, 140 days, classes center on core curriculum throughout the year, offering four, 90-minute classes each day.

Class selection is simple, with students enrolling in English, Spanish, math, science, history and art.

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Despite the shorter school year, the Winter Sports School reported more hours-per-credit earned than the state average, according to Clayton. The hours equate to the amount of time a student physically spends in the classroom on a subject.

Since it opened in 1994 with less than 10 students, class size has only slightly grown, Clayton said. Currently 36 students range from ninth-grade through senior year.

Through the school’s application process, administrators interview potential students to gauge their level of commitment to their chosen sport and school.

"We look at how dedicated they are to both their academics and athletics," he said.

Clayton said there is a connection between the students’ success in sports and their academic achievement.

"You can have all the talent in the world and it won’t make a difference in the end result," he said. "If you are an Olympic gold medalist or a regional champion it doesn’t make a difference to me, as long as you are trying to be the best you can be."

The school’s emphasis on academics prepares students for higher education, Clayton said. "We match up with NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) core-curriculum requirements," he said. The NCAA clearing house review ensures potential student athletes meet the standard educational requirements before they finish high school.

More than 90 percent of Winter Sports School students continue on to college after graduating, many of them seek out schools with strong winter-sports programs.

"Not everyone is going to win a gold medal," Clayton said. "But at some point, everyone is going to need an education."