Fresh from an electrifying year capping the most extraordinary era in Winchester Thurston’s athletics history to date, WT’s honors now include:
• 2 Boys Cross Country team PIAA State Championships (2014 and 2016)
• 1 PIAA individual State Championship
• 3 WPIAL team Championships including Girls Basketball (2017), Boys Cross Country (2016), and Boys Soccer (2014)
• 4 WPIAL runners-up in Boys Cross Country, Boys Tennis, and Field Hockey
• 8 WPIAL Section Championships
• 3 Pittsburgh Interscholastic Fencing Association team Championships
• 1 Western PA Boys Lacrosse Championship (2007)
• 12 individual WPIAL Championships
All since 2007.
Visionary, Vibrant, Victorious
thletics have always been part of WT, stemming from Miss Thurston’s cherished goal to provide outdoor facilities where “competitive spirits and bodies would develop.” Her visionary views were shared by Miss Mitchell, whose East End Preparatory School—the precursor to The Winchester School—was the first school in Pittsburgh to have a gymnasium for girls as well as outdoor physical education facilities. When the Winchester and Thurston schools merged in 1935, the focus on physical activity for girls was preserved, growing into a vibrant intramural program, then evolving into a forward-thinking athletics and physical education program. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that WT Athletics fully realized the potential nurtured by those early pioneers.
“In 2003, when I became the Upper School Varsity Soccer Coach, eight players showed up for the first day of pre-season. There was not talk of making WPIAL playoffs. I’m not sure the kids even knew there were playoffs and a State Championship on the line. Now the soccer roster is 30-plus players every year. Players work in the off season to get faster, stronger, and have a better touch. The mentality every season is to win the section, win the WPIAL, and compete for a State Championship. They play to be champions.”
Brownold attributes the program’s dramatic acceleration to a change in culture. “When Head of School Gary Niels came in 2002, the push to improve athletics was evident. Turfing the back field was a giant step in the right direction. And the recently renovated Glimcher Athletics Wing with a top-notch fitness room (and a fantastic trainer), ensures we have everything we need to keep our athletes healthy. On top of all that, there is the true value of having an athletic director like Kevin Miller who is so supportive of the coaches and players.”
“A place you can make things happen”
But not every sport is a match—and Miller deliberates carefully. “We are not going to just jump into something. We want to know: can we build it, sustain it, and keep it?” To demonstrate their commitment, Horton’s hopefuls had to complete a six-game junior varsity schedule before varsity status and WPIAL eligibility could be considered.
“Most games that year we barely had enough players to field a full team,” Horton recalls. “We were lucky to have one or two subs, and the girls played their heart out through the full 80-minute games. We achieved a 4-1-1 record while many players limped through the season.”
That was 2015. In 2016, the team expanded to 17 players, attained varsity status, and qualified for the WPIAL for 2017.
“Our biggest success is in being a team, period,” says Horton. “The fact that the girls stuck with it was amazing. They wanted this team, were willing to sacrifice for it, and the fact that we are now established as a WPIAL team is a testament to their determination. Quite honestly I often feel like my heart is going to burst with pride when I am with the girls.”
If Girls Soccer is WT’s newest WPIAL competitor, Cross Country is one of the school’s oldest. Coach since 1992, Bruce Frey says the 2014 and 2016 seasons were standouts. “Two State Championships, that’s the pinnacle of my career. We’ve been blessed with a succession of very good runners, and we’ve had four straight years where we’ve had WPIAL Individual Champions in either Track or Cross Country.”
“Our kids are having a ball”
WT Girls Basketball Coach Monica Williams knows what it takes to build excitement—and a winning team. Her team first went to WPIALs in 2009; this year, they won the Championship.
A triple-threat school
“Once known solely as a strong arts school, WT can now boast of outstanding academics, arts, and athletics,” says Head of School Gary Niels. “In independent school vernacular, this is referred to as a ‘triple threat’ school!”
Miller’s vision of Winchester Thurston is a scene he observed in 2014, right around the time of the Athletics Hall of Fame dedication. “I watched a young woman walk into school with her huge book bag, a cello, and a field hockey stick. I thought, that’s Winchester Thurston.”
“To produce well-rounded, well-educated students for tomorrow, I think being strong and having opportunities in all three is essential,” adds Horton. “I want those girls sitting in my Chemistry class; I want them participating in the orchestra and play.”
Excellence in athletics is now as fundamental to Winchester Thurston as excellence in academics and excellence in the arts. For those who have helped achieve the balance, the taste of success is sweet indeed.
“The best part is, our teams are only getting stronger,” says Brownold. “The athletics program has a swagger now. Kids who go to WT have pride in the school and the athletics. They are proud to wear that WT bear on their chest!”