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Blair Alumnus Emphasizes Inclusivity, Social Courage & Equality in Sports

Hudson Taylor ’05 returned to his alma mater on October 11 with a message to today’s students about social courage, inclusive language and embracing others despite their differences. During a speech to the entire Blair community (watch it in full below) and individual meetings with senior leaders, team captains, the School’s Gay-Straight Alliance and small groups in campus dorms, the former three-time All-American wrestler and thespian talked about the importance of standing up for others and openly condemning homophobia and transphobia in sports, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

At Blair, Mr. Taylor was a national championship wrestler, veteran actor who scored the lead in Little Shop of Horrors and a member of the Blair Academy Singers. After graduating, he went on to attend the University of Maryland, where he majored in theatre and played Division 1 sports. Finding the two worlds incredibly different—his theatre friends seemingly accepted and welcomed people of all orientations and identities, while the wrestling culture included rampant homophobic and sexist rhetoric and actions—he began wearing a sticker supporting LGBTQ equality on his headgear. Faced with criticism from his teammates and realizing certain friends were more inclined to be allies, Mr. Taylor stood in solidarity with a population that had long been marginalized in athletics. His actions received national media attention, as well as support from thousands of everyday citizens impressed and motivated by his display of social courage. 

Amplifying the Message

Realizing his impact as an individual college wrestler—and an athlete competing in a less-mainstream sport—he wondered how his message of inclusivity and acceptance of the LGBTQ community could be amplified if it was shared by athletes who were part of more popular sports, professional teams or even national leagues. Enter Athlete Ally, an organization Mr. Taylor founded in 2011 to encourage the athletic community to exercise leadership in championing LGBTQ equality and foster discussions about creating inclusive language and safe environments that make everyone, regardless of background or identity, feel comfortable.

“I hope that more people realize that allyship requires action,” said Mr. Taylor, who last addressed the Blair community on these subjects in 2015 and spoke about his organization’s work at the Society of Skeptics in 2011. “There has never been a more successful social justice movement for a minority group without the support of the majority. If we want to live in a more just and equitable world, then we need more allies to stand up and speak out. If every athlete started using their platform with a purpose, there isn’t a problem they couldn’t solve.”

Fundamentally Transforming Athletic Culture

During his visit, Mr. Taylor also touted some of Athlete Ally’s most recent victories, which have included successfully lobbying the International Olympic Committee to include sexual orientation in the Olympic Charter; co-authoring the NCAA’s first-ever policy and resource guide on LGBTQ issues for coaches, athletes and administrators; working with the NBA, NCAA and ACC on their historic decisions to move competitions from North Carolina in the wake of an anti-LGBTQ law; launching the Athletic Equality Index, which sets the standard for schools everywhere by ranking collegiate athletic departments’ LGBTQ inclusiveness; and offering any coach who is interested the tools to create a safe and welcoming environment for their athletes through the organization’s free online curriculum “Champions of Inclusion.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, Mr. Taylor and his team are building upon this momentum with a number of in-progress initiatives that will further advance their cause: implementing a requirement that every coach in America undergo LGBTQ education and creating regional athlete activism conferences to better educate and organize professional, collegiate and high school athletes. 

Coming Full Circle

Given all of the success Athlete Ally has achieved and the challenges it continues to face, coming back to share this work with today’s Blair students is especially gratifying for Mr. Taylor, who notes that Blair was the first place he realized that he didn’t have to conform to labels.

“Blair helped me look past labels,” he concluded. “Not only the labels that had been given to me, but the labels that were given to others. The work of Athlete Ally is fundamentally about challenging the assumptions and behaviors that isolate, exclude and endanger others. Had it not been for my experience at Blair as a wrestler, singer, actor and prefect, Athlete Ally would not be what it is today.”

Livestream

The varsity field hockey team faces Montclair Kimberley Academy at 4:30 p.m. Access the livestream here

The JV field hockey team will follow the varsity game and play Montclair Kimberley Academy at 6:00 p.m. Access the livestream here.

Also, Lawrenceville will livestream the JV football game at 4:30 p.m. here.

Blair Academy Players to Present ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

The Blair Academy Players will present Peter and the Starcatcher on October 17, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts’ Dubois Theatre. Peter and the Starcatcher is a play based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and provides a backstory for the characters of Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling, Tinker Bell and Captain Hook.

The Tony-award-winning play  tells the backstory of an unhappy orphan boy, played by Michael Richardson ’21, who becomes the legendary Peter Pan. The play includes classic elements such as pirates, mermaids, a fearsome crocodile. The young orphan and his mates, played by Olivia McLaine ’20 and Aiden Eyrick ’22, are shipped off from England for a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. A precocious young girl named Molly, played by Audrey Sacks ’20, is a starcatcher-in-training who realizes that a mysterious trunk on the ship contains starstuff. The pirates, led by the fearsome Black Stache, played by senior Ryan Gomez ’20, take over the ship and hope to claim the trunk and its treasures. 

“Appropriate for all audiences, Peter and the Starcatcher will remind you why, like Peter Pan, you wish you could stay young forever,” said veteran Blair theatre teacher and director Craig Evans.

Reservations may be made by emailing Mr. Evans at evansc@blair.edu. This is a general admission production and tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Julia Kerrigan

It has been estimated that between 1.6 and 3.3 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S each year, with the actual number of concussions likely dramatically higher. The likelihood of an athlete in a contact sport experiencing a concussion may be as high as 19 percent per season. As concussion awareness has been heightened over the past decade, there has been more research and increased understanding of what a concussion is and what may cause prolonged symptoms. Unfortunately, there remains a wide degree of misinformation regarding concussion, and even most health care providers have trouble keeping up with the changing recommendations.

The Blair community will learn firsthand about the latest research on concussion when Julia Kerrigan, MD, and James Kerrigan, MD, visit the Society of Skeptics on October 15. The neurologists, who are daughter-in-law and father-in-law, practice with St. Luke’s University Health System in northeastern Pennsylvania. Their presentation begins at 7 p.m. in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration.

Julia Kerrigan

Dr. Julia Kerrigan grew up in Minnesota before traveling to California to play basketball at Santa Barbara's Westmont College where she was an All-American scholar athlete. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she accepted a research position in Oslo, Norway, where she was also recruited to play professional basketball. Dr. Kerrigan obtained her medical degree at the University of Minnesota Medical School in 2010, completed her neurology residency at Harbor UCLA Medical Center and then a two-year clinical and research fellowship in concussion at UCLA’s Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program under the mentorship of Dr. Chris Giza. Dr. Giza is well known as one of the top leaders in the world for his research and clinical expertise in concussion. She has since joined St. Luke’s Neurology Associates as a fellowship trained concussion specialist, one of only a few dozen across the country.

James Kerrigan

Dr. James Kerrigan is a familiar face in the Blair community as three of his children, Michael ’03, Sarah ’09 and Thomas ’11, are Blair alums. A neurologist for more than 30 years, he graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1984, and completed his internship at UPMC Mercy, and his residency and fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Dr. Kerrigan treats patients who have medical issues with the central and peripheral nervous system, including everything from Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis to concussion and headaches.

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

 

Language Teachers Bring Summer Experiences into the Classroom

Language teachers Cristina Castillo, Sharon Merrifield and Kate Lavalle each journeyed abroad this summer, taking advantage of the long break to dive deep into educational and cultural experiences in different European cities. Now that the academic year is underway, these well-traveled faculty members plan to share their summer adventures with their students in a variety of ways.

“For language teachers, I think the best part of travel is that it adds to your toolbox of language and experiences,” Ms. Lavalle said. “We can then use these tools to help our students discover new places and make connections on many levels.”

Classes & Tapas in Barcelona

Mrs. Castillo’s destination was Barcelona, where she participated in a two-week immersion course for Spanish teachers at Expanish, a language school located in the heart of the bustling city. Her program included instruction in teaching theory, as well as time to observe other teachers and practice what she learned in lessons of her own.

“I’ve already brought some of the theory into my Spanish classes at Blair,” she said, explaining that she has “gamified” lessons on grammar and vocabulary, used new techniques to teach “class zero,” (the first class for students who have never taken Spanish), and had her students use inductive versus deductive reasoning when introducing new points of grammar.

Another aspect of the trip that Mrs. Castillo plans to share with her students is a taste of delicious Spanish cuisine. Each evening during the trip, Mrs. Castillo and her family, who accompanied her to Barcelona, visited open-air markets where they enjoyed many local foods, including breads and amazing fruit juices. They also enjoyed a guided tapas tour (patatas bravas and pulpo a la gallega were favorite bites) and, one evening, had paella delivered to their apartment for a late evening treat.

“I am looking forward to using the paella pans I purchased in Barcelona to cook paella with my students this year,” Mrs. Castillo said. “The food was, of course, one of the highlights of this trip, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to speak Spanish at a higher, more academic level than I do at home or in my work at Blair. Language has a different feel when spoken by native speakers in their home country, and it is always helpful to speak at that higher level.”

History Comes Alive in Normandy

Paris and the Normandy region of France were on the itinerary for Ms. Merrifield, who spent two weeks in July immersed in French culture and the history surrounding the Allied Forces’ 1944 D-Day landing at Normandy Beach. She and Katherine Holding ’20 participated in a tour facilitated by Normandy Allies, a nonprofit founded to promote greater historical understanding of the World War II Normandy invasion and the liberation and reconstruction of France that followed.

While Blair students and history teachers have participated in Normandy Allies tours for nearly two decades, Ms. Merrifield was the first language teacher to make the trip. “Normandy is one of the most important regions of France, and it was valuable to my teaching to have experienced its history and culture firsthand,” she said, adding that she and Katherine enjoyed daily visits to shops near their hotel in Bayeux, where they purchased the breads, cheeses, pastries and cider for which the region is renowned.

This summer marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and Ms. Merrifield described how French and American flags were proudly flying in every town they visited. Battle sites, museums and cemetery visits were all part of the tour, as were moving memorial celebrations attended by many veterans. She and Katherine also heard vivid firsthand accounts from French survivors of the Nazi occupation and witnessed the deep gratitude that the Normans have to this day for their American liberators.

“The strong friendship between the Normans and Americans is unique to that region of France, and it’s something I’ll long remember,” Ms. Merrifield said. She will share her trip with her French 3 class this fall when students research regions of France and create travelogues, and she is planning to incorporate research and writing about women who served in the French liberation in other classes as well.

An Amazing Sojourn in the South of France

Ms. Lavalle and her husband, Blair operations analyst Tom Pomeroy, enjoyed nearly two weeks touring the South of France, a region they had long wanted to visit. Their stops included Marseille, Nice, Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, and the couple filled their days with museum visits, a women’s World Cup soccer game, walking tours and much more.

“A former colleague who grew up in Marseille generously invited us to stay with her and her mother, so we were fortunate to spend lots of time with locals who knew the area and its history,” Ms. Lavalle said. Describing the trip as “amazing all around,” she especially enjoyed convivial dinner parties and fascinating conversations with friends of their hosts; a hike in Les Calanques that ended at a secluded beach on the Mediterranean; and the outstanding sights around Avignon, like the town of Les Baux de Provence and the Pont du Gard, a World Heritage site.

Ms. Lavalle looks forward to incorporating fresh perspectives into discussions with upper-level French students as they compare and contrast francophone cultures with their own. Her experience of this summer’s record-breaking European heatwave—and conversations with native speakers about governmental and NGO actions to keep people safe—will come into play when her French 2 students read a magazine article about the heatwave and her upper-level students study units on contemporary life and global challenges.

Adding that she has lots of pictures to share with her students, as well as greater knowledge of everything from the history and geography of Marseille to the use of the public transit app, Ms. Lavalle concluded, “I’m sure there are many more parts of my trip that will make their way into the classroom in one way or another!” 

Livestream

Blair fans who aren't able to travel to campus can watch three athletic events live on Saturday, October 5:

  • Varsity field hockey faces Hun at 2:30 p.m. Access the livestream here.
  • The boys' varsity soccer team challenges Hun at 3:30 p.m. Click here to see it live.
  • Varsity football takes on Hun under the lights at 7 p.m. Watch it here.
Jason Piccolo Skeptics

Blair Academy was honored to welcome Jason Piccolo, DSS, to the Society of Skeptics on October 8. Dr. Piccolo is a former special agent and supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security, and his Skeptics presentation focused on an assessment of United States border policy in 2019. The event was held in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration.

Dr. Piccolo patrolled trafficking corridors as a U.S. border patrol agent near the San Diego and Mexico border and went on to secure an assignment in the prestigious White House Security Council's Human Smuggling Cell. He is the author of Unwavering: A Border Agent's Journey from Hunter to Hunted, a firsthand account of the real-life border wars surrounding narcotics trafficking, human smuggling and undercover operations.

Dr. Piccolo hosts the popular podcast, “The Protectors,” which reports on true stories from law enforcement, the military and first responders. He is also a recurrent contributor to major news networks, providing expert insight into the world of smuggling and human trafficking, and all aspects of homeland security. The Washington Examiner often publishes Dr. Piccolo's opinion pieces.

Dr. Piccolo earned a degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University, a master’s degree in forensic science from National University and a doctorate in strategic service from Henley-Putnam University. He is also a certified fraud examiner and certified protection professional. Dr. Piccolo is a veteran of the U.S. Army.

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

 

 

Shana Russell
Shana Russell

Shana Russell joined Blair’s faculty this summer as associate dean of college counseling, a role to which she brings nine years of international-school college counseling experience. For the past four years, Mrs. Russell worked at Dubai American Academy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where she served as head of college counseling. Prior to that, she was director of college counseling at Asia Pacific International School in Seoul, South Korea, and college counselor at Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan.

Mrs. Russell is a graduate of Trinity College with a bachelor’s degree in English; she earned her M. Ed. In international counseling at Lehigh University. Interestingly, she began her career on the opposite side of the admission desk, working as assistant director of admissions at Trinity College and at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

Mrs. Russell’s family includes her husband, Blair history teacher Michael Russell, and their young sons, Teddy and Ripley. They live in Freeman Hall, where Mr. and Mrs. Russell are housemasters. The Russells are all world travelers (Mrs. Russell herself has visited 50 countries!) who love to experience different cultures, foods, sights and geographies everywhere they go. Read on to learn more about Mrs. Russell and her family!

Q. What do you enjoy most about helping students navigate the college admission process?

A. I love that the college admission process gives students the opportunity to explore who they are and who they have become as they prepare to graduate from high school. This is often the first time that teenagers are told to stand out, and I’m proud to be a part of their process of discovering and articulating what makes each of them so unique. When students understand who they are before they get to college, it helps them succeed when they are there.

Q. How do your years in college admission inform your work as a college counselor?

A. My experience as an admission officer has given me an understanding of what works and what does not work in college applications (at least for me). All admission officers read applications differently, but each is ultimately trying to determine if a particular student is a good fit for the institution. Having been in the committee room, I know what questions are being asked, how the application is being viewed, which things are important and which things are not important on the application, and what makes a student stand out. In addition, I know there are likely five or six applicants who could fill every available seat at a university equally well. This knowledge, and my background in counseling, helps me help students when admission decisions come in. If an application did not work out the way they had hoped, I try to help students see that it is just what happened in this place, at this time. There was no one thing they did wrong during the process, and they will still find happiness at the college or university they ultimately attend.

Q. What advice would you share with seniors as they prepare to submit their college applications this fall?

A. It will work out for you! Senior year may seem like a time to worry or stress about college, but I’ve been through this enough times to know that no matter what school you attend, you will find your place. Much of your college experience depends on what you make of it, so if you find the happiness in your choice, you will be motivated to do well in your classes and participate in the community. That will set you on a good path to a lasting career.

Q. Describe one of your best family travel experiences. What makes it especially memorable?

A. This spring, we went on safari in Tanzania. Every member of our family, from our kindergartner and fifth grader to Michael and me, was completely engaged throughout this trip. We are still talking about the amazing animals we saw at the watering hole, the interesting people we met and the different foods we ate! Each of us was really invested in the safari (and we are having fun speaking to each other in Swahili).

Q. What’s next on your travel bucket list?

A. It’s all next! I want to see so many more places around the world. I accomplished my goal of visiting 40 countries before I turned 40; now that we are back in the U.S., I’d like to visit all 50 states before I turn 50. Although Michael and I have already been to many states, we are actually going to start this adventure from scratch so that our boys get to experience all 50 states, too.

Q. What are you and your family most looking forward to as members of the Blair community?

A. First, we want to get to know the students better. Living in Freeman Hall (a junior boys’ dorm), our sons have 30 big brothers, and that’s been great. We love sports, and we’re looking forward to attending lots of games throughout the year. We’re excited to experience the changing of the seasons, since we haven’t lived in a place that has four distinct seasons in quite some time. Finally, we are looking forward to feeling as though we’re home. The fact that so many teachers enjoy long careers here and that alumni come back to teach really attracted us to Blair. Actually, we already do feel at home.