Since the 1900s, the opportunity to participate in athletics has been a critical part of the St. Mary’s experience. Whether on the field, in the water, or on the court, athletics allow our girls to explore new talents and develop key skills while learning the value of commitment and teamwork. Today, St. Mary’s offers 12 sports to Lower, Middle, and Upper School students. From the growing list of collegiate athletes to recently winning the school’s first state championship in lacrosse, the athletic program continues to improve and excel.
When the DJ started playing the Commodores’ 1977 hit song “Brick House” at a recent wedding she attended, Elizabeth Van Brocklin Still ’80 was instantly transported back to the gym at St. Mary’s. It’s been more than 40 years, but Still could see herself running laps around the gym as the song played in the background.
And every time Still gets a cramp while running, she can see former Upper School PE Teacher Mrs. Barbara Smith with her blond Dorothy Hamill haircut and hear the words, “Breathe in through your nose. Out through your mouth.”
There is so much about St. Mary’s that Still has carried with her all these years. The way Upper School Math Teacher Mrs. Faith Leonard made sure her students understood “how to get from point A to point B before moving on to point C.” The way dance teacher Mrs. Louise Rooke was forever patient in ballet class even when her students lacked the poise their teacher demonstrated. The way her faith was nurtured through daily Chapel and weekly Bible classes.
But most importantly, Still credits St. Mary’s athletic program with instilling in her the confidence that she could and can do anything. PE class included games like Red Rover, soccer and volleyball, and dances like the Virginia Reel. Students took turns choreographing exercises to music and teaching the rest of the class.
As an athlete and varsity tennis player, Still developed habits and practices that she would carry with her throughout her life. During her junior year, she started riding her bike to school regularly, a practice she continued as an adult. She once had to replace a relatively new car battery because she drove the car so infrequently, preferring the bicycle for transportation.
“St. Mary’s is very good about delivering the message to all students that they can do anything they set their minds to,” she said. “Through athletics, we were taught to move, to stretch ourselves, to try and fail, and keep trying. Sports provided opportunities to try so many different things. Eventually, it was no longer the school telling me that I could; I was believing and experiencing I could.”
And in September 2020, Still needed to know more than ever than she could when her son, Finley, passed away. “After Finley died, I would run on our treadmill, row on the erg, and stretch. I was numb and didn’t feel like doing it,” she shared. Still kept moving because history taught her she could turn to exercise for expression and catharsis. “Faith, family, the support of friends, and physical exercise literally helped me continue to be able to put one foot in front of the other.”
175 Years of St. Mary's
This story is part of our 175 Years of St. Mary's series. For 175 years, the mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal School has been to provide a superior educational experience for girls. Our robust academics, Episcopal identity, and rich traditions create an environment where girls flourish as students, athletes, creators, performers, and more. Most importantly, at St. Mary’s, integrity, compassion, and confidence are the norm for our girls. From Chapel to the PE class, alumnae reflect on the experiences and traditions that have made St. Mary’s a special place for girls to learn and thrive for 175 years. Click below to read the other stories in the series.