In the competitive Magic community, I’m something of an elder statesman. I’ve been around the pro tour and the game itself since pretty much the beginning. I started playing when I was in seventh grade, and started playing competitively in high school. Right now, I’m on my way to my 15 year high school reunion. It’s safe to say I’ve been doing this for a long time.
And while these days I’m actually listed on the “notable alumni” wikipedia page for my school, they were not always so supportive of my endeavors. In fact, I came very close to not being welcome at any of my reunions at all, because I was nearly kicked out of school for exactly the same reason I’ve achieved notoriety today – playing Magic.
I didn’t exactly go to your average high school. I attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Andover is a prep school. In some ways, it’s *the* prep school. If a plotline in some movie or TV show involves a character going to prep school, Andover is the name they seem to use more often than not. It’s the alma mater of multiple presidents (both George Bush and George W. Bush) and any number of other famous figures.
That “notable alumni” page has my name somewhere between John F. Kennedy Jr, the owner of the Patriots, and various Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners. I’m about as small of a big deal as they come. I was fortunate enough to be a scholarship student who stepped into a world totally unlike the one I had known in my small town public grade school.
Because it’s a fancy prep school, life at Andover was different from most schools. For one, it’s a boarding school. I lived on campus in the dorms starting with my freshman year. This made traveling anywhere a much more complicated proposition than it otherwise would be, because I had to get permission to leave campus for any extended period of time, even on weekends. We had to sign into our dorms every night, and file permission slips to go pretty much anywhere for more than a few hours on an afternoon.
It was during my freshman year that the Magic Pro Tour ran its first event in New York City. For that first event, there were no qualifiers – it was simply a matter of calling in and telling them that you wanted to play. I did just that, or rather my mom did, and I got all my permissions in order and went to compete in the Junior division. I placed 30th overall, qualifying me for the next Pro Tour in Los Angeles. I declined to attend that event, however, since it was across the country and the format was booster draft, which at that point was completely new and which I had never played before.
A year later, though, the Pro Tour had started to mature. The PTQ circuit was up and running, and after skipping the draft PT in LA, I set out to qualify for future constructed events. I narrowly missed out on Columbus, losing in the semifinals of a two slot qualifier, and also fell just short at regionals to qualify for the National Championship. When I did manage to win a qualifier for the junior division of Pro Tour Dallas after those near misses, I was extremely excited, and wanted to start planning my trip right away.
There was a problem, though. Pro Tour Dallas was the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving, which was a “closed weekend” at Andover. A closed weekend basicially meant that students could not receive permission to leave campus except in extraordinary circumstances. The rationale behind this particular closed weekend was that the school did not want a bunch of students leaving campus to start their holiday break early. To ensure this, they not only instituted the closed weekend policy, but also scheduled classes for that Saturday.
Yes, Saturday classes; one of the characteristic features of fancy prep school. They weren’t every Saturday – more like once a month – but they always felt tedious as a student, and in this case could not have been scheduled at a more inconvenient time.
Being the resourceful and dedicated kid that I was, though, I hatched a plan. I went to talk to my cluster dean (the dean in charge of the group of dorms in which mine was included) about whether I could go to the tournament despite the closed weekend. I prepared a bunch of information about the event, including the fact that I was playing for a chance to win scholarship money and my successes in previous tournaments. I even cut out pictures of me that happened to have shown up in the coverage for the first Pro Tour back in New York to bring along.
To my great relief, she was sympathetic. She told me that if I could get permission from each of my teachers whose classes I would be missing that I would be able to go to the tournament.
I wasted no time taking my same presentation from teacher to teacher and explaining my situation. Not only did they each give me written permission to be absent from their class, but many of them were excited and supportive, wishing me good luck and asking that I let them know how I did when I came back.
With all of my required permissions in hand, I excitedly contacted my mother, who booked my trip for me right away to avoid flight prices going up, since at the time I was still a sixteen year old kid with no credit card and little in the way of money. The next day, I went back to my cluster dean with all of my signed permission notes from my teachers to get her final sign off.
Which, she told me then, she could not give.
Apparently she had misinterpreted who exactly has the authority to do what in the school hierarchy, and she told me that I would have to speak to the Dean of Studies to get permission, because it was not within her power to do. I was a little frustrated, but confident, because I’d had no problems convincing everyone else I’d talked to about the tournament to let me go.
I went to the Dean of Studies’ office the next day, bringing along the same presentation I had used to convince everyone else, and asked him for permission to leave campus for the tournament that weekend.
But it’s for scholarship money, and it’s an intellectual pursuit, and…
But I’ve already booked my trip, and all of my teachers gave me permission, and…
After attempting to plead my case unsuccessfully for what seemed like forever, and fuming because I was sure the school would look differently if I were traveling for something like athletics or music or anything of the sort, I left the dean’s office and went back to my dorm to call my mom and tell her about this new problem.
Her immediate response was “Well what if you go anyway?”
The moment we got off the phone, she called my cluster dean, and then called me back. She said that she’d asked them exactly what she’d asked me – what would happen if I went without permission – and she was told that there would be serious disciplinary consequences, but that they would likely fall short of expulsion.
So I went.
If only the story ended there. But no, it could not be so simple. When I got back to campus from the tournament, I had to go to what was called a “DC”, or disciplinary committee. In a DC, a student sits down with a number of administrators and another student rep to discuss major rules infractions. In the DC, I found out that I was actually in *more* trouble than I otherwise would be because I had filled out one of the “overnight excuse” forms to tell the head of my dorm that I was leaving. The logic was that by filling out the form I was being deceptive and trying to dupe him into believing that I actually had permission to go when I did not. In my mind, I just wanted to let him know that I was going to be gone, and not to freak out and look for me when I didn’t sign in to the dorms that weekend.
I tried to explain this logical failing in the DC meeting, but the committee would have none of it. I pointed out that I had tried everything within the rules to go to the tournament, and that I clearly had the support of my family since my mother was the one who ultimately suggested I go despite not getting permission, but that did not seem to hold much weight.
In the end, I was put on disciplinary probation – basically the harshest penality short of expulsion that the school handed out. I was “bounded” for a semester, meaning that I wasn’t allowed to leave campus for any reason – even just to walk downtown to CVS – and if I broke any rules for the remainder of my time at the school, no matter how minor, I was in danger of being expelled.
Part of the reasoning for the harshness of the punishment was the “lack of remorse for my actions” that I showed in the disciplinary committee. To this day, I still find that rationale incredibly amusing, because I would go back and do the same thing again. I felt and still feel very strongly then that I was in the right, and that the school administration was being unreasonable.
Ultimately, though, I didn’t get kicked out of school. I made it through the rest of my time at Andover without running afoul of the disciplinary system again, and graduated with honors. I did have to report that I had been on probation on all of my college applications, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that factored into where I was accepted and where I was not. I suppose I could be bitter about that, but I’m incredibly happy with where my life has taken me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Looking back, it’s just a funny story to me now, and I’m grateful for the education and opportunities afforded me by my time at Andover.