How Will HHS’s New Start Times Impact Athletics?

Kate Clark, Claire Sheppard, and Olivia Bratton

New school start times 


Derry Township has announced a new plan for school start times for the 2021-2022 school year. After looking into the benefits of later start times for teenagers, Superintendent Joe McFarland has found that implementing later start times for students at Hershey High School (HHS) and Hershey Middle School (HMS) will be beneficial for students.

With this knowledge, McFarland’s current plan, though subject to change, is to have HHS and HMS’s school days begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m., while the elementary school and Early Childhood Center’s school days will begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m.. 

The new start times have sparked concerns about student athletes. Community members wonder whether or not students will be required to miss class for their practices and games. Regarding this concern, McFarland has discussed potentially having an “Athletic PE” class, which would be a gym class schedule for athletes at the end of the school day. During Athletic PE, athletes would be able to leave class for their athletics and not be required to make anything up. 

The fundamental reason for these new start times is to analyze the research and better match the sleeping patterns of students.

HHS Athletic Director, Scott Govern said he has doubts. After hearing about the change in August, Govern said his first thought was students won’t go to bed earlier.

“They will still get the same amount of sleep, it doesn’t matter if they go to bed and wake up an hour later than our typical schedule. It still won’t change anything,” said Govern. 

Govern has spoken with other coaches and athletic directors from school districts that start later. After speaking with  State Colleges’ Golf Coach, Greg Wilson, it was very clear to Govern that the plan has flaws. 

“Studies say that it’s positive, but I don’t buy it,” says Govern. Govern said several coaches have already shown concerns and are questioning whether a morning practice would solve this problem. Despite these growing questions, Govern claims that the School Board said morning practices would defeat the purpose of the late start times.

As Govern and the athletic coaches struggle to find a solution, he said if after school practices were shortened that “our athletes would be falling behind in their overall performance.” Govern said DTSD would be at the other teams’ mercy if we lessened the hours of after school practice. 

However, the later students are let out of school, the more school athletes will miss when they leave for away games. Eventually, this will put more stress on athletes that have to makeup all of the work they’re missing to participate in a sport.

In addition to the athletes’ stress, Govern has shown concerns for the coaches as well, specifically regarding their personal life at home. “Younger coaches have families they want to see after practice, and coaches that don’t even live in the district will have a longer commute during rush hour, making them get home even later.” 

In the midst of all of these problems for athletes and coaches, Govern has a life at home, and his schedule is going to go through major changes as well.

“My family is not going to be happy. My son is a junior,” said Govern.” I will rarely see him by the time I get home, and my wife won’t be happy either. This will just make my days even longer, and it gives me less of a reason to agree with this decision.”

In the scheme of it all, HHS has test scores that are top 10 percent in the country. Mechanicsburg and State College both implemented later start times. But neither schools have given us a reason to think Hershey needs to do the same, and Govern agrees along with the rest of the athletes and coaches.

“Why us? Why change it now?” said Govern, “It’s just not my thing. We are different than other schools.”


Impact on athletes

While starting school an hour later has many proven health benefits for teenagers, there are concerns surrounding sports practices and how they could potentially affect a student’s daily life and sleep schedule. HHS students have different opinions about the decision, and they have been considering how it could affect their days and nights as a student athlete.  

Sophomore Julia Zakovitch plays varsity basketball and softball for HHS. Zakovitch said the later start times will cause her to go to bed later. Being someone who likes to go to bed early on school nights, Zakovitch said she will particularly be affected by a change in sleep schedule; she will be up later doing her homework after late practices and games.

Zakovitch also values free time to go home and rest before a night game, something that will most likely have to be sacrificed when school times are pushed back. 

“I think it is good to go home before a game,” Zakovitch said, “so that you can clear your mind after school and just chill until you have to leave again.” 

Zakovitch also brings up the point that students would potentially miss two class periods instead of just one on the days teams leave school early to attend their away games. This would mean students would miss more class; therefore, they would have a greater amount of work to complete at home. She also wonders if coaches would need to implement morning practices, specifically for sports that have to share practice facilities, such as girls and boys basketball. 

Besides Zakovitch’s athletic life being affected, she said her home life will also face change. The students attending Hershey Elementary (Kindergarten-fifth grade) will now get released from school at 2:30 p.m., an hour before the middle and high school students. Zakovitch is the oldest of five siblings, so she finds herself in charge of making sure her younger siblings get home from school safely; however, with their school day ending an hour earlier, Zakovitch will be unable to be home with them. 

Zakovitch does not see a great benefit in changing the school start times. 

“If we have later practices, we won’t get the rest we need to do well,” Zakovitch said. 

However, Noah Amato, sophomore lacrosse player, said he believes the new start times may have some advantages to the student-athlete. Amato said students will be able to get the proper amount of sleep by being smart with managing their time. 

Amato also said after a later practice, students will only get to bed an hour or two later, which will not make a noticeable difference in an athlete’s performance. He said other factors go into how an athlete performs such as their diet. He also says it is important they are focused mentally. “Sometimes it just comes down to if the player is feeling on top of his/her game,” Amato said. 

In theory, Amato agrees that pushing back the times would be beneficial. If students work on their time management, they will not go to bed much later than they do now; however, Amato said, “It will not fix anything if kids are still going to bed at one in the morning.” 

HHS fall and winter cheerleader and lacrosse player Lauren Cribbs is a current sophomore. At first, she thought she would like the change because she would get to sleep in an hour later. She then realized that she will be getting home from her practices and games later every night. 

“I already go to bed so late, so I feel like when I have to wake up later I will stay up even later and mess up my sleep schedule,” Cribbs said. She said this will cause her and other student athletes even more stress than they are already feeling. They will be forced to fight being tired in order to complete their school work.

Cribbs also likes having time to go home before games. When she cheers at basketball games, she usually does not have to be back at the high school until 5:30 or 6:00, giving her plenty of time to go home before needing to return. 

“I feel like it’s really nice to be able to go home before a game because I can take that time to sleep, get ready, and if I have homework then I would do that,” Cribbs said. 

Cribbs said she foresees herself being tired at later practices and wanting to go home. 

“As the year advances, it will continue to tire athletes down,” Cribbs said, “with the stress of school and athletics, it will be nearly impossible to get the sleep you need to be productive at practice the next day.”

When the start times are pushed back, student athletes will be under increased pressure to get to bed at a decent hour while keeping up with their school work and sports practices.


Impact on coaches:

Transitioning to a later start time not only affects the students and athletes in question, but also the staff that accompanies them. Many athletic coaches dedicate a lot of time and effort into their teams during the school year. With the new time adjustments to Hershey’s school day, the HHS coaches’ schedules will certainly be affected also. 

HHS girls softball head coach and physical education teacher  Jessica Intrieri views the later school start times as detrimental to valuable family time. With a new baby as an addition to her family, Intrieri questions whether the later times will prevent her from being able to coach.

On the other hand, the girls cheerleading coach, Kimberly West, only sees benefits in the adjusted schedule. For her personal life, West is grateful for the extra hour of sleep before she wakes up to go to the gym prior to the start of her school days.

She also believes her students and cheerleaders will benefit from the adjusted times as well. West believes that in all circumstances more sleep is always advantageous. 

As for the future of the cheerleading team, Coach West is open to having practices before school. In reference to before school practices, West said, “I feel like kids will be mad and annoyed at first, but they will have so much more time after school. I think it’ll be difficult for coaches who don’t have practices in the morning.”

Ronald Moore, the head girls basketball coach and assistant girls volleyball coach, shares his concerns regarding how the adjusted schedule will affect his team. Like many other coaches and members of the district, Moore raises the question as to how the athletes will be able to handle missing more school time in order to participate in athletics. 

Moore said, “My initial impression was to consider how this would affect athletics. In particular, I was very concerned about the athletic start times remaining the same and resulting in less time for athletes to focus on their academics.”

He also foresees the new start times taking time away from his own family life, and he believes the district should consider this result. 

Despite the flaws in a later school start time, Coach Moore does acknowledge the benefits that more sleep can have on athletes. Moore said, “Sleep is paramount in terms of athlete recovery.  More sleep increases player performance in game and practice.”


More Information:

There is a page on the Derry Township District website that is dedicated to providing information regarding the proposed later school start times. The page includes multiple research sites, reports, and news articles pertaining to the effects of later start times, as well as upcoming events where the plan will be discussed in the community.

A School Start Time Committee Forum will take place on March 25, at 7 p.m. in the Hershey High School Large Group Instruction (LGI) Room. The forum is open to all district members and will include a presentation from Dr. Amy Wolfson, a professor of Psychology at Loyola University and a devoted researcher studying sleep during adolescence. Pre-Registration for the event can be found here.

The proposed change will be considered by the school board in April.