It’s a word that can have two divergent interpretations.
It can be used to describe one’s goal of reaching happiness, fulfillment and love.
At the same time, it could be viewed as a rather foreboding term that can cause anxiety, stress or chagrin.
It implies a contractual agreement or obligation that allows no excuses but to abide by the exigent demands that seem to lurk in every corner.
This word and all of its contrasting meanings could describe the everyday life of the 400 or so students who make their second home at Western Reserve Academy.
The campus affectionately known simply as Reserve is an institution that has been around for nearly 200 years.
And the boarding school that looks more like a college campus has challenged its students to take a three-syllable, 10-letter word with a variety of interpretations very seriously.
That sometimes frightening word is the same term that can be used for life-changing experiences such as marriage or becoming a parent.
That word is commitment.
If you spend long hours on WRA’s campus, it’s a commitment like few others. And this commitment involves not only the students, but also the teachers, coaches and administrators who value their professional obligations over their personal needs to preserve the proud preparatory school’s rich heritage.
"We have kids who are juggling other sports," Pioneers head girls basketball coach Emily Thews-Baldridge said. "They’re student athletes. Student comes first here as it should. They have demanding course schedules, so if they have to meet with a teacher after class, we try to be understanding and accommodating of that."
In addition to these burdensome academic duties, Reserve’s students are required to play multiple sports.
Much like their peers at other schools, WRA’s coaches encourage their athletes to compete, strive for victories and ultimately, become better people when their high school days reach their conclusion.
However, Reserve’s coaches may get a much better glimpse of their student athletes since they can be found on campus for long hours as well.
"All of our coaches work here, so we see them in so many different facets in life," Thews-Baldridge said. "We’ll work on the basketball nuts and bolts, but it’s about responding to the adversity. It’s about how we carry ourselves when another player goes down."
Thews-Baldridge, who graduated from a similar, but much larger preparatory school at Culver Academy in Indiana, knows all about the rather gargantuan commitment of surviving at a boarding school.
The sixth-year head coach, who has been with the basketball team for the past nine years, teaches Spanish when she’s not holding a clipboard.
When Thews-Baldridge heads to the gymnasium after school, there is no guarantee that all of her players will be pouring out their blood, sweat and tears on the court.
In fact, one of her key players, sophomore guard Jill Reef, is not expected to attend the Pioneers’ next game.
That’s because she has a key role in the school play, "Our Town," which takes place the same evening.
Reef, who played significant minutes in WRA’s 43-34 loss to Garfield Heights Trinity Monday, quickly turned her attention away from basketball to focus on the 1938 Pulitzer-Prize winning metatheatrical three-act play.
"That’s a huge part of Jill’s life," Thews-Baldridge said.
In previous years, Thews-Baldridge’s well-rounded athletes have participated in gatherings that address the most critical topics of diversity and social justices that exist in campuses throughout the country.
"In the past, we’ve had leadership conferences," Thews-Baldridge said. "We haven’t had that this year. This is the first year in four years where we haven’t had a kid at the diversity leadership conference."
Since her players have spent more time with each other than previous years, Thews-Baldridge has preached team unity.
Having players bringing out the best in one another is every coach’s dream. Having players who care and appreciate one another on and off the court is a must if you’re a member of Reserve’s girls basketball team.
"We try to throw in some team-building activities," Thews-Baldridge said. "We had secret sister the first half of the season where they were assigned a different girl and they left them inspirational notes."
Those "inspirational notes" have most likely been needed more than previous seasons.
The Pioneers dropped to 1-12 after Monday’s loss and are dealing with a rather ghastly 10-game losing streak.
Nonetheless, Thews-Baldridge has enjoyed the journey thus far. And the affable head coach has urged her players to appreciate the rather daunting commitment that hopefully, will lead them to happiness, fulfillment and love when they leave the campus for good.
"That’s something we’ve been talking about, especially since we have not been winning games," Thews-Baldridge said. "Go out there and have fun. You play high school basketball one time. It’s such a special time in your life."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.