Skim the record books for the past four years of high school soccer, basketball and baseball, and you’ll notice a recurring name. Maybe you notice that the same player who was the top scorer for the boys’ soccer team two years running was also the top scorer on this year’s basketball squad. And that the same player led the 2013 baseball team in stolen bases despite missing half the season with an injury. That he was batting .545 before the injury. That he was captain of all three sports teams this year — make that two years in a row for soccer.
Skim the grade books at the high school and you’ll notice the name again, this time at the top of the class, in the valedictorian spot for the class of 2013.
Who is this Jack Roberts guy?
Jack Roberts, 18, of Oak Bluffs, isn’t the type to tell you himself. His reputation both on the field and in the classroom is that of a quiet leader, fiercely competitive but level-headed, letting the results of his efforts speak for themselves. The record books will attest to his exemplary high school career, but they won’t tell the entire story.
“What people don’t see is all the hard work,” varsity soccer coach Damon Burke said. “He’s an extremely talented person, but he works harder than anybody else, and that’s what I think has been the cornerstone to the success he’s had, athletically and academically.”
Jack began taking advanced placement courses in U.S. history when he was a sophomore. The subject is still his all-time favorite. He added two more APs, plus the first part of AP Spanish as a junior. By senior year, his entire schedule, including Spanish, calculus, statistics, modern European history, physics, was advanced placement, save for honors English. Grade point averages are weighted at the high school, with the maximum possible being a 6.50. Mr. Roberts will graduate with a 6.11.
“I just feel like if I don’t do the best that I can then I’m just letting myself down,” he said.
He was born and raised on the Island, the oldest son of John and Elizabeth Roberts. His younger brother, Timmy, is a sophomore at the high school and also a promising three-sport athlete, and sister Kat is in seventh grade at the West Tisbury School.
A good student in junior high, Jack kicked off his high school career in an inauspicious manner, with a “60 or a 70” on his first English test (the details have faded; such numbers don’t exist anymore).
“I remember kind of freaking out a little bit and telling my parents, that’s not going to happen anymore,” he said. And he moved forward.
“He’s completely got his eye on the ball and knows what he needs to do,” AP statistics teacher Dawne Nelson said. “So focused.” In her class, she said, he’d diligently pursue the right answer, coming back with questions that were helpful for the entire group.
His goals aren’t written down, but they are there nonetheless: “Just up here,” he said, tapping the side of his head. They’re anchors, points on the horizon that grow closer with each hour spent poring over physics textbooks while busing to away games and each trip to the batting cage. He refused to succumb to the dangers of senioritis, working until the last final to maintain his valedictorian status. As a sophomore, he set out to earn conference all-star honors in baseball. He did. As a junior and senior, he aimed the arrow further — all-star nods in all three of his sports. Check, check, check.
“He’ll put the time in and make sure he gets it right,” baseball coach Gary Simmons said. His coaches speak of his commitment and consistency. Jack is always at the front of the pack during wind sprints, always going 100 per cent during practice drills. A lot of people have athletic talent, they say, but not everyone has the drive to make the most of it. Mr. Simmons recalled a baseball game last year when Jack pitched a com
plete game against league rival Bishop Feehan, on virtually no notice. Though a hard-throwing, accurate pitcher, Jack is listed as a shortstop.
“He puts his team first,” Mr. Simmons said.
“We put him in the midfield, and one of the things we asked him to do was to try to win the balls in the midfield, win the head balls and things like that,” said Mr. Burke of his soccer career. “In two years, I don’t think he missed a head ball, and this is against bigger players, guys who play for year-round clubs.”
“He knows there’s more that he can do,” said Sam Berlow, volunteer coach for the varsity basketball and baseball teams. Mr. Berlow has been working with Jack for about eight years, ever since his Little League days. “He’s always working on what’s next.”
This past winter, the basketball team went on an extended postseason run, with the season coming to an end at the TD Garden in Boston as they lost 47-50 in the final seconds of the state semifinals to defending state champs Danvers. Jack, who finished his basketball career with over 800 points, scored 12 of the Vineyard’s 47, with seven coming in the last three minutes of the game.
“The next day, he went to the cage to hit baseballs,” Mr. Berlow said. “Those kind of things — that’s just the way Jack is.”
If you’re going to blaze a path to success, it helps if somebody cuts the trail before you, and Jack has had that in spades, a byproduct of playing on varsity teams with older student-athletes since he was a freshman.
“[That] helped formulate who he was going to be,” varsity basketball coach Mike Joyce said. “He got to see how good leadership goes . . . these kids who play hard and love basketball.”
Glancing back just a year into the record books you find Will Stewart, last year’s valedictorian, who is now a sophomore at Harvard. He was, like Jack, a multi-year starter on both basketball and baseball, and captained both teams his senior year.
“I wanted to, in a way, follow in his footsteps; he kind of set the bar for me,” Jack said. “Especially in academics, but also athletics.”
These days, it’s Jack who sets the bar — younger athletes on the teams “all want to be like Jack,” Mr. Berlow said. “[He’s] now laid that down for the next generation.”
Jack considered Harvard as well as Dartmouth as possible college choices. He will attend Williams College in the fall, ultimately opting for the smaller school and smaller student-teacher ratio, and the Division Three baseball team. Before he suits up as a shortstop for the Ephs, though, he’ll return to the field behind the high school for a summer with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. He took batting practice with the Sharks last year and is the team’s roster exception to signing players straight out of high school.
“I think that playing for the Sharks is going to be a good kind of setup for going to Williams, just to get a jump start on what I’m going to be seeing,” he said of the transition to the faster college game.
He plans to major in history and is interested in studying law. He’s grateful for the support and encouragement from his family and coaches in all of his endeavors. “That’s definitely contributed to where I’ve gotten,” he said.
His valedictory speech highlights the achievements of the class of 2013, and the growth of his friends and peers from freshmen to seniors. But he’s hardpressed to elaborate on his own evolution.
“You know, it’s kind of hard for me to judge it,” he said. “But . . . I know coming in as a freshman I had no idea that I would be where I am right now.”
Put that on the record.