You walk down the hall towards the gym and see 20 different athletes staring back at you through their frames. Have you ever wondered the stories behind “The Athletic Wall”? I was able to sit down with both Mr. Gillis, the Athletic Director of Westwood High, and Mr. Mao, the photographer of these pictures, to get the answers behind the pictures students pass in the hall every day.
“The Wall” started back about five or six years years ago and has been a significant part of the athletic program here at Westwood High School since. Mr. Gillis discussed the process of choosing the pictures that make it up on the wall. “We will look for a picture that clearly identifies who an athlete would be and you can see what sport that player is playing,” he said.
Mr. Mao, not only a math teacher here at the high school, but also the photographer for the athletics of Westwood High, described how he got into the hobby of taking pictures. “I just like taking pictures and I enjoy watching sports, so it was a nice thing to do while I was watching sports and it is fun watching the kids do something they like doing and that they’re good at,” he said with enthusiasm. He stopped doing photography for a long time, but when he started teaching again, it was something creative for him to do as well as an artistic outlook.
Although the pictures on this wall may look as if they were in a certain order, Mr. Gillis explained they are not. They are in a completely random order with no particular sequence. However, he did say that he would like to organize them by season in the future to make the sequence more purposeful.
How often are these pictures changed on “The Wall”? According to Mr. Gillis, “Right now it’s probably every couple years. The originals were up there for quite some time and then we kind of got into a process of over the last couple years we’ve been able to change out quite a few of the pictures. We like to have it where if we can get a picture where someone is a Junior, then their picture is up their Junior and Senior year and then we replace it and I give out those posters all the time to whoever they represent.”
Mr. Gillis also touched upon the difficulty of getting each individual picture. “Sometimes we are looking for just a solo picture of one athlete in action trying to do something and sometimes you just can’t do it depending on the sport.” However, Mr. Mao conquered the odds and was able to get a picture of an athlete in action up on “The Wall” representing every single Varsity sport offered at WHS, both boys and girls.
Mr. Gillis spoke of a specific picture currently up there. He said, “Our new ski one that we have up there, I think it is probably Matt Kutzer, to get THAT picture, although for Mao it was a great stroke of luck, it’s just a really clean, cool picture.” These types of pictures are very difficult to capture, yet Mr. Mao expressed his enjoyment taking these pictures and the love he has for taking the action shots.
These pictures are all solely individual pictures with no team pictures to be found. I asked Mr. Gillis why these pictures are only individual pictures and not team pictures. He said, “The focus has been to see who it is and what sport they are playing, but I know we are kind of throwing around some ideas.”
Mr. Mao also discussed this topic of obtaining team pictures. “The group ones would be better, I kind of wish I got better ones, but they are hard to get sometimes. Those reactions shots are really hard because sometimes I’m standing in the wrong place and they will run to the person who scored the goal who is on the far corner, but ya know what I mean, sometimes where I am doesn’t work out as easily.”
You would think Mr. Mao is the one that chooses the pictures that go up on the wall since he is the one taking the pictures, but that is not the case. He stated, “So I don’t actually choose the pictures that go on the wall, the administration does that…” Mr. Bevan and Mr. Gillis go on to Mr. Mao’s website where all of his pictures are held, and closely pick out the pictures they want up on “The Wall.”
“It’s not necessarily the best athlete on each team that gets up on the wall” Mao said on his perspective of the pictures. “For me it should just be a picture depicting that sport. It doesn’t have to be the best athlete that gets up on the wall, I hope that the administration picks it not just based on the athletic ability, but also on the person themselves. You want people that represent everything in a positive manner…”
“The Wall” is clear visual representation of the Athletic program here at Westwood High School because it represents students here and as well as in their community. The athletics here have not only brought the high school multiple championships, but also school spirit and unity.