“I was not a very athletic kid,” Director of CDS Athletics Tauni Butterfield says. “My middle school and my high school athletic experience was awful.” She remembers being a heavyset child, interested in fitness but brushed aside by her PE teachers, made to hold the rope while the boys in her class climbed it, or to sit on the sidelines with other girls while the boys wrestled.
This can be a familiar scene for students who aren’t deeply competitive and naturally athletic, and it’s these firsthand experiences that drive Butterfield to shape an athletics department around fun, exploration, cooperation, and fitness.
“I don’t want any other person to go through what I went through,” she says. “I wasn’t great, but I enjoyed being part of a team. And so I decided, you know what, I want to be a phys. ed. teacher, because I love it. But I also want to make a difference for kids.”
And make a difference she has. Alongside former Assistant Athletic Director and Athletic Trainer Amanda Matos, the pair shaped Carolina Day Athletics to reflect their personal experiences and their hopes to build a better future for CDS students. Matos, unlike Butterfield, grew up as a highly competitive student athlete. She started playing volleyball at three years old where she lived in Puerto Rico, playing competitively by the age of seven. After moving to Miami with her parents, Matos became involved in club sports and had immense support from athletic trainers. Later in life, a sport-related injury showed Matos the importance of athletic trainers and sports medicine professionals.
These disparate perspectives have helped Matos and Butterfield implement more than just new programs for CDS students, but an entirely new and unique athletic culture. Both directors feel passionate about creating a program around the concept of scholar athletes where academics come before athletics. In service of this goal, Butterfield raised the academic standards for CDS athletes. When a student misses a homework assignment or their GPA drops, Butterfield and Matos are some of the first people to know. Coaches across all sports respect class and homework schedules, as well.
“As far as schools go, we are probably one of the most understanding when it comes to kids missing practices over homework,” Matos explains. But creating scholar athletes is more than just GPAs and privileging homework over training. “We have to see the athlete as a whole,” Matos continues. “And that incorporates all of their mental health, sports medicine, and their academics.”
It’s this kind of philosophy that spurred Butterfield to create seminars, implemented just this year, on proper stretching and nutrition, concussion management, and anxiety. The seminars are open to parents, as well, so they may learn how to best support their student athletes outside of the classroom and off the field.
Matos and Butterfield also recognize that not every student wants to be an athlete, even those who may still be interested in sports and fitness. Noncompetitive sports serve CDS kids who want team play without the competition. Matos’s background has inspired her in her five years at Carolina Day to push the envelope and provide as many opportunities as possible to all interested students. She has created a Sports Management club where students assist coaches in managing competitive teams, a Sports Medicine club where students learn the basics of proper sports-related injury care, and a Sports Media club where students cover competitive games across social media and other digital formats.
Everything about Butterfield’s leadership at CDS is innovative, not least notably because she heads one of the only female-led athletic departments in the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA).
“We just went to a conference, and there were maybe six other women there,” Matos says. “That’s why Tauni is a role model for me. I tell her all the time.” But Butterfield is less focused on herself and much more focused on the students she serves. She thinks with pride of class of ’22 Waker Spence’s signing to play basketball with Montreat College and class of ’24 Lily Everette’s success at petitioning the NCISAA to let her play varsity baseball.
“This is why I do what I do,” Butterfield says. “It’s not like any other thing, and I just love it. I love kids, to see them do what they love and excel at it. My proudest moments are always when I’m fighting to do what’s right for kids.”