It seems like Mr. Sundel was always preparing to find his way to Belmont Hill. Hearing about his high school life and college years reminded me of parts of my Belmont Hill life and what a lot of other boys must be experiencing, too. I almost jokingly asked if he had crafted some master plan in elementary school in order to secure a teaching job here, and I would not have been surprised if he whipped out his laptop and showed me the most updated version. Still, the similarities between his path to college and those of other students here at Belmont Hill are striking, and from this first-hand experience, he will make for a superb teacher, coach, and mentor to Belmont Hill boys for years to come.
Mr. Sundel grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, approximately twenty minutes west of Washington D.C. Since his father despised the local D.C. professional teams, Sundel was raised a Philadelphia Eagles fan, growing up in elementary school rooting for the “enemy” in the Eagles-Redskins rivalry. Thankfully, Sundel escaped elementary school alive and continued to attend schools in the local Falls Church public school system up until the end of 9th grade. Always motivated, Mr. Sundel understood hard work was necessary to do well in school: “You’ve got to sit down and study every single day, whether that’s for an hour, two hours, three hours, or however long it takes.”
In his 9th grade year at the public school, Mr. Sundel, academically gifted and bolstered by a terrific work ethic, began thinking about applying out of the school system he had known his entire life. The following fall, still excited for a challenge both academically and athletically, Mr. Sundel enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy, an all-boys school for grades 7-12 in Fork Union, VA.
The transition was certainly not a breeze for Mr. Sundel. Already disciplined, he says his first reaction was “to fight the institution.” He endured many changes and because of the massive transition, “it was a tough first year.” In an entirely new environment, Sundel was alone at a new boarding school, separate from family, all his friends, and his old comfortable existence. “Fork Union forced me to grow up really fast,” Sundel remarked. “It was a place that made you work for every single thing and didn’t hand you anything, whether that was in the classroom, while you were marching, or playing sports.” There were no cell phones allowed, no iPods, and not even Facebook. Mr. Sundel remembers the last night before the sophomore graduation that concluded his first year at Fork Union: “I was getting ready to go to bed and my roommate asked me, ‘Blake, imagine if you woke up tomorrow ready to graduate, and it was the first day of school all over again.’ I don’t think I could have done it, to be honest. Yeah, it was really, really tough.”
Despite his challenging first year, Mr. Sundel looks back on his days at Fork Union with gratitude: “I had to remember I took a gamble going there. While it could be tough, looking back on Fork Union, I’m just so happy I had the chance to go.” Sundel credits his high school for making him who he is today and bettering him in every regard of life. He believes his gamble worked out in every way. Drawing on his experience in high school, Mr. Sundel has some advice to share with the student body here as well: “If it seems like Belmont Hill is a tough place, whether academically, athletically, or socially, it’s a place that will mold you and get you through tough times in life in the future, even if you can’t see that right now.”
While we students are allowed cell phones, aren’t required to shine our shoes daily, and don’t need to march around campus, Belmont Hill, like Fork Union, is an all-boys school with students who take pride in hard work across several facets of school life. Mr. Sundel advises boys to remember the value of Type-B fun (as Mr. Leonardis put it a few weeks ago), activities whose benefits and value will reap in future years, not immediately.
Mr. Sundel is no stranger to intense athletics either, an experience which will help him effectively coach Belmont Hill athletics. He competitively swam and ran track throughout high school, and swimming practices were often ten times a week, some beginning at 4:45 AM in the morning. Sundel also became very involved in a program at Fork Union in which he mentored younger boys in middle school, an activity which lead to his interest in teaching today.
After growing to love Fork Union by the time he graduated valedictorian of his grade, Sundel went on to Harvard University, where he also brought his talents to the Division 1 swimming program. A five-time All-American swimmer, Mr. Sundel swam freestyle and was named Harvard team MVP during his senior year. While a Harvard swimmer, Sundel also began to coach a younger swim team during his summers, in addition to helping mentor students at the Crimson Summer Academy. Possibly his most interesting activity in college, Mr. Sundel reported for Harvard sports, writing articles about Harvard basketball, and conducting profiles on players.
Mr. Sundel’s involvement in mentoring led him to believe he would want to pursue a teaching profession after he graduated college. Last year, after hearing Harvard friends speak highly of Belmont Hill, he applied for a teaching position, enticed by the concept of an all-boys school similar to his alma mater. After receiving, and accepting, a job offer, Sundel now feels very “grateful to Dr. Melvoin and the staff for giving me an opportunity to come to a place like this.”
After about a month, Mr. Sundel loves Belmont Hill, explaining it is a special place for both students to learn and teachers to work. Mr. Sundel teaches Form II English, Af-Am studies, and will take on World Issues in the Spring. In addition to teaching and coaching 4th soccer, Mr. Sundel also works in the Admissions Office and will coach Varsity track in the Spring. “Very happy” at Belmont Hill, Sundel sees himself coaching and teaching for a while. Adept at planning ahead (he’s already learning a sport for retirement), Mr. Sundel’s forecast for his professional future is sure to be accurate. Belmont Hill will be fortunate to enjoy his presence now and in years to come.