Humans of Harker: The spirit of competition

Giovanni Rofa (12) pushes himself in sports, in academics, and in life


Nina Gee

"I think it's good to have a competitive nature. I don't think it's a good thing to not believe in yourself and to quit easily and not put in the work. I feel like if you think you can do it, you probably can, you just have to put in the work,” Giovanni Rofa (12) said.

Ask anyone at Harker if they know Giovanni “Gio” Rofa (12). Chances are, they’ll describe him as one of three things: a great friend, a star basketball player or someone as hard-working as he is competitive. Naturally, the traits go hand-in-hand. 

“He’s been my teammate for four years now, and what I appreciate most about his friendship on the court is that it’s not always positive, he’s pushing me just as hard as I’m pushing him,” Jack Connors (12), Gio’s friend since freshman year, said. “Just because we’re best friends off the court, when we’re on the court we’re still pushing each other to do our best, and I think that’s out of respect for each other’s game and that’s out of wanting to make each other better.”

You could describe Gio as reserved, even quiet at times. Jack points this out with the stinging precision of a long-time friend.

“I realized he’s so much more complex than he comes off as, and because he’s such a reserved person, you got to really get to know him before you can really judge him,” Jack said.

Let’s start at the beginning. First and foremost, Gio is a basketball player. It’s what he’s known for to many Harker students, as well as the first Harker sport he played coming to the upper school in ninth grade. 

“I like how it’s a team sport, and I really like being the floor general on the court and telling people where to go if they make mistakes and just being a leader,” Gio said. 

It wasn’t always like this. Gio describes a time in sixth grade when he doubted his abilities as a basketball player. It wasn’t until a coach who really believed in him and his abilities persuaded him to keep playing basketball that he really started enjoying it.

I guess I just fell in love with [basketball] then.” Gio said. “That coach really taught me hard work, and the benefits of working hard.”

Coming to Harker in ninth grade, Gio has found similar patronage in head of upper school Butch Keller, who acts not only his academic counselor, but is also his coach for the varsity basketball team. 

“Gio is a passionate teammate,” Mr. Keller said. “He’s a guy I’d like to have at my back.”

Another word that can be used to describe Gio is selfless. As a friend and as a Harker student, Gio is no stranger to sacrifice, making the difficult decision to drop football this year in order to work on his personal growth. His friends know first-hand the results of his kindness and selflessness.

“His loyalty and his dedication to [our] friendship I think is something that also goes a long way,” Jack said. “When you’re hanging out [with Gio], you’re always his top priority.”

He maintains some of that familial part of life in his athlete persona. Teammates will often describe how often he will have their backs once they’re a part of his team. 

“[I like] the family aspect of basketball, how everyone comes together,” he said. “Once you’re put on a team together and you work hard, you work your butt off together, you realize how close you’ve become and it just brings everyone together.”

Gio seems to be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to sports. From basketball to track to football, he’s done it all.

He plays sports seemingly at the drop of a hat, his only goal being to further himself athletically and have fun while doing it. In ninth grade, Gio spontaneously joined the volleyball team despite having never played just to improve his jumping ability.

Freshman year, like, the beginning of basketball season, I went up for a layup and I jumped off one foot, but I made contact with someone else in the air and I just landed on my wrist and broke my wrist,” he said. “So ever since then, I was like, I need to learn how to jump off two feet, so that’s what I focused on.

Gio isn’t one to shy away from competition. In fact, he revels in it. It’s a part of his life’s philosophy.

“I think it’s good to have a competitive nature,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good thing to not believe in yourself and to quit easily and not put in the work. I feel like if you think you can do it, you probably can, you just have to put in the work.”

His drive for competition is a part of why Gio took a liking to track so quickly, despite his first time trying it being sophomore year. There’s something about the individuality of the sport and the “every man for themselves” mindset of it that appeals to him. 

“I just enjoy the competitive nature [of] track,” he said. “It’s an individual sport, which is really different from basketball, and this [was] my first ever time playing an individual sport so I think that was pretty cool.”

Gio’s competitive nature can be both a blessing and a curse, sometimes. As a result of that mindset, he pushes himself a little too much sometimes, to the point of doubt. His friends are a sure-fire way to bring up his mood, though, and he reciprocates by bringing them up as well.

“When I’m with my friends, I feel like all the pressure’s gone,” Gio said. “We rarely talk about academics. It’s always a great time because…it’s different, it’s not like the same thing over and over again.”

Keller, having witnessed it from the beginning, recounts Gio’s growth from a freshman to one of the captains of the varsity basketball team. Resilience is the key word. 

“He’s gone from the little freshman that broke his arm to now he’s the team captain as a senior, and I think the word that I would use with him is he’s become very resilient,” Keller said. “When you’re an athlete, you have to be resilient, but I think he’s really matured that way. When he was younger, he used to really get mad when he made a mistake or not so mad when his teammates made a mistake, but you could see him react and now he’s the guy picking other people up when they make mistakes.”

Gio’s dedication to sports and unbreakable work ethic seem to be the source of his success. It lies even in the simplest of things. For example, at one point, Gio would play basketball in the auxiliary gym from 6:45 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. before school started, just to wake himself up and prepare to face the day.

“I don’t really like doing nothing, I’d rather be active,” he said.

It’s not hard to see that Gio is an active person. He goes out of his way to participate in the sports he enjoys so much, despite attending such an academically rigorous school such as Harker. Still, sports like basketball and track are where he truly shines. 

Over the course of high school, Gio’s growth has been palpable: from a wide-eyed, new-to-Harker freshman, to a capable, reliable leader, he pushes himself to improve in every area, and, most importantly, prioritizes those around him. 

“He does his best whether it’s academics, or sports, or even being a friend,” Keller said.