Athletes. They're often known for excellence on the field, but also sometimes trouble off the field. This seems to be the case at all levels, even high school (remember powder puff football in the northern suburbs?).
And when those student athletes get into trouble? “There's so many programs for the kids that get in trouble, what about the good kids?” said Ted Robbins, Lincoln-Way West's athletic director. “Let's use what they already have and build upon it so that they can continue to expand that sphere of influence.”
One way he's doing that begins on a Colorado ranch, with the end goal being a positive result back here in the community.
At the end of May, two male athletes from Lincoln-Way West Athletics will travel to the J. Kyle Braid Foundation Ranch for seven days of leadership training; two female athletes will go the following week. Students from Lincoln-Way North also participate in the ranch program.
J. Kyle Braid was a well-liked student athlete whose life was tragically cut short. His parents started the foundation and an asssociated training program in their son's honor.
Junior wrestler and football player Colin Mulroe went to the ranch last year; he was nominated by both coaches to attend.
“It had to be one of the most defining experiences of my life," he said. "It molds you as a person.” Identified by Robbins as quiet and shy, he and others see how Mulroe is now much different, even to Mulroe's own eyes.
“Right after I came back, you could tell by the way I talk to people I was more out going and willing to do things with the school,” said Mulroe, who has since joined student council when before he would've shied away from it.
Hoping for a similar life-changing experience is sophomore track and field athlete Hannah Chesly, who's “expecting to build character in myself and then to come back and give back.” Although this is not her first retreat—she is also part of a group that addresses students that are being confrontational to diffuse the situation—she eager for this somewhat different experience.
“I'm excited to see who I meet there, the other people that were selected, and see how all come together," Chesly said. "And then the activities: how they'll build my character and what I'll come back with.”
Robbins is actually going for the first time later in June, he said, because “I want to see what the secret is. I want to make myself better, not just for myself but also to do more for the kids here at Lincoln-Way West.”
What does all this mean in the end? Those that participate in the program form their own unit that then meets with all the team captains to share what they've learned and expand what they refer to as their “sphere of influence” and, as Robbins put it, “build it within the school.”
Outside of the school, the group is responsible for creating the “competitive food drive” among athletic teams. It was the spring sports competing intially, with more 1,000 items collected, but will expand to other seasons now. Another effort coming from the student athletes is a reading program for elementary students with the high school athletes as mentors.
"Being an athlete is a privilege, not a right," Robbins said. "They're lucky, and these kids really know that, and we want them to give back to the commuinty and espeically influence the younger kids. That's what this program is really about.”
PROVIDENCE CATHOLIC GETS IN ON THE ACTION
Truth, unity and love. Those are the values being emphasized in leadership training that some lucky Providence Catholic High School students are attending.
Over four days in April, six Providence students studied at the Student Augustinian Values Institute. “Augustinian” refers to the specific Catholic Order by which Providence is served.
The program moves among the eight sister schools throughout the U.S. and Canada, and Providence will eventually host the program. Among the six students who attended last year, the first for SAVI, were golfer Dominic Sanfilippo of Tinley Park and soccer player Emily Persicketti of Manhattan.
“We didn't know what we were getting into,” Sanfilippo said. “But once we got there, it was a fantastic time, beyond anything I expected. The comradare and dialogue that we had with all these other kids was just fantastic.”
The dialogue was both fun and serious over the four day event.
“Everybody put themselves out there and we got such great information, sharing ideas," Persicketti said. "It was just surprising that kids our age would be willing to put themselves out there so far.”
And what are they doing with their experience? One idea that they brought back became “Celtic Nation," which brings together students to cheer for teams who don't normally have big student sections. Next on their agenda is to begin making sandwiches in school for Chicago's homeless, as well as starting an aggressive recycling program.
For all the students involved in these leadership programs, the one constant was the lifelong friendships formed over the course of only a week (or less). Not only do they continue to stay in touch on Facebook, but Sanfilippo even told the story of one participant that came to Chicago last summer many months after the program. He and several other participants in the area gathered for days downtown.