“Champions are made in the moments we are challenged.”
That was the message Adrienne Bulinski – a former Miss Kansas, former Miss USO and a graduate of the University of Kansas – delivered during the Opening General Session of the NFHS National Student Leadership Summit (NSLS) on July 22.
Bulinski was certainly challenged when at 24 years of age, she sheared her right foot attempting to mount a horse bareback. It was a feat she had previously accomplished but the injury disrupted her career as a singer, dancer and actress.
Now 34, Bulinski can again walk, but not without a few struggles along the way. “I am going to have a good day,” was something she would say to herself every morning while looking at the bathroom mirror but not every day was as sincere as others, she admitted.
“It was neat to listen how she persevered through her own issues and to look at applying that in my life,” said Katie Zabel, a junior at Sanford School, and a student ambassador selected by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA).
“She ultimately decided that what happened to her was the best for her,” said Sami Farrell, a senior at Harrisburg High School who represented the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA). “She said it helped her on her path in life and it led her to where she is today, helping us and teaching us by sharing her story to help us become better leaders.”
From July 22-24, 140 student ambassadors from 34 states and two Canadian provinces, along with 56 adult advisors, came together for the fifth NSLS in Indianapolis. It marked the 12th national conference for high school students sponsored by the NFHS since the inaugural student leadership conference in 2001.
This year’s summit featured ambassadors from four new states and one new Canadian province — New Jersey, Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota and British Columbia.
“This is the only national student leadership summit for athletes and performing arts participants,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports, sanctioning and student services and coordinator of the NSLS. “The NFHS feels these young people have inherent leadership abilities and are future leaders.”
The NSLS focuses on relevant and contemporary issues where students hone their leadership skills and realize the privilege and power of their influence in their school, community and state.
At this year’s summit, presentations by content speakers included: “Perspective and Inclusion,” “Relationship Building and Maintenance,” “Creating a Healthy Culture on Your Team” and “Brain Mapping or (Goal Setting in the 21st Century).”
“I’m a captain for my high school soccer team,” Farrell said. “It was really important for me to be able to learn how to create a better team culture. We were challenged to become more opened minded and confident in what you have to offer. You have to buy into yourself before you can buy into other people in helping them become other leaders. That pushed us all to our boundaries in being uncomfortable.”
On July 23, attendees traveled to Plainfield High School for a Unified Sports Experience with Indiana Special Olympic athletes. Students interacted with athletes by sharing athletic experiences through joint activities and friendly competitions.
“I have never been a part of anything like that before,” Zabel said of the Unified Sports Experience. “I am never going to forget it. I definitely want to do something like that again.”
Farrell’s soccer coach at Harrisburg, Desiree Parmenter, recently won the NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award for Section 5. Parmenter led a program called “Player of the Game” where kids with special needs who are not able to participate with traditional soccer teams can share experiences with her players. Even though Farrell was a part of the program, she said the Unified Sports Experience impacted her greatly.
“That was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me because I loved being able to help people do what I love and share my passion with them,” she said. “It was great to see how the program affected them and how positive they were about it.”
Highlighting the Closing General Session on July 24 was Harvey Alston. Alston energized ambassadors through his message of “Be the Best.”
The NFHS started the NSLS in 2015 after previously hosting the National Student Leadership Conference seven times (2001-03, 2007-10). As the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts, member state associations felt the NFHS should continue its role in developing and nurturing the leadership skills of high school students.
For more information on the NSLS, visit the NFHS website at www.nfhs. org. Click on “Resources,” then “Conferences & Meetings.”
Luke Modrovsky was a 2019 summer intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. He is a senior sports management and communication studies student at Wilkes University in Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania.