Jillian Ryan and Sean Furlong thoroughly enjoyed their first year serving as Student Ambassadors on the NJSIAA Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).
They attended meetings that discussed issues relating to the concerns of high school athletes, broadening their understanding along the way. They also enhanced their own communication and leadership skills, and ultimately shared findings of their work with the adults on the NJSIAA Executive Committee, which could ultimately result in future legislation.
This summer, they’ll be going national.
Jillian, about to conclude her junior year at South Brunswick, and Sean, a current sophomore at Midland Park, have been selected to attend the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) National Student Leadership Summit, set for July 22-24, in Indianapolis.
Jillian and Sean will be joined on the trip by Colleen Maguire, the NJSIAA Director of Finance, who also directs the SAAC program.
According to the NFHS, the summit will be based on a model of discussing and strategizing relevant and contemporary issues affecting today’s student-athletes. Some of the critical goals for the students are to further develop their understanding of positive leadership and to be aware of their influence in their school, community and state.
“I’m so excited to have been selected to go on this trip,” said Jillian, who plays lacrosse at South Brunswick. “When I first applied to be a Student Ambassador, I never could have imagined I would be taking part in a leadership experience with other from across the nation. I’ve also never left the East Coast, so I am excited for Indiana to be the state the breaks that.”
All students attending the summit will room with a representative from another state, and the schedule is loaded with meetings, activities and guest speakers.
One of the events is of particular interest to both of the New Jersey representatives. On the afternoon of July 23, the summit attendees will visit with Special Olympics athletes from Indiana.
“I look forward to working with and getting to know the Indiana Special Olympics athletes,” said Sean, who plays soccer and golf at Midland Park. “My cousin is a New Jersey Special Olympics athlete and my sister attends Villanova University and the student body there hosts the Pennsylvania Special Olympics, so I know how important the program is.”
“I’m so excited for the trip that we’ll be taking to talk with some of Indiana’s Special Olympians,” said Jillian. “I have volunteered for the Special Olympics Summer Games before and it holds a special place in my heart. I also love cheering on our Unified Sports at our high school and the torch run they participate in with police.”
The New Jersey representatives are excited by several other aspects of the trip.
One is that they can bring some of their experiences from the NJSIAA SAAC to the other students from throughout the country.
“It will be exciting to bring our SAAC experiences to other state’s student-athletes,” said Sean. “And to show them they too can have a better understanding of their state’s athletic governing body and have a voice in high school athletics.”
Jillian feels the same way. “I definitely think I will be able to take some of the experiences from the SAAC to the national crowd, and I am very excited to do so,” she said. “Over the last months, I have discussed sports with student athletes, and the differences from school to school. Whether it be how a school manages dividing fields and gym space, time restraints for practicing, or how the transfer rule has impacted different districts, I have come to learn how different every district, school and athlete can be. In the SAAC setting, I have practiced mediating and public speaking and I cannot wait to further my leadership skills at the NFHS National Student Leadership Summit.”
Likewise, both Jillian and Sean are enthused by what they can bring from Indianapolis back to their NJSIAA SAAC colleagues.
“I think the prospect of bringing new ideas and leadership skills back to the SAAC is what I am most looking forward to,” Jillian said. “I am also the 2019-20 Student Council President for my school and captain of my lacrosse team, so I am very excited to bring any new techniques to lead back with me.”
The other aspect of the trip for both is that with college not far off, the entire experience can be invaluable in the entire process of being away from home, meeting new people and engaging in new educational settings.
“I think it will be like a mini college orientation,” Sean said. “Sharing a room with someone new, meeting people, learning skills and forming friend groups. I will be a junior next year, so the college search has definitely begun. It is an overwhelming process, but I hope to find a college that interests me, earn a scholarship and play college golf.”
Jillian feels the same way. “With a year to go until I will be preparing to head off to college, this opportunity could not have come at a better time,” she said. “With the leadership lounge at night and sharing a room during the trip, I am excited to talk to people from across the nation. Just like college, I hope to make friends with people I meet and to learn all about them. Additionally, the communication skills acquired will be great preparation for group work in a college setting, as well as in the workforce.”