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'Success’ Comes in Many Forms in High School Activities

By Robert Gardner and Tom Mezzanotte on March 18, 2015 hst Print

In our sports world in the United States, we generally equate success with winning a championship. While no one would argue with that concept, success in education-based athletics and performing arts activities goes much deeper than winning a state title.

Success also occurs every day on the practice field or in the band room. While winning a state championship is every player’s dream, the real value of high school sports and performing arts is that through these programs, many lives are changed – and in some cases saved.

In education-based activities, success may come in the form of improved self-discipline, better attendance and grades, and developing a direction for life through the help of others. And, in many cases, the key to success for those involved in high school activities is a coach – be it a football or volleyball coach, a speech coach or a band director.

Individuals and teams that win games and state titles, oftentimes are honored with awards or other special recognitions. This is certainly a measurable form of success. There are thousands of coaches, however, who may never win a state title but who are the real heart and soul of education-based activity programs.

One such example is Gina Christopherson, band director at Swanville High School in Minnesota. The article on page 28 of this issue describes how Christopherson went beyond the call of her routine teaching duties to make a difference in the life of one of her students.

Ethan Och, a student at Swanville High School afflicted with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), had decided to quit the concert band because he couldn’t keep up with his classmates. With a teacher’s hectic schedule, it would have been easy for Christopherson to accept his decision and move on with her normal daily challenges.

Christopherson, however, seized this opportunity to make a difference in Ethan’s life. By locating some apps for his iPad and iPhone and using a few more accommodations, Och remained with the band and will be traveling with his classmates to New York this month for a performance. Down the road, Och may look back and see this event as the turning point in his life – thanks to one caring coach and the opportunity that exists through education-based activity programs.

Another success story has unfolded in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Dennis Conner, the football coach at Central High School, has resurrected a dying football program and redirected the lives of many of the team’s players.

Once an athletic powerhouse in the state of Alabama, Central High School has consisted of students from impoverished West Tuscaloosa since a re-zoning in 2003. Academically, the school has finished near the bottom in the state every year, and the football team has recorded only three winning seasons since 2003.

Conner, a former student and football player at Central, seized the opportunity by accepting the position of head football coach in 2010. As the recent feature on ESPN’s Outside the Lines indicated, Conner’s main task has not been teaching football, but teaching the game of life to student-athletes – many of whom were on the brink of disaster. With many of the players not having a father at home, Conner has filled that void in many of his players’ lives.

Conner said, “They can’t say, ‘Coach you don’t know,’ because I do know. You got to make your life better because if you don’t make your life better, no one else will.”

Dr. Clarence Sutton, principal at Central High, said “You have a group of students who are on that borderline, who could go either way. The perception is that they are not going to make it and each year I can see them growing and growing and improving. I’m more excited about that than wins and losses.”

Conner’s focus on academics, values and hard work for the past five years led to success on the playing field this past season as Central recorded a winning season and qualified for the state playoffs.

Like Christopherson and Conner, our goal every day as leaders in education-based activity programs should be to make a difference in the lives of the students in our programs. Thanks for all you do in your school.