- By Dan Veaner
"We always evaluate our sports program," Heck said. "The bottom line of sports is to try to create better kids, better people for the future. We're hoping with this program we can build better relationships with our kids at Lansing so when they move on they're more confident. They're stronger leaders, they manage time better, and they're able to work with their peers."
The program will be administered by Patrick Pidgeon, a M. S. Candidate in Exercise and Sports Sciences concentrating in Sports Psychology at ithaca College. Pidgeon initiated a similar program at Ithaca High School, but said it has been less structured and, at times, rough going. The Lansing High School program will include eight sessions meeting bi-weekly beginning March 9th. It will be supervised by Pidgeon's graduate advisor Dr. Justine Vosloo as well as Heck.
The sessions will be during the 2:15 to 3 period on Mondays. Heck says the sessions are coordinated with Mondays that are typically used for faculty meetings so students will not miss one-on-one student/teacher times.
The focus will be on the students, who will have the opportunity to talk about real situations away from their teachers and coaches, which Heck and Pidgeon hope will encourage them to open up about real problems they are experiencing. They will brainstorm about solutions a leader might implement to solve those real problems, as well as situations they are presented with by Pidgeon and his staff.
"Having Patrick as a younger coach -- he sees things at the college level that need help, a level up from the high school level -- he sees where it could go to," Heck says. "The kids will relate with him. I've seen him work with kids. He's great with kids of all ages. If our students embrace this program I think it will help them become better kids. That's our main focus. We want all our kids to succeed in the future."
Heck notes that team captains are not necessarily chosen because they are good leaders. Typically the captains are seniors who may have excelled in their sport, but that doesn't mean they have the tools to inspire their teammates.
"Some coaches have taken a chance and those kids have really taken off and embraced the team concept," Heck explains. "Some years you have teams that don't connect. It's easy to put it on your senior leaders, but sometimes you have to look at who is the leader of that group of sophomores on the varsity team. Sometimes that is missed -- you don't want to call them a captain because they're not a senior."
Heck says the first step will be to get the coaches engaged. He says he will task each coach with identifying four athletes to participate in the program. That will include coaches with teams playing in the Spring season plus those whose teams play in the Fall and Winter.
"We've seen some districts really struggle with leadership and bullying and hazing," Heck notes. "We don't want to fall into that. We want our kids to make the right choices and be good role models. In a perfect workld we hope it all works. But we know situations will arise in sports and clubs and programs where kids have a different atmosphere. Are we educated to learn from it, deal with it and move forward in a more positive way?"
Heck is already looking forward to extending the program into next school year and beyond. He says he is encouraged that the program received a positive response from school board members Monday. Board Vice President Christine Iacobucci said she was interested in extending the program beyond athletics.
"I respect and admire that you want to open this up not just to athletes. What is the feasibility of doing that?" she asked. "As we're talking about the code of conduct applying to not just athletes but to all extra-curricular clubs and activities how will other students be included?"
Heck says that Pidgeon's focus is on sports psychology, so the plan is to start with student athletes. But he said he can envision the program being opened to all Lansing students.
"In Lansing we hold our athletes to a high standard," he says. "We hold our kids in drama to a high standard, and in music to a high standard. So I think we have a pretty diverse culture in our extra-curricular and core classes. However, we are trying to stay ahead of the game by implementing this leadership program."
Ultimately Heck and Pidgeon say the program could benefit all activities in the district, including academic performance. Pidgeon cited the Ment@l peer tutoring program as an example of how strong student leadership is succeeding in Lansing, and joked that he night steal ideas from that group. Heck says that the leadership program will also be a great opportunity for National Honor Society students to participate as a community service. He notes that some of the athletes are also scouts in leadership programs like Eagle Scouts that could lend ideas and support to this new program.
"This is an opportunity for us to work with athletes and coaches and people in the community to specifically define what you want to see out of your student athletes as they progress through JV and varsity programs," Pidgeon said Monday. "The fantastic thing about working in this capacity in high schools is that its going to ultimately serve to support the educational goals of the program that we're with."