Two types of leaders exist: Those who lead with direction and those who do so by example.
At last week’s athletic leadership conference in Burlington, six Milton High School student-athletes outlined which category they fell into, and how they could leverage each style. Hosted by the Vermont Athletic Directors Association, the event gathered 272 high school student-athletes from around the state, explained MHS interim athletic director Trevor Wagar.
“They’re learning leadership skills, but it’s more than that,” Wagar said. “It’s a different change of pace of just learning what and how we do things in schools. It’s an educational opportunity with a different face.”
On Monday, Nov. 6, MHS Athletic Leadership Council representatives Haley Raftery, Michael Outama, Katie Desranleau, Carson Bianchi, Bailey Riley and Tatum Shappy participated in four “breakout groups.” Each assigned to different tables with peers from around the state, the high-schoolers learned about captain leadership, ethical dilemmas, overcoming perfectionism and bullying, harassment and hazing.
The latter conversation, led by local sports psychologist Sheila Stawinski, incorporated Milton’s football hazing scandal. According to Raftery, Stawinski’s message enlightened students that MHS is growing past the incident and creating a new persona.
After a 12-hour day at the Sheraton, the Yellowjackets returned to the conference room the next morning to hear two inspirational speakers: Travis Roy and Ed Gerety.
Roy, a former Boston University hockey player, was paralyzed from the neck down 11 seconds into his first game as a Terrier. Founder of the Travis Roy Foundation, he’s now improving the lives of spinal cord injury victims and families through grants and funding research.
“He talked about how sometimes, you can’t choose your challenges, but your challenges choose you,” Outama said.
At age 20, Roy hit his biggest challenge in life, but he found the positives, Desranleau said, which was one of the greatest takeaways.
As leaders, these students push through their own challenges and help their teammates do the same. In a “breathtaking” speech, Roy encouraged students to set goals. If they don’t work out in the end, Desranleau recalled him saying, start over and make new ones. Just like he did.
The biggest challenge in this year’s fall soccer season, the students said, was overcoming injuries. Both the boys and girls saw multiple key players take to the sideline, leaving captains like Outama playing new positions and underclassmen filling greater responsibility. Doing so was a sign of good leadership, Bianchi said.
Also a track star, Bianchi’s goal is to run collegiately. Others expressed interest in club sports, meaning these leadership lessons will carry past high school. Already, they seep off the field, too, Outama explained.
Both on and off the pitch, Outama noted how younger players mimic what they see in their captains, or upperclassmen. This includes behavior, sportsmanship and their will to play.
In an interactive activity last week, the student-athletes explored where they stood on controversial scenarios. What do you do if you catch a teammate partying or vaping? Do you tell your coach, or let the captains confront it? What level of respect should you show coaches and referees?
Students defended their stances, portraying which type of leader they are, be it outspoken or observant.
When Gerety — an internationally recognized keynote speaker and leadership trainer — stepped up to the stage, he used personal experiences and humor to unite the audience. As one, the crowd began talking, moving around and repeatedly chanting, creating an upbeat and interactive environment, Wagar said.
“Love, attitude, respect and positivity, if I could sum it up into four words,” Wagar said of Gerety’s moving speech.
Later, Gerety had each attendee write a letter to someone who influenced him or her. Wagar participated too, penning a note to his cousin. Tears slowly soaked Wagar’s paper, he admitted, showcasing the raw power the keynote speaker and leadership trainer bestowed.
Throughout the conference, Wagar said he had little contact with the six Yellowjackets, furthering their opportunity for mass social networking.
Bianchi said the experience forced them to “put [themselves] out there” and work with varying people and personalities. This is a skill that’ll come in handy post-graduation, the group noted.
The ‘Jackets said the conference encouraged them to foster school spirit among both students and student-athletes.
“You have to take initiative into your own hands and try to involve everyone at your school,” Outama said. “They had this big idea of making everyone matter at your school. And I guess picking out the wallflowers and not being a wallflower yourself.”