Ken Cass is the Washoe County School District’s coordinator of athletics and he’s doing all he can to further those goals. So when Dean Whellams of TEAM Elite Sports approached him more than a year ago about putting on a leadership seminar for the district’s top athletic leaders, he warmed quickly to the idea.
“We had tried some other things through the NIAA (Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association) and the school district to promote sportsmanship and they were either not very good programs or too expensive,” Cass said. “This was affordable and we were able to get some grant funding for it. I knew Dean had a great track record and I thought, ‘What a great idea, to get kids throughout the district to come together.’”
So last August, Whellams hosted the first Team Captain Leadership Training, which brought 70 of the school district’s top student-athlete leaders together for a day of leadership and team-building activities. The second annual event was held last Saturday at Wooster High School. Eighty three participants took part in the most recent event.
“Our main objectives for the day are to get kids to create relationships with kids from other schools,” Whellams said. “I’m a firm believer that when you know each other, there’s a higher level of respect when you compete against each other. Secondly, we teach that leadership doesn’t start and end on the practice field or during games. Leaders are leaders all of the time, not some of the time.
“So the day is a series of activities, all process based. We talk about them. They all have objectives.”
Whellams has an impressive resume. His company has done similar seminars for the athletic programs at Arizona State University, Vanderbilt and Kentucky among others.
Each WCSD high school can invite 10-12 student athletes to the event. Athletic directors are asked to select kids of good character who are seen as leaders. Many ADs pick multi-sport athletes in the hopes of, long term, positively influencing the most student-athletes.
Ultimately, the goal of the captain and leadership training is that those who attend will be better able to be good role models for other team members who did not attend. The leaders can help keep tensions from boiling over, help quash hazing occurrences and steer teammates toward positive activities outside of school.
“This event has been incredible in terms of bringing together the student leaders from all 11 or our area high schools and letting them know that even though they might be from another school they have a lot of similarities,” Cass said. “This day gives us the opportunity to help mold the type of leaders in our district that has a zero tolerance for any type of hazing or foul play and at the same time expect sportsmanship from themselves, their teammates and their fans.”
The training consists of a six-hour session, starting at 8 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m. Whellams admitted most kids start the day a little apprehensive, not knowing what to expect, but leave with a new outlook and are excited about the experience.
“When they get there, the enthusiasm may not be super high, but our goal is, through the activities, they get to know each other,” said Whellams, a 1987 Sparks High graduate. “One of the big goals in the program, a key part of the day, is to teach the kids that the stereotypes they have about each other are not true. There are all different types of kids at every school.”
For each of the last two years, Spanish Springs student athletes have led the event in attendance. For last year’s initial event, all 11 Cougar student athletes who got the invite, took part. This past weekend, 11 of 12 SSHS invitees participated.
“This training breaks down barriers,” Spanish Springs athletic director Art Anderson said. “It’s an excellent way to get our student athletes the training to be leaders on and off the field.
“Sometimes, we pick kids to be captains, but don’t train them to be leaders. Sometimes, we neglect doing that. Now, we can provide them with that. I only hear positive things from the kids who attend.”
Charlie Walsh, the long-time athletic administrator at Sparks High, assumes that role at Wooster High as he gears up for the fast-approaching new school year. He was in attendance last weekend and had rave reviews of the event.
“It was awesome. It’s unbelievable what they do with the kids,” he said. “It was a great team-building experience, very motivational. It was way-cool … It was high octane from the minute the kids come in. I truly enjoyed being there.”
He wasn’t the only one.
“I liked it. It was a better experience than I thought it would be,” said Cori Gammon, a basketball and softball athlete, who will be a senior at Reed High. “You weren’t in the bleachers just listening to people talk. It was very active. It gave you a lot of tools for when you go back to school. They told us you have to step out of your comfort zone … You have to realize everyone can have a bad day. Everyone is going through their own issues. They taught us, if you’re nice, you’ll get a better response and give respect to everyone who plays.”
Gammon was one of four Reed High athletes to attend, along with Sierra Hooft, Andi Lee and Hannah Martini. The Rail City’s third high school, Sparks High, was also well represented. Eight Railroader athletes attended.
Different kids took different values away from the experience.
“No matter what you’re doing, you’re always leader,” Spanish Springs junior basketball and tennis athlete Riley Holladay said. “Others are always looking to see how you’ll react. You need to react in a way that will represent you well.
“It will also help me work with officials, how to approach them, to keep my composure.”
Lyndsey Anderson a junior three-sport athlete at Spanish Springs (volleyball, basketball, track) enjoyed her day at the training and took away a few lessons as well.
“It was interesting. There were people I thought before that I probably wouldn’t have liked. But once I got to know them, I realized they were kind of cool,” Anderson said. “This will help us to keep from getting more angry during a game and having bad feelings about the team. They aren’t mean. Things happen by accident in the heat of the game. This helps you realize that.”
And that’s what it’s all about according to Whellams.
“We know athletes have a huge impact on a campus,” he said. “Athletes carry a lot of weight in what the culture of a school is like. Hopefully, this training helps them realize leadership extends far beyond the field of whatever sport they play.”