ELON — June 12 through 15, more than 30 high school students from eight schools met for the Student-Athlete Summer Institute (SASI) at Elon University.
“They were motivated; open-minded; willing to learn,” SASI Director Barb Carlton said in a recent interview. “Attentive when they were really tired.”
The two Yadkin County high schools, Forbush and Starmount, were well-represented.
Forbush was represented by Reece Warfel, Isaac McMillan, Charly McCormick and Kala Doub. Mallory Choplin, a rising senior, returned this year as a junior counselor.
Starmount was represented by rising seniors Josh Houser, Laken Steelman, Garrett Stokes and Emma Sizemore; and rising junior Dalton Oliver. Alli St. John and Alli Jones returned to SASI as rising seniors and as junior counselors.
Students must be juniors or sophomores and must participate in at least two sports.
“They don’t have to be a superstar athletically,” Starmount wrestling and track and field coach David Oliver said. “They are athletes who have very good grades, character.
“A lot of times they are good athletes.”
“Most of the kids who go to this camp … realize there is something greater than their sport,” Carlton said.
Carlton said the camp begins with an overview of what they can get out of the program. “I think there’s always apprehension,” she said. “They’re thinking, ‘Why is this so important?’
“We start talking to them about what they can get out of it. We do a pledge. They pledge to be the best leader they can be.
“We teach them, ‘you’re an athlete, but you are also a leader.’”
The institute addresses issues such as social media, tobacco and alcohol.
An immediate impact
The students, who are broken into groups to throw them in with students from other high schools, spend time in a classroom; do a project at a local nursing home; play games; and participate in team-building exercises.
Carlton said the visit to Twin Lakes Nursing Home involved planting flowers and painting. “They do a lot that first day,” she said. “They jump right into something.”
The favorite part of the four-day program for the participants is a morning spent with children from the local boys and girls clubs. The children get to choose a sport and are mentored by one of the student-athletes in that sport.
“A lot of the students fell in love with some of the kids,” Forbush softball coach Rachel Davis said.
“These little people are excited to be around these high school athletes,” Carlton said. “By the end of the day, they realize, ‘Oh, these kids do look up to us.’”
Even more gratifying, Carlton said, is that some of those same children who came to the camp from those boys and girls clubs are returning now as high school athletes.
Carlton said the service projects show the student-athletes the immediate impact they can have on others.
Another interesting component is for the student-athletes to write a thank you note to someone who made it possible for them to go to the camp. Carlton said many people today don’t remember to thank others or to send thank you notes. “They don’t see it as a value,” she said.
The student-athletes leave the camp with one final assignment — to write up an action plan addressing an issue such as bullying, drugs, or Special Olympics. Carlton said the issue has to be something the student-athletes are passionate about.
‘The light bulbs come on’
“It is such a good thing to take back to their schools,” Davis said. “We keep trying to get other coaches and other schools involved. All it takes is for a coach to go one time.”
The SASI program is supported by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and his open to all high schools — both private and public. Carlton, who has directed the program since it began in 2004, and Yadkin County high schools have been involved since the beginning.
Carlton works full-time for the Alamance-Burlington School District as the lead Drug and Violence Prevention specialist.
“When I was asked to do it, I didn’t know what to think,” Davis said. “It felt like an extension of the school year.
“But you get down there and it’s just a good way to bond and help out.”
Davis, who has stepped down as the softball coach at Forbush, will continue to attend SASI.
Coach Oliver said he also will continue to attend SASI. He said he likes “just having a little input on young people; teaching them leadership skills.
“For Rachel and David, I have very high regard,” Carlton said. “Rachel and David know that everything they do and everything these student-athletes do matters. If you do something in a positive way, people are going to notice.
“As athletes, you are put on a different level. When they hold themselves to a higher standard, people are going to see that.
“[Davis] is one of those coaches who understand kids need to be leaders on and off the field,” she continued. “She lives what she teaches.
“David started out a really quiet guy. But he knows how to have fun. He really pushes the kids out of their comfort zone.”
“You meet these young student-athletes and in four days, you see an impact,” Oliver said. “They become friends on Facebook. They follow each other’s athletic accomplishments.”
“The students don’t realize how much leadership potential they have,” Carlton said. “The light bulbs come on during camp. They realize how much impact they can have in their community. And they have an excitement about it.
“We watch our athletes,” Oliver said. “We see how they lead a team.
“At the end of it,” Oliver said, “it’s not Forbush athletes; it’s not Starmount athletes.
“On the soccer field or on the football field, it’s heated. But there is going to be sportsmanship. I’ve seen it.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or Twitter @elkinareasports.