It’s 7:15 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, and a group of senior athletes is intently watching a short video about another athlete, Welles Crowther, who played hockey and lacrosse at his New York high school and Division 1 lacrosse at Boston College. Crowther died in the South Tower at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, after risking his life to guide at least 12 people to safety, even though he had the opportunity to leave the building before its collapse.
The video, The Red Bandana, is about Crowther’s role as a leader, a topic that members of the Captain’s Council - a group of 18 fall varsity captains - talks about each week through the sports season.
“It’s about the stamp you put on life,” Athletic Director Gordie McClay said to the group about the video. “It’s all about being a team leader and doing your best at what you do. It’s about your legacy, which will be based on the things you are doing now.”
The weekly leadership program, initiated by McClay - who is also the girls varsity soccer coach - is new this year.
“We want these students to take responsibility for setting the tone throughout the building,” McClay said. “They’re not just sports team leaders, but school-wide leaders. When we get together, we try to develop ideas for a positive culture for the whole school since these are the athletes and leaders that will take the school into the future. As school leaders, they can help keep kids in line, set a standard, and spread the word to do the right thing.”
Assistant Principal for Student Life and head football coach, Bill Kinsherf ‘89, worked with McClay to establish the program and is present at each meeting. “We want to put ownership and responsibility on the students to self-patrol themselves when it comes to wearing the uniform, picking up trash, and expressing sportsmanship on the field,” Kinsherf said. “We’ve always told the kids, ‘you’re leaders,’ but didn’t really teach them how to be one. This program does that.”
The program began at the end of last summer with a four hour workshop where the captains viewed and discussed the video, You Win in the Locker Room First, based on the book of the same name by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith, who was a head coach for the Atlanta Falcons. The book focuses on the 7 C’s: how to create a winning Culture; how to be Contagious in vision, mission, belief and attitude; how to be a Consistent leader in and out of the locker room; how to be a leader who Communicates well; how to Connect communication, collaboration and talent together; how to Commit - especially time-wise; and how to create a culture of Caring. Many of those topics are revisited throughout the seven week program.
Half-way through the season, the results of the program have been impressive. McClay thanked the captains for asking their schoolmates to tuck in their shirts and blouses and stay in dress code. Because he has confidence in them, McClay has asked for their help with new grade 7 and 8 students who are joining the school’s athletic teams.
The request won’t fall on deaf ears, since the council’s members are from a highly selective group. Each captain is approved by the principal, athletic director, dean of students, and of course, their respective team players.
“I’m very proud to be chosen,” said Kaylee Walsh, captain of the girls varsity soccer team. “It’s great that we all get together to share ideas with each other.” She likes the commitment that the captains make to the program. “It really shows that we are totally in this together,” said Walsh, who brings a lot of experience to the group as a four year varsity soccer player. “And it’s really exciting to have people look up to me as a role model. It makes me want to do the best I can.”
Sean LaVallee, captain of the boys varsity football team, also appreciates and lives up to the responsibility of being a part of the program. “It’s great to be a leader knowing that if kids need something, they can come to me, that I am someone they can go to and talk to, that I can help them out,” LaVallee said. Like Walsh, LaVallee knows the school and students well. Since his arrival as a sophomore, he has played on the football team for three years, and is looking forward to finishing his senior year with his third season on both the basketball and lacrosse teams. “Being a transfer student, I never thought I would have had the chance to be a team captain,” LaVallee said. “It really means so much to me to be in the group.”
The weekly part of the program is a pilot program, Kinsherf noted. “We’ve started with the fall team captains, but hope to spread it to other school groups and organizations.”
Meanwhile, the captains are doing their part to help McClay and Kinsherf continue the program into the next season, offering their comments and recommendations to benefit a new group of captains who’ll join them in an ever-growing group of school leaders.