New program rewards leadership among Elk Grove athletes
Elk Grove High School junior Joey Weber knows what makes a school sports team successful on and off the field.
He points to student leaders who may not be star players, but put in the unseen work to make the team dynamic, such as showing up first to practice, volunteering to set up and take down equipment, and energizing others when morale might be low.
His classmates at Elk Grove agree. Now they are working alongside the school's athletic department to implement and promote a new program that recognizes student athletes for possessing one of six important leadership qualities with gold medallions.
"Being a successful student athlete is not just about scoring the most goals or having the best performance on the field," said 16-year-old Weber, a soccer player. "This program sets goals for athletes outside of athletic accomplishments."
The Grenadiers Athletic Medallion Program identifies student athletes who have one of six key leadership skills -- accountability, commitment, coachability, overcoming adversity, self-discipline and service -- and rewards them with a gold medallion, said Terry Beyna and Jackie Randall, the school's athletic directors.
Beyna and Randall created the program after hearing from schools with similar leadership initiatives at a conference last year. The athletic directors and head coaches identified leadership characteristics that were most important to the school and then rewrote the athletic department's mission statement to better articulate how they can help student athletes achieve their full potential.
"We wanted to find a system to acknowledge and reward the intangible values that our athletes possess or set an expectation for desired actions," said Randall. "Most of what we reward, as a society, is winning and talent, and there's so much more to being a good teammate, athlete and competitor than winning and talent."
The medallion program also dovetails with Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Redefining Ready! initiative that highlights the importance of co-curricular participation as a way to prepare students for success beyond high school.
For example, research from the National Center for Educational Statistics shows extracurricular activities are one of the best investments a school can make to help promote achievement, student engagement and the attitudes and habits that lead to college aspirations and ultimate success.
Starting this fall at Elk Grove, each sport will receive six medallions to award to students chosen by the coaches. The athletic department plans to highlight the recipients on its Twitter account -- @GrenAthletics.
Beyna and Randall believe the medallion program helps narrow the focus on the personal growth opportunities provided by athletics. They also see the program as a proactive tool that will cultivate more student leaders.
"If you reward the good things, those good things are going to grow," said Beyna.
The medallion program was presented to a group of student athletes at a summer leadership retreat this past summer and met with positive feedback. Since then, the school has promoted the program through posters, parent presentations and meetings with student athletic leaders.
At a recent gathering of student athletes, Randall led a group discussion about the medallion program by highlighting one of the qualities -- commitment -- and its importance.
Among the attendees was sophomore Alexa Fontanetta, a cheerleader and softball player, who said the medallions give students something to work toward.
"I think this is important because it gives underclassmen a drive to be leaders," the 15-year-old said. "It helps the whole organization."
Elk Grove senior volleyball player Kevin Braceros said it's important for students to be recognized for their work motivating others and bringing a team together. What's more, he believe the program and its six pillars prepare students for the real world.
"The medallions stress characteristics that are important in real life," said Braceros, 17. "The more you work toward the medallions, the more you benefit in the future."