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Since 2015, 32 high school student-athletes (16 new ones each year) from every corner of Alabama have gathered in Montgomery. They do not travel there for a championship or an all-star game. In fact, there are no uniforms, helmets, bats, balls or any athletic gear.
No, these student-athletes represent their community in arguably a bigger game than any state final. They attend the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s (AHSAA) annual Student Leadership Conference.
Need for Role Models
According to AHSAA Assistant Director Denise Ainsworth who has worked with the program, along with several other assistant directors since its inception, the idea for a student leadership conference was hatched by AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese.
“We wanted to give student-athletes an opportunity to develop leadership skills they could use with their teams, in their communities and in the future. So, Coach (Savarese) suggested we do a leadership conference.”
To participate, the AHSAA developed the the following criteria:
- Two students are chosen from each of the athletic districts (8) in the state.
- Students must be nominated by their principals.
- Three letters of recommendation are required.
- Only juniors are accepted (2-year commitment) so they can take back what they learned from the conference as seniors in high school and into college.
The event recognizes 32 total student-athlete leaders and is sponsored in part by Alabama Power and the Addiction Prevention Coalition.
Modeling Leadership and Sportsmanship
The focus of each annual conference is leadership and sportsmanship, which are interchangeable.
“Leadership is modeling the right behavior, the correct behavior, the behavior that best demonstrates good morals and integrity; no matter the situation.” Ainsworth explained. “Our kids need to see leaders model being a good citizen. It is treating other people the way you would like to be treated.”
Lessons Learned – Meet Alabama’s Student-Athlete Leaders
After this year’s AHSAA Student Leadership Conference in March, two students were chosen to represent the state of Alabama at a National Student Leadership conference this July in Indianapolis.
Originally from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, Ainsley moved to Hoover her freshman year. She readily admits moving from the North to the South was a culture shock, but loves it down here.
In Pennsylvania she played field hockey, but since that particular sport is not played in Alabama, she traded in her hockey stick for a javelin and shot put.
One of Ainsley’s biggest takeaways from the Leadership Conference came from guest speaker Jack Williams, a former college football coach.
“He had us write down what he called an “I believe” list. It makes you want to develop your brand, to let people see who you truly are. How other people perceive you. He had a slideshow of famous people who made a turn for the worse. It struck me that there are consequences. People really pay attention to you. As a leader, that is really important. You need to be consistent in what you believe and do.”
Ainsley’s career plans? Her father, Stephen Staie works in Hospital Administration. She wants to follow in his footsteps.
There is one thing Richie Hicks told us about Holtville High School. Even though the 4A school is moving up to the 5A classification next year, it feels a lot smaller.
“Basically you know everyone around you – their mom, dad, brother and sister,” said Richie. “It really is a tight community. We are so passionate about our athletics and about the things we believe in. We are so closely connected to one another.”
This past year, Richie played shooting guard for the basketball team, earning himself honorable mention for the All- Elmore County team. In his spare time, he likes to preach at the New Home Missionary Baptist Church when the minister needs a break.
What did Richie learn from the AHSAA Leadership Conference?
“I learned what it actually means to be a leader. What your roles and responsibilities are. A lot of people might take that for granted. They may not understand the significance a leader may have in a community and the way they can influence people. The kinds of influence you can have on your sports team, your church and community. Anyone can be a leader if they demonstrate the right character and personality.”
After high school, Richie wants to play college basketball, it doesn’t matter what division. He also wants to focus on athletic training or some kind of ministry, as long as he gets to help people.
Alabama will be well represented at the National Conference in Indianapolis this summer by Ainsley and Richie. The two of them and the other 30 participants represent Alabama’s best.
Denise Ainsworth concluded, “Our society has lost the art of being civil, and these kids are going to be ones to bring it back. These student-athletes are wonderful examples of students who are making the right choices, care about others and want to change the world for the better. Our member schools and the state of Alabama should be very proud.”
Nominate a Student
Do you know an Alabama high school student-athlete who will be a junior in the 2020-2021 school year? Do you believe they exhibit strong leadership values?
Consider nominating them.The AHSAA wants the best of the best and the opportunity to reach student-athletes who have leadership potential that hasn’t been channeled. Please contact the local school principal or guidance counselor in the fall for further information.
Download the application form – HERE