South River's Lyndse Hokanson, Poly's Martha Jacobs and Kenwood's Paige Puller returned from this summer's National Federation of State High School Associations Leadership Conference brimming with ideas about what they, as team captains, could do to bring their teams, their schools and their communities closer together.
Their ideas ranged from forming captains clubs in their schools to community service to organizing a statewide leadership conference, but they also learned more about their own individual roles as leaders.
"We didn't realize how much of a difference we make," said Hokanson, a soccer team captain. "But at the same time, it was easy to tell that we were all really excited about getting involved and being good leaders. We really have a full head of steam in getting our state more in tune with the entire nation in producing student-athletes that are more tuned toward being good people rather than just good athletes."
Puller, the only junior among the trio, said she hadn't thought about how many people are watching her when she's on the soccer field.
"We're role models and we don't even know it," she said. "Our teammates have brothers and sisters who go to our games, so say I get fouled and I push a girl back. They see that. We should set an example."
Hokanson, Jacobs and Puller - along with Linganore's Alex Eckard, Westlake's Courtney Jarvis and North East's Josh Yates - were the first Maryland delegation to attend the annual NFHS conference, which included more than 300 students from 33 states and Canada. Over four days in July, they attended workshops, listened to speakers and did community service at the conference in Indianapolis.
Andy Warner, assistant director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, accompanied the students to Indianapolis along with Poly athletic director Tiffany Byrd. Warner got Maryland teens involved after attending an NFHS national conference and the Delaware state conference.
"It fits along with our Respect The Game program and fits with our ideas that athletics isn't just about playing the games," Warner said. "There's more to it. "I think we do have a strong culture with our athletic programs. It's one of your most visible programs in the schools and this could do a lot to really be able to help the schools tie in with the community, to help students become better leaders, to realize their potential and that they can effect change and that there's a real power in the student voice itself."
All three girls are eager to start captains clubs. Hokanson and Puller have planned with their athletic directors to get started during the break between the fall and winter seasons. Jacobs, captain of the swim team, wants to pursue it once her sport gets started.
"We should get to know other captains and learn what they're doing for their teams," Jacobs said, "because I know for swimming, we're just the captains of swimming and we don't get to experience what other teams and captains go through. Maybe we could do a dry-land practice with the track team. Right now, we don't get to experience that togetherness."
The girls, along with the three boys who attended the conference, already have finished updating the MPSSAA Respect the Game Handbook, which includes the student-athlete's Code of Conduct as well as tips for coaches and parents. The handbook is available online at mpssaa.org.
While the girls would like nothing more than to see a Maryland state leadership conference, drawing student-athletes from around the state, they know they likely will have graduated by the time this initiative grows that big.
Said Warner, "I told the kids, 'Think small when you guys are doing action plans for something around school, because the big thing is that you're starting the legacy that can go on from there.' "