Pumpkins or Practice? Leadership Means Tough Decisions


Eight years ago, I started teaching the sports leadership class at OES when I was working in Middle School as a Grade 7 P.E. teacher. The big question at the time: How do we intentionally build leaders at OES?

I knew that we already gave our students opportunities to lead as captains of teams, in our classrooms doing collaborative work, and in different clubs, activities, and affinity groups. So much was expected from these leaders. 

The problem was that so few of them were specifically taught the leadership skills needed to lead effectively. So I wondered, where were they learning the specific leadership skills, such as how to have difficult conversations with others, how to maintain composure in tough situations, and how to show genuine empathy for teammates? I felt like this was all happening organically, but without intentionality. 

I believed—and still do—that every student at OES has the potential to be a leader if they are given the opportunity to learn and grow their leadership skills in a focused setting. Sometimes these skills are all the student needs to make them feel empowered to take risks, to speak up, or to show their passion for what they truly love and believe in whether its sports or elsewhere.  

I decided that we needed to do something more intentional to help build the leadership aspect of OES’s Essential Competency skills that we want each student to graduate with: Explore, Connect, Create, Commit, Reflect.  

As a teacher and coach, I was searching for a program that would help me build our own program at OES. No need to reinvent the wheel, I thought.  

I heard from a colleague of mine that the University of Puget Sound (UPS) had just started a sports leadership class for their college-age student-athletes. I contacted them and took a road trip to Tacoma to observe.  

I realized quickly that I could use the same model at OES, holding meetings in the evening after practice, feeding the student-athletes dinner, and spending time together grappling with topics in a real-life setting just as UPS was doing.   

I found a great book that we have been using ever since. The book—Team Captains Leadership Guide by Jeff Jansen—is foundational to the work we do with our Middle and Upper School student-athletes. The book is well-written with 10 solid chapters, covering everything from what type of leader you are (lead by example or vocal leader) to the risks and rewards of being a leader, and also how to commit to something bigger than yourself. 

The book makes for 10 great nights of rich discussion and activities. When I returned home from Tacoma, I launched into teaching sports leadership with every intention of making the class an enjoyable and valuable experience for everyone involved, with the sole purpose to build and empower our students as leaders.   

The class grew in popularity as we took over the Middle School library on Wednesday evenings.  At one point, we had 41 student-athletes in the class.  Since the first year of this program, many student athletes enrolled over and over again as two nights would never be enough for the rich conversations and activities that took place. 

This week, I’ve been wondering if we are still doing enough to create sports leaders, as the question of what it means to be a student-athlete and what sacrifices you must make to be committed to your sport have been at the forefront of the Upper School.  

As it has turned out, the boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball teams are preparing for state with practice on Friday night—the same night as 128 OES Upper School students are heading together as a group to the pumpkin patch for some well-deserved fall fun and camaraderie.  

Many of our student-athletes signed up for the pumpkin patch weeks ago, not knowing that Friday night would be a night of practice as the volleyball team prepared to play Saturday night on the road in the first state game and the soccer boys would be involved in a play-in game to qualify for state. There is understandable disappointment among some of our student-athletes that two very meaningful activities to them happen to be scheduled on the same night.  

Now is the time that the leadership skills we’ve taught and tough conversations will happen as the teams have to decide what is most important in their lives and how committed they are to the groups they have joined. This is a great example of committing to something larger than yourself.  

As I sit here writing this column, knowing both teams will have these difficult discussions tonight at practice, I can only hope that the skills and learning some of our student athletes have taken part in will prevail in the end and that our student-athletes will sacrifice the missing out on some fun at the pumpkin patch for the good of their programs, the role modeling to others, and the legacy they leave behind. 

Two of our multiple sport athletes that graduated from OES and moved on to playing college soccer at Bates (Joann C. ‘19 and Rachel L. ‘19) reached out to me last month to say they were voted as grade representatives of their school's athletics leadership council.

The alums let me know that the leadership work they did at OES prepared them for this honor and that they wouldn’t be where they are without the valuable work we did.  

This is why we do what we do.  Fast forward to 2020-21 where we kept the leadership activity going via Zoom, which was not ideal, but it definitely had its place. 

The class has now morphed into an activity that is held during the school day and is still running strong with 18 participants. The students tell me they really miss the part of sharing a meal and gathering after practice where topics and issues are fresh on their minds and where conversations are less guarded and censored. We may return to the evening structure one day but as of now we are learning and growing together and finding other ways to connect.

Boys’ Varsity Soccer

The weather was not ideal for senior night boys’ soccer!  The wind blew and the rain fell on the players and fans, but that did not dampen their spirits as they celebrated the 11 senior boys. The boys’ got the victory over Horizon Christian 6-0. Connor M. ‘22 knocked in the first two goals, with the first one assisted by Vivek and the second one by Alex C.  Jonathan S. found the back of the net for the third goal assisted by Torben K., then it was time to pass the torch as Tobias K. ‘25 scored off the assist from his brother, Torben. Then it was Ben R.’s turn to find the net, followed by Alex C. off the assist from Torben again.

Eleven senior boys were celebrated this past Monday Night.

Boys’ JV Soccer

It was senior night for JV boys’ soccer, as well, and they took on Portland Adventist Monday night.  Portland Adventist loaded up their team with a handful of seniors to take on the Varks at home. The JV boys battled, ending the game in a tie that felt like a victory over the stacked Portland Adventist team. Final score was 2 to 2 and both OES goals were scored by Lucas O. ‘25 who tied it up in the final minute of the game. This game summed up the entire season. These boys never stopped playing hard until the final whistle all season. These boys pushed each other every day and held each other accountable all while showing a great brotherhood to one another.

JV player Ben K. '25 battling during the PAA game Monday. Photo credit Maddie Evans.

Girls Varsity Soccer

The girls traveled to Trout Lake in Washington Monday night to take on Trout Lake High School, which is new to their league.  The girls came up victorious with a 4-0 shutout and stopped on the way home to grab pizzas in Hood River. The travel experience that the girls have had the opportunity to take part in this year is building great camaraderie on this young team.  

Girls JV Soccer had their Senior night last Friday evening where they honored four seniors. The girls had the most amazing season under the helm of Coach Dennis Chang where he took what could have been a tough season with a slim amount of games and a wide range of soccer experience and was able to mold the group into a cohesive team that had a very enjoyable season.

Girls Varsity Volleyball traveled to Horizon Christian for the district semifinals last Thursday night. They came out slow and lost the first set 11-25. The Varks would not go easily. They took the lead in the second set, 22-21, but could not finish off the hard-hitting Hawks. The Varks would continue to battle, but it wasn’t enough as Horizon finished them off in the third set, as well, 25-18. The number 12 ranked Varks took the weekend off to regroup and get healthy as they awaited their state bid. Wednesday night the bid was received and the Varks are off to number 5 ranked Scio in the first round of the state tournament on Saturday. Game time is 6 p.m. 

OES's girls' varsity volleyball team collecting themselves before their last home match. Photo Maddie Evans.