Spring 2014
Building Connections

Building Connections

Since 2007, ACL has made an impac t on Campus, in LA and Beyond

by Mel Malmberg

In 2007, when Headmaster Peter Bachmann and Athletics Director Alex Rivera started a conversation about an organization that would emphasize human development in athletics, Rivera was more than intrigued.

“It really resonated with me,” he says. “Back in the old days there had been a Letterman’s Club, but we wanted to transcend that, to create a more inclusive organization that emphasized leadership and service.”

Bachmann tasked Rivera and school consultant Dr. Alan Hedman with creating something bigger than a club: an organization of students and mentors that could distill all the good things about sports and create a way to funnel that back into the campus and community.

Rivera called together a committee of coaches that included Katie Canton, Julie Mejia (then Jaime), Glen Beattie, Todd Frost ’89 and Garrett Ohara ’84. Together they created the philosophy and mission for the Athletic Council on Leadership (ACL): to promote spirit on campus; to help the community by tapping into the special skills of Prep athletes; and to provide speakers who could bring to campus life lessons about what sports do for character. Adult mentors and coaches would guide students. Membership would be open to any Varsity athlete. They hoped that the ACL might raise the profile of athletics on campus and provide a place for athletes to work together outside of their teams.

Building Connections
“On a team, you represent the school, but you might not be involved in the school. Through ACL, we get involved.”    — Stefan Smith ’14

In its first year, the ACL had 15 student-athlete members and a mission. The pilot year laid the foundation for what has become, in just more than five years, a major campus organization that receives 80 to 120 applications for just 27 positions.

Today, candidates must complete a questionnaire, write five essays and provide a recommendation from a coach. They explain how they’ve given back to the community so far and commit to working in one of the ACL’s major project areas. According to Rivera, the time commitment for ACL is about equal to that required for a sport.

“People in outside organizations depend on us,” Rivera says. “We have to show up.”

In addition to the work at La Mascota, students and teachers work and learn at St. Mary’s School, a K-8 institution in Managua. St. Mary’s has a mission and ambition similar to Prep’s, and the relationship includes both countries’ students and faculty in an exchange of mentoring, learning and teaching.

The result: ACL members who are authentically committed to the culture of meaningful service, on and off campus, a culture that is integral to all of Prep’s outreach programs.

Stefan Smith ’14, who plays football and basketball, has been on ACL for three years, and this year he captains the LA Initiative committee.

“On a team, you represent the school, but you might not be involved in the school,” he says. “Through ACL, we get involved.”

Building Connections
“Giving back to the community is vital to keeping a school alive,relevant, growing and meaningful for students.”    — Maya Okomoto ’14

Smith learned a lot his first year on ACL, when he worked with the Prep League to craft a statement of sportsmanlike conduct that is now read before every game.

“Every year, we take ACL one step further, from the Prep League to Augustus Hawkins High School to Nicaragua,” Smith says, a phenomenon he attributes to the fact that athletes are naturally competitive. “In sports, in class, in ACL, we are always looking for better ways to do things.”

Rivera, too, has been looking for ways to improve and expand ACL. Rivera has refined the organization into adult mentors, student captains and four committees (spirit, life lessons, community service and leadership initiatives). He and the other adult mentors carefully nurture long-term relationships with organizations like Special Olympics and the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena. With the adults maintaining the institutional connections, the students are free to focus on their work with passion, power and energy.

And just like ACL itself, its relationships with community organizations have evolved.

When connecting with the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena, Rivera met with Rachel Estrada, its president and CEO.

“I assumed we’d do some after-school activities like basketball or soccer, pickup games and skills clinics,” Rivera says. “But they said they had all of that and asked if we could help with tutoring instead.”

Building Connections

Now ACL members tutor at the Boys & Girls Club twice a week.

Says Estrada: “The Prep kids are really helpful. They’re not just working with our kids to get them to the next grade. They’re building relationships. It makes a huge difference when our kids have someone to talk to, someone to emulate.

“And it’s a two-way street. We are teaching Prep kids empathy, philan-thropy, opening up doors for them. In the larger scheme of things, we are helping all these kids, creating a better future for them all.”

The service doesn’t stop there. On campus, members help with Alumni Sports Day and the new Alumni Family Picnic. They organize pep assemblies, Pack the Place events and recognize an athlete of the month. They bring inspiring speakers to campus and host a celebration for all athletes each season in the gym. The annual Powder Puff game against Mayfield, with proceeds going to a selected charity, has become an intense rivalry as the girls vie for trophies and the boys cheer them on.

Kristen Shum ’11 was among the first members of ACL; she joined as a sophomore basketball player in 2008.

“The ACL was the first organization that gave me the confidence to be a leader,” says the UC Davis junior.

During her second year on ACL, Shum helped put on Prep’s first Powder Puff football game.

“Every member and mentor was there to support the project, and the ACL really allowed me to take an idea and make it happen,” she says. “As a junior, I was still unsure of myself and the idea of starting something like this, but Mr. Rivera and Ms. Jaime (now Mrs. Mejia) encouraged me to take the project on and challenge myself. I’m thrilled that the Powder Puff tradition is still going strong!

“My time on the ACL made me a more confident individual after Prep,” Shum says.

In addition to majoring in psychology and minoring in both professional writing and sexuality studies, she is in her third year as a player on the UCD women’s club rugby team and has been fundraising chair for the team for the last two years.

Building Connections

Today, the ACL is also collaborating with Augustus Hawkins High School in LA to promote sportsmanship and service on both campuses. This summer, in an extension of efforts at the Boys & Girls Club, ACL will help host a weeklong summer camp on Prep’s campus for Boys & Girls Club members. Later in the summer, two ACL members will head to Nicaragua to help teach basketball. ACL also helps with fund-raising for organizations like Pete Carroll’s A Better LA and is working with A World of One’s Own (AWOOO), the group founded by Naomi Hatanaka ’11, to host a June 14 5K walk to raise money for La Mascota Children’s Pediatric Hospital in Nicaragua.

The largest project, and one of the projects that’s been with ACL since the very beginning, is the organization’s role in hosting Special Olympics events on campus in both fall and spring quarters. The events involve the entire ACL, plus a couple of dozen other Prep students, working with hundreds of participants competing in soccer, swimming and basketball.

Maya Okomoto ’14, who plays basketball, says the Special Olympics is her favorite ACL activity.

“You get to really interact with the athletes, connecting through your common passion: sports,” she says. “We see the same kids year after year. And I know I am really helping out, connecting with the community.

“Giving back to the community is vital to keeping a school alive, relevant, growing and meaningful for students.”

The ACL was created to expand the talents and leadership skills of athletes—to give them opportunities to learn by doing. Hedman has seen it with his own eyes, watching Eric Fung ‘14 and Brian Heintz ’14 at the Boys & Girls Club.

“What a beautiful way to learn,” Hedman says of the tutors, as well as their young students. “There is a Chinese proverb: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”

When they began the first steps to found ACL, Bachmann, Hedman and Rivera knew that playing sports is a profound and often transformational learning experience. Players learn from, and move beyond, mistakes; they depend on others and work together; they understand the importance of taking risks.

Hedman explains, “They learn that most things don’t happen by luck; it’s putting in the hard work that creates success.”

As a result of hard work, ACL has a bright future.

Says Hedman, “We’re willing to share our experience with other schools. Other schools are intrigued. When you can share your own learning, that’s validating.”

That sentiment is the epitome of the Idea Lab. As Rivera moves into his new role as the director of athletic initiatives (see page 7), the program and its involvement in the creation of the Prep League Athletic Council (PLAC) has become a model for other schools.

Okamoto says the ACL works because of the collaborative nature of team sports.

“We learn dedication, helping others, time management, self-sacrifice and teamwork,” she says. “We work together for common goals. Not everyone on ACL is a top athlete, but we use people’s best attributes, as organizers, as innovative thinkers.”