Pittsfield and Taconic Athletes Attend Leadership Academy

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Everyone is afraid of something. Leaders conquer that fear.
That was the message about seven dozen Pittsfield and Taconic High School student-ahtletes heard on Friday morning at the Pittsfield Public Schools Student-Athlete Leadership Academy.
Jim Abel, who serves as superintendent at both schools, organized the day-long event at the Boys & Girls Club, hoping to make it the first in a series of workshops for underclassmen who have been identified by coaches, teachers and administrators as potential leaders.
"This group we have here today is the best of the best that Pittsfield High and Taconic have to offer," Abel said. "You've been selected. Your name wasn't pulled out of a hat. It wasn't a popularity contest. It wasn't even necessarily because you're the best athlete.
"You're here because someone in the school saw something in you."
Abel said the schools tried a similar leadership program in the past but it failed to gain momentum. He is hoping this time around to have something more sustainable.
The Leadership Academy's mission statement explains its aim is to help prepare students "to play active roles as leaders on their teams and in their school community."
Abel kicked off the program by inviting sports psychologist and teacher Jeff Levin to facillitate a group discussion focused on motivation.
Levin used humor, music and heartfelt stories from his own life to explore the concept of fear and, more importantly, how to overcome it.
He challenged the students individually to share their dreams and fears in front of the group and put them on the spot to perform tasks as simple as spelling their friends names or as challenging as singing a capella in front of dozens of their peers.
While the varying levels of success or failure in the latter tasks gave everyone a good laugh, Levin kept the conversation focused with more sober reminders of how destructive fear can be.
"I've been to eight funerals for kids aged 20 and under," Levin told the teenagers. "They were all caused by fear."
"I don't want to go to your funeral," he said about an hour later during another sober break in the levity.
"I want you to know what your dreams are and to have the courage to get them."
Later, he planned to lead the boys and girls on a self-evaluation exercise to assess things like their "natural self-confidence" and "innate motivation and drive."
And Levin's was not the only voice the kids heard. The program included a talk from North Adams native and former Major League pitcher Jonah Bayliss.
Abel also used the day to help kickstart a new varsity letter jacket program at the two schools that will increase the visibility for student-athletes. He encouraged the students in the room to think about how their roles as leaders on the field, the court or the track can expand to leadership in the hallways.
"The vibe around the schools -- good or bad -- starts with you," Abel said. "That's a lot of responsbility to put on a 15- or 16-year-old kid. But we're going to help you fill that role."
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