Seven student athletes from Alabama’s Opelika High School won recognition from the Alabama High School Athletic Association in July, a testament to the school’s sharp focus on developing character.
Alabama state Senator Tom Whatley presented the students with the AHSAA’s Award of Excellence to recognize their athletic integrity during the 2017-18 school year. Opelika tied with another school for the most students to receive the award, which the AHSAA created this year, the Opelika-Auburn News reports.
“Character education is a big deal in Opelika City School,” principal Farrell Seymore said. “It’s permeated throughout the elementary schools, middle school and high school.”
The awards went to James Dawson, 16, who played football and wrestled; Timothy Scott, a 17-year-old senior wrestler; Bulldog quarterback Cade Blackmon, 17; 15-year-old wide receiver and basketball player Will Beams; Londarius Baldwin, a senior offensive guard; 17-year-old wrestler Cole Lazzari; and Caylin Cumins, a 16-year-old senior wide receiver and basketball player.
“All of these kids are great character kids,” football coach Erik Speakman said. “Everything that they do embodies the awards they’re being presented today. They are great representatives of our entire football program.”
OHS Athletic Director Mike Pugh said the recognition highlights students who excel with “both with their leadership and their academic qualities, as well as athletics.”
The students were grateful and humble.
“I just feel really blessed,” Dawson said. “I thank all my coaches and family for getting me here.”
“I think it’s an honor to get an award for sportsmanship. It really just shows how athletes are brought up and shows how we don’t take things too hard whether we win or lose,” Scott said.
Blackmon said “it’s really a privilege to know someone’s watching and cared enough to nominate me for this award.”
“Our coaches put us in this place to receive this award, and we’re thankful for everyone here,” Baldwin said.
Whatley reflected on his U.S. Army basic training in 1988, when athletes who communicated and motivated others who became the natural leaders, and encouraged students to embrace what they learned at OHS.
“So wherever you go in life, high school athletics has taught you leadership abilities you probably don’t even realize right now,” he said. “And I want to congratulate each one of you for that.”
Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture suggest sports can be a powerful venue for character formation, particularly when it’s grounded in a shared community.
“Spartan and Athenian cultures prescribed different content for character, not least because they had different ideas of the common good,” University of Virginia sociologist and Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Death of Character.”
“In other words, moral cultures and the communities in which they are established provide the reasons, restraints, and incentives for conducting life in one way rather than another.”
The Skills Center, a Florida-based nonprofit, offers an example of how schools and others can meld the focus on building character through sports with developing life skills and academics.
The group offers training, camps, leagues, mentorship, tutoring and other special events like an upcoming “Tampa Bay Youth Sports Expo” to help students succeed in school and life.