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MPSSAA student leadership conference set for Tuesday at New Town

By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

3:23 PM EDT, August 8, 2011

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As captain of Westminster's girls basketball team, Beth Mahr knew all about the delicate matters facing a peer leader, so when she had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference for student athletes last summer, she jumped at the chance.

"The kinds of things that go on in school — the partying and the drama between girlfriends and boyfriends or, especially on a girls sports team, the drama between other girls — I think that definitely has a huge impact on the team, and as a captain and just a teammate it's very difficult to try and lead the rest of the team out of that direction," Mahr said.

"I know I learned some things that really helped me at that conference — just how to lead by example and how you don't have to call out a teammate in a negative tone to try and stop that, but a way to do that would be to just lead by example and encourage your teammates otherwise."

On Tuesday, 400 student athletes from 140 schools statewide will hear similar advice at the second annual Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Student-Leadership Conference at New Town High inOwings Mills.

During the day-long event, students will listen to motivational speakers and attend breakout sessions on decision making, team building, driver safety and being better captains. At the end of the day, students will join others from their district to come up with ideas they can put into action to give students a better and smarter athletic experience at their schools.

The idea for the conference came from Andy Warner, assistant director of the MPSAA, who went to student-athlete leadership events at the state level in Delaware and at the national level. Warner said the groups of students who attended those events over two years shaped Maryland's conference.

"The goal of the conference is to develop student leadership skills that enhance sportsmanship, promote teamwork, time management, perspective, inclusion, healthy lifestyle and community service," Warner said.

For Mahr, who graduated in June, the best part of the conference was learning from other students about their experiences and their suggestions.

She created a captains clinic forWestminster that all captains now take before their seasons start.

"The main thing was what it means to be a captain. How it's not about the title or about if you're the leading scorer. It's about how you serve and lead your team and encourage your teammates and be supportive for them instead of showboating it for you," said Mahr, who also attended the national leadership conference last summer.

The captains clinic originated in Howard County with Howard High athletic director Michael Duffy. Students there were already attending mandatory preseason clinics, so those who attended last year's conference came up with another action plan.

They made a video public service announcement with the help of Brian Bassett, of Scholastic Sports Network, featuring students from around Howard County voicing their opinions about what they wish their parents knew about their games. Suggestions included that noise makers are embarrassing, that opponents deserve more respect and that coaches deserve a break. The video, along with a look at last year's conference, are on the MPSSAA website.

Mike Williams, Howard County coordinator of athletics, is one of the biggest proponents of the state conference, which was held for the first time last August at Oakland Mills High School.

"The kids that attend get an opportunity to see how their behavior as a leader impacts others, so they become more cognizant of not only what they say but what they do," Williams said.

"It begins to break down some of the adolescent subculture where kids just go along with what everybody's doing. Sometimes it can be good, but sometimes it can be bad, going to a party and drinking or using drugs or things like spray painting a building, things people will do often because they just really don't think it out. From a lot of different angles, this conference presents these young people with a different perception of reality in terms of these are people that your behavior impacts and you may not know it. I think it's probably as important as anything we do to focus on a conference like this."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com