Many of Maryland's high school leaders, a collection of student-athletes from high schools across the state, came to Reservoir High on Tuesday to learn about leadership, ride tricycles and get traffic tickets.
Some explanation is probably called for. Tuesday was the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's third annual Student-Athlete Leadership Conference, where students from 134 schools learned about topics ranging from being a captain to nutrition to making smart decisions. The latter is where the tricycles and the traffic tickets came into play.
For the first time, this year's conference featured Allstate's driving simulator, where students could experience virtual driving conditions while attempting to text. The simulation showed the dangers of texting while driving, and many students put their name on a pledge against the practice. Other students rode tricycles while attempting to send text messages.
Addison Abramson, a lacrosse and badminton player from Franklin, left with a ticket, albeit a fake one, for swerving off the road. That's better than Evan Laryea, a senior wrestler and lacrosse player at Millford Mill, who, like others who tried the simulator, committed vehicular manslaughter while distracted.
"We were texting, crashing and killing all these people. It was terrible," said Megan Addison, a junior who plays soccer and lacrosse runs track at Franklin.
Nearby, other students on tricycles struggled to weave through cones with a cell phone in one hand.
"When it comes to being captain, you're supposed to set an example," said one of those tricyclers, Shannon Burt, a senior field hockey player at Hammond. "At times you might have to, say, give someone a ride home, or carpool back and forth to practice, so you don't want to be captain and texting and driving, and that tells them, 'Oh, well she's doing it, so I can do it.' You want to be a leader and show that even though everyone else is doing it, you don't have to do it."
Other sessions dealt with more athletically-themed issues, such as how to lead or how to build team unity. To open the conference, guest speaker Greg Dale, a sports psychologist at Duke, spoke about handling adversity, criticism and pressure. He put the students through a small game to simulate pressure, for example, to demonstrate proper ways of dealing with anxiety or nerves.
The nutrition portion of the program gave students tips to help athletes perform at their peaks. These tips included what to eat and when, proper recovery from a workout and the nutrients that athletes may specifically need.
Each student received a book with typed notes and spaces to write observations, notes from activities or personal goals. The book is one avenue through which the MPSSAA hopes the leaders at the conference will spread lessons learned to their peers.
"The messages of this conference is really to focus on the values that students learn from participating in high school athletics," said Andy Warner, assistant director of the MPSAA, "then also [to] be able to bring that back to their schools and spread some of the message and some of the skills and information that they learned here with the rest of their student athletes."
Students were selected by their own school's administrators, who looked for captains and leaders within the athletic department. Attendance was voluntary, and many sacrificed a day in their summer to improve themselves as athletes and leaders.
"I'm going to be field hockey captain this year," Burt said. "I'm hoping that this will teach me a lot about how to lead my team better and just to make everyone feel comfortable with me being captain, while also sometimes having to put my foot down and still be a part of the team and not be looked upon as I'm trying to be better."