The first day of practice is still a week away, but about 400 public school student athletes will get a jump on the season as they attend the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s seventh annual Student-Athlete Leadership Conference Thursday at Gaithersburg High School.
The day-long conference brings together high school athletes from all over the state to learn ways to improve their leadership skills and promote sportsmanship and teamwork when they join their peers at home for the first practice on August 10.
Since its inception, the conference has grown and changed to meet the needs of the student athletes and this year includes workshops on social media, inclusion and healthy lifestyles.
Andy Warner, the MPSSAA executive director who initiated the idea for the first conference, said his staff takes seriously feedback from participants to make sure it is “for student-athletes by student-athletes.”
Participants listen to guest speakers and participate in workshops throughout the day.
“I really hope that our students don’t just learn from this particular day themselves but take their leadership skills and go back and encourage other leaders, pass this on from their junior or senior year to those freshmen and sophomores coming into those roles and really grow the culture of our interscholastic athletic programs as a way for student learning, citizenship growth, giving back to the community and encouraging sportsmanship in their programs,” Warner said.
For the first time, with the help of corporate sponsor Allstate, the conference will include a community service component, something Warner had envisioned from the start.
The athletes will spend a couple of hours packing 1,000 bags with school supplies for nine Title I elementary schools, one from each of the state’s MPSSAA districts.
They will also participate in a session to learn about community service and what it means for them and their teams to give back, Warner said. Then the students will break into nine groups to put together the back-to-school bags.
“I’m really excited about the community service part of it this year,” he said. , “because I think it’s a good learning experience for students.
“Community service really falls under that leadership. You think about these schools. They’re rooted in their community so deeply. We encourage the community to come out and see these students play. People tend to jump on board as they make their way through the playoffs and this is a way to give back to the community who sponsors them and helps them out. I think this is a unique addition to the conference this year.”
Each school can send up to five athletes to the conference and any remaining slots are then opened to any student athlete. This year, 140 schools are sending representatives.
“I’m really glad to see the growth in this conference,” Warner said. “The first year, we still had open slots right before we got to Oakland Mills High School and we’re closing registration slots before the end of the school year now. It’s really grown and it’s something that a lot of our students look forward to participating in.”