Truckee, North Tahoe Athlete Committed programs making a difference
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Fact: 79 percent of Truckee Tahoe Unified School District athletes report that athletes use alcohol or drugs during their sports season, according to the TTUSD.
Fact: 77 percent of the school district’s athletes report that there are negative effects on team morale when athletes on their team use alcohol and drugs.
Fact: 52 percent of those same athletes report that it is difficult to find parties in the area where drugs and alcohol are not available.
Fact: Truckee and North Tahoe high schools are actively seeking to bring those facts and figures down.
The vehicle used for that mission is the schools district’s Athlete Committed program, which is designed to optimize athletic performance and health and wellness by educating coaches, athletes and parents on the impact of nutrition, sleep, character, stress and chemical health, according to TTUSD.
The national initiative was developed by John Underwood, a former NCAA All-American, international-level distance runner and coach/adviser to more than two-dozen Olympians.
“The premise of the program is to really educate, honor and uphold the athletes that step out of that norm and are being more of a leader on and off the field,” said Renee Farwig-Collins, Athlete Committed coordinator at Truckee High School. “And you got to walk the walk, because it affects everybody. One person who slacks off and drinks is going to affect the entire team — those facts are the things we’re educating the athletes about.”
In a nutshell, Athlete Committed advocates for a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally.
“During your season, your body is your tool; it’s your engine that drives,” Collins continued. “And if you’re not getting enough sleep at night, enough fluids, if you’re not eating well, it’s going to affect everything. Your responsibility is not just to yourself, but everyone else that you’re participating with.”
Further illustrating that point, Collins said studies have found that 54.8 percent of athletes who drink suffer from an injury, compared to 28.3 percent non-drinkers.
What’s more, “one night of binge drinking,” she added, “will erase 14 days of training — 14 days.”
SEEING A DIFFERENCE
First adopted last fall, the school district’s Athlete Committed initiative has yielded an increase in health awareness and, more importantly, a decrease in violations over the past year.
“Last year we had one violation by an athlete,” said Alejo Padilla, assistant principal at North Tahoe, which has an enrollment of roughly 330 students. “We would love to get it to zero violations, and I think Athlete Committed is that program that will get us there.”
Added North Tahoe’s AC coordinator Jessi Ernst: “That does say something, that our athletes are taking it seriously.”
Meanwhile at Truckee, which has an enrollment of roughly 630 students, the athlete violations also saw a significant drop, Collins said.
“By December of last year, I don’t think we had one violation from an athlete, versus 18 or so from the previous year,” she said. “That’s huge.”
Furthermore, with Athlete Committed, those who do receive an infraction have a built-in support system.
“It’s not ‘you blew it; you’re out of here; we never want to see you again,’” Collins said. “It’s ‘let’s redeem this athlete; let’s really support them; what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?’ And that is a really cool part of the program, too.”
Additionally, Collins said she’s noticed a stronger sense of pride and responsibility being thread throughout the fabric of the student body.
“I think it’s making a difference,” she said. “Our youth are the future of our community and they have to know how to take care of themselves — and they have to be way more savvy than we every were.”
ENTERING YEAR NO. 2
Like last year, more than 70 student-athletes — who were nominated by their coaches — across all sports from Truckee and North Tahoe high schools will serve as the team leaders this school year.
“Each athlete,” Collins said, “has to be screened not only for their athletic abilities, but also their integrity, their character, who they are in the classroom, who they are on the field.”
Once nominated, the athlete leaders receive extensive — and continuous — leadership training throughout the year.
And have some fun doing so.
In fact, this past June, all new and returning leaders from both Truckee and North Tahoe got in the leadership swing by partaking in a team-building ropes course session at Granlibakken’s Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park in Tahoe City.
“We wanted to honor, respect, elevate and bring our athletes together,” Collins said. “They had a ball. It was a really positive outcome; the students were thrilled by it.”
After all, the student leaders act not only as representatives of their respective teams, but also their schools and school district as a whole. With that, the leaders were also issued matching black Athlete Committed T-shirts to further unify their schools.
“It’s really cool to see the kids come together,” Ernst said. “It’s kind of a community. They don’t feel like it’s just North Tahoe based; they get to hang out with the Truckee kids, have a good time and make new friends. If they see each other in the community, they automatically have a connection right there.”
Kicking off the program’s second year, next week Truckee and North Tahoe will each hold their fall season “Code Night,” which will focus on the science and research supporting the large role that nutrition, sleep and chemical health play in each student’s athletic and academic success.
All athletes participating in school sports this fall — along with their parent/guardian — and all fall coaches are required to attend.
Truckee’s Code Night will be held Monday, Aug. 29, from 6-8 p.m. at Truckee High, while North Tahoe’s will take place Wednesday, Aug. 31, from 6-8 p.m. at NTHS.
The guest speaker at both events will be Truckee High grad Kara LaPoint, a professional triathlete and mountain biker.
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