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'School of Champions' not exclusively athletics

I had an epiphany at a recent School Board committee meeting. To be more honest, I didn't "have" an epiphany as much as I was "handed" one by a concerned citizen. To my horror, I heard that at least some people think when we at the school use the term "School of Champions" we are referring only to top award winners in athletics. That's not at all the case; it's never been the case. But when it comes across as the case to intelligent people, then we have some explaining to do.

When we started the "School of Champions" theme we did so by telling our high school students they could be champions in their chosen areas. At school rallies we honored students who "champion" volunteering their time to be a help to the elderly, the handicapped, and the young. We honored the "champion" who stopped to help a stranded motorist fix a flat tire. We honored those who seldom received the recognition that our musicians, valedictorians, and athletes receive.

To explain further, I will ironically use athletics. On the Sunday following the state wrestling tournament, I was in bad shape physically. My chest hurt, my hip was out of place, my teeth on my right jaw were ground lose, and I had no energy reserves. My husband brought me coffee and said, "What do you expect to feel like after you wrestle each match in the stands?" Physically I was in poor repair but mentally, I was flying high because I saw our students behave as the champions they were coached to be. And by "champion", I am not only referring to the superb ranking as second in the state two years running.

I am specifically referring to our student athletes' behavior in the split second after the heavy weight match of the team finals. The match wasn't one second deep into the history books before our wrestlers, led by the seniors, were out on the mat, surrounding their teammate. They celebrated his stamina and his courage and made it known to him that they deeply respected his performance. An observer might have guessed Perham had just won the state finals. And in at least two categories that probably count more over time than does first place, Perham student athletes were the state champions.

You see, by the end of the tournament, not only were our boys first in the state in terms of grade point average, but also they were first in the hearts of those who supported them. They earned that spot because of their behavior throughout the years, the season, and specifically at the end of that last match. In the moment when the team gathered around their heavyweight and celebrated him for the champion he was, it was evident to me (the lone individual in the Excel Center who may have gotten "knows-the-least-about-wrestling first place trophy"), it was clear to me that our extra-curricular programs are focused on the right things. Our boys displayed as much character as any parent, coach, activities director, superintendent, School Board, or community might hope for.

And while I am never quite comfortable with the word "proud", our wrestlers actions made me cognizant that our school and our school's programs are doing the right things well. Together with the help of a supportive community, we build champions one kid at a time. Over time, those championship events may include the occasional trophy but they are not about the trophy. They really are about something far more valuable in the present and in the future: experience, character, and showing care for others.

You will never hear this school district apologize for excellence whether it's on the stage, mat, court, or classroom. But we really do mean more than first place athletic trophies when we say "School of Champions". Maybe Winston Churchill defined our term when he said, "Success isn't final. Failure isn't fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts."

We will do our best over the next few months to share with you what "School of Champions" means to us. It is going to continue to take all of us working together to create for students those championship-building experiences that stay focused on the right things. Why bother? Because we believe every child has within him or her the "stuff" to be a champion, and we believe we are responsible to help each child develop it.