Heritage Middle School has embraced a new approach to their sports teams this year that spelled out their expectations to students before they signed up: Scholar first, athlete second.
Athletic Director Carmen Dobbins has touted the message since last May in conversations with coaches and students, in flyers throughout the building and social media, and in emails to parents. The emphasis on academics and character is central to Heritage’s “Next Level” theme, bringing all parties on the same page as the school builds its athletic program.
The effort has made an impact as participation in fall sports — volleyball, cheer, football, golf and cross country — is up by 20% compared to last year.
Last school year, participation numbers fluctuated throughout various sports teams as students joined, left, and re-joined the programs at the height of the pandemic. Some programs, such as football and cheer, combined seventh- and eighth-graders to have enough students to field a team.
Dobbins noted that some students who attended Westerville Virtual Academy last year hadn’t been acclimated to sports for either an entire year or at all.
The school’s “Next Level” approach hopes to give new energy and a renewed focus on what students’ priority should be on and off the field for the 2021-22 school year and beyond.
“A Next Level athlete means to be on top of your school work,” Dobbins said. “It means to be on top of your behavior. To be on top of your actions in public, being respectful. A Next Level athlete means being the best person you can be.”
Dobbins introduced the concept last spring as she was promoting the fall sports programs — and saw a promising response by students.
Roughly 60 students — more than what Dobbins expected — participated in Heritage’s Next Level Basketball Clinic, a co-ed event where boys and girls could work skills and fundamentals ahead of the winter season.
The uptick in participation in sports has also boosted students’ morale, Dobbins said
“In regards to our Next Level theme, our student athletes know, ‘If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.’”