Column: Why we play: The importance of participation

Two of my favorite headlines over the past few years were, “Runner carries injured foe half-mile to help,” and “Wrestler loses match but moves crowd with kind act.” These headlines reflect the character that student athletes in Anoka-Hennepin Schools have developed thanks to parent and family involvement, and the positive role models, mentors and coaches that have played an inspirational role in their lives.

Jeff McGonigal
Jeff McGonigal

Anoka-Hennepin high schools offer comprehensive extracurricular and co-curricular programs for students including math teams, debate, drama, band, choir, clubs, and athletic teams – to name a few. The school board supports these programs and makes participation a high priority.

In many cases, students first become interested and begin participating and honing their skills and talents around these activities at a very young age. A child may have been enrolled in piano lessons at age six. Ice-skating and hockey practice may have started at age five. Each child has his or her own passion. Each family has a story to share about how their path and involvement in extra-curricular activities has shaped their children into who they are today.

Although students may not begin participating in competitive high school teams until grade nine, it’s important to note that in the seven or eight years leading up to high school, students participate in various activities through community education, associations, clubs and other organizations. These opportunities are available to our children thanks to the dedicated individuals who often volunteer their skills, time and energy to manage and coordinate the classes, clinics, clubs, scout troops or recreational teams and leagues.

Parents and members of the community coach and mentor our children through these programs. Youth coaches have the unique opportunity to teach, shape and impact students positively. They may not realize it now, but these coaches are influential well into the future. Character is developed throughout a child’s life and the experiences that children have early in their extra-curricular and academic career are critical. Students develop physical and mental skills that prepare them for conflicts and teamwork when competing in high school sports and later in life. While character is vitally important for the success of high school teams, it cannot be developed only in high school.

Realizing that many of us come together to impact and shape the character of our students at a young age, Anoka-Hennepin School District is teaming with the Anoka-Hennepin Education Foundation and the Minnesota State High School League to host an important coaching workshop, “Why We Play.” High school and middle school coaching staff will participate, but I believe that it is important to extend the invitation to youth coaches from youth athletic associations and organizations in our community as well.

The free workshop is set for Monday, Apr. 14, 5:45-9 p.m. at Coon Rapids High School, 2340 Northdale Blvd., Coon Rapids.

Coaches may register to attend online through Anoka-Hennepin Community Education at<>.

Participants will learn more about standards we hold for high school sports and student athletes of all ages, and techniques for helping children develop character skills that they can use in high school and beyond. We know that youth programs value sportsmanship and respect and we believe that all participants will take away helpful tips. If you are affiliated with a youth program located in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, please talk with your officers to ensure that your organization is represented in this workshop.

Anoka-Hennepin School District is and will continue to be a model for demonstrating character. The goals that we discuss at the Why We Play workshop are just one step in our efforts to work together to maintain that goal. Thank you to all of the dedicated parents, volunteers and community members that give their time, energy and support to children. Your reach is far greater than you may realize and we can’t shape these young learners without your help.

Jeff McGonigal is the associate superintendent for high schools for the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

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