Gilbert high school athletes are searching for ways to improve the health of their peers as part of a pilot program targeted at improving character on the sports fields.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association is partnering with the school district and the Arizona Department of Health Services to expand its 2-year-old Pursuing Victory with Honor character education program with a pilot project that allows the children themselves to come up with the solutions.
Issues students said they wanted to address during a recent conference included eating disorders, stress, use of steroids, healthy eating, time management and selfesteem, among other issues they had experienced or wanted to investigate.
"The way some see it, they want to please everybody and their coaches," said junior Maryn Florence, 16, a Gilbert High volleyball player. "They try to be the best and are not keeping their own health in mind."
Sophomore Marie Thompson, 15, said one focus of the pilot project should be giving students a means of decreasing the pressure of balancing academics and athletics. One way would be providing study halls for athletes or teaching time management, she said.
While serious health issues are not predominant, according to the students, some said they had seen evidence of students who were so focused on winning they abused themselves.
"Some kids’ attitude is, they don’t really care about themselves," said sophomore Micah Parker, 15, who is in football, basketball and track at Gilbert High.
Led by at least 10 student representatives each, Gilbert high schools have three weeks to prepare their student-led plans for improving the character and atmosphere of high school athletics, which the association would fund with Department of Health Services tobacco money if approved.
"This is the first time I know of when we say, let’s ask the kids what the problems are and ask them how to fix it," said Rod Huston, a Gilbert High School track coach.
Chuck Schmidt, the association’s assistant executive director, said the statewide accreditation association’s goal is to "bring back the idea of what sports should be: It’s an educational experience."
"These kids are the people we want to be setting tomorrow and changing the culture," said Darren Treasure, the association’s academy director and Arizona State University sports psychology professor. "We’re trying to change the meaning of sports. It’s very hard to swing the pendulum back in a different direction."