ST. CHARLES – As the class period ended Tuesday morning, an excited eighth-grader said to a friend, “That was the fastest class ever!”
That kind of comment is a sure sign that something positive was accomplished. In this case, it was a new kind of class based on the MSHSL’s Why We Play program. Why We Play is an initiative devoted to promoting the educational purpose of sports. It was conceived in 2012 after several Minnesota athletic administrators met for a series of discussions on a book by former NFL player Joe Ehrmann, “InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.”
The concepts of Why We Play normally begin in schools with activities directors. They pass lessons and concepts on to coaches, who then talk with their athletes about them. In St. Charles, the classroom has become a setting for Why We Play.
Scott McCready is the activities director, baseball coach and a math teacher in St. Charles. He has been heavily involved in Why We Play, including during a four-year term on the MSHSL board of directors; he was the board president in 2014-15. He turned Why We Play into a class this year, teaching all the eighth graders in four nine-week courses.
With an opportunity to add an exploratory course, McCready and principal Ben Bernard decided to teach Why We Play, becoming the first school in Minnesota to do so.
During Tuesday’s class, which ran from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m., the topic was “a mutually accountable work ethic.” As the kids broke down into small discussion groups, McCready said, “Describe to each other what that means. Three minutes … go!”
McCready made a few points to guide the discussion. “If one person picks up trash in the locker room every day and no one else helps, is that mutual accountability? What about a person who’s always late for the bus? Is that being mutually accountable to the team?”
As the discussion time ended, each group announced what they talked about, with points like …
--“Everybody is responsible for what the team does.”
--“Everybody does an equal amount of work.”
--“If you’re a teammate, you work with your team.”
McCready is a 1986 St. Charles graduate who went to Luther College in Iowa before returning to his hometown to teach and coach. His wife Anne teaches fourth grade.
“In the class we’re kind of piecing things together day by day, week by week,” Scott said later in the day. “With this class, we can’t just gear it towards ‘our team’ because some kids aren’t on a team. But we can generalize it so they can think about how they contribute to their team, which can be their family, a church group, 4H and other things. These things all work in all areas of their lives.”
McCready said teaching the course to eighth-graders is important so the students can bring some of the concepts to their high school teams, whether that be athletics, student council or other endeavors.
The curriculum includes having the students write about what they’re learning. McCready will hang onto their work as a measure of how they feel about their youth team experiences, using that information to help educate parents.
He recently Tweeted something one of the students turned in as part of an assignment. It read, “Society makes teens think that they have to excel in that sport to be in that sport. That’s dumb. Kids should do sports for fun.”
“I’m trying to gather some data for preseason meetings in the future,” he said. “With a sample size of 70 (eighth-grade) kids, I can tell parents, ‘This is what they’re saying about you in the car after their games.’ I can take those snippets, put them together and hand it out to the parents; ‘This is what your kids are telling me. What can we do to make it better for them?’ ”
During Tuesday’s class, the students were asked about the differences between simply being on a team and being a teammate. They wrote their answers on a poster-sized piece of paper in front of the classroom.
Under “On the Team” the responses included “focused on yourself” and “to be on the team means to do something by yourself in the corner.”
Under “Teammate” they wrote: “caring and helpful” … “thrive for common goal” … “help others get better” and “equal amount of chances for others.”
“I’m thrilled to get every kid exposed to this even if they’re not part of a specific program,” McCready said later. “What does it mean to be a good teammate, a good person?”
The effects of the class may not be seen immediately, but there is no hurry in such important matters.
“It might be 10 years from now,” McCready said, “before anybody will come back and say, ‘Hey that was pretty cool.’ ”
It will be well worth the wait.Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn