By Mike Cane Herald Writer
Something is different at Lakewood High School.
You sense it when you walk through the halls and when you talk to coaches and athletes. You see it when you watch the Cougars’ teams practice and compete.
Check the local fall-season team standings and state rankings: Across the board, Lakewood teams are off to a great start this school year.
What is the secret? Did an influx of incredible athletes and hot-shot coaches suddenly boost Lakewood? Did huge facility renovation projects spike interest and enthusiasm?
Nope. The difference is a new attitude.
It started last school year when Matt Blair, Lakewood’s athletic director, and some proactive Cougars coaches talked about revamping sports programs from the inside out. They came up with an ambitious plan: Create higher expectations and develop a culture of excellence.
“We’re talking about not just winning,” the energetic, passionate Blair said in his office the first week of the 2010 school year, “but everything we do and how it affects the community, school, practice, games — all the facets of our program.”
The device Blair and coaches picked to inspire change is a list called Lakewood’s Core Covenants.
It sounds serious, right? It is.
The method is also seriously effective.
Lakewood crafted detailed standards — aka Core Covenants — that go beyond what the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association requires of student-athletes. It’s fairly common for a school district or specific teams to set higher standards. But Lakewood’s approach is unusual because Cougars athletes ultimately decided which values made the final list.
The school-wide list includes four covenant categories: Commitment, Competitiveness, Selflessness and Confidence. For example, an overarching Confidence covenant for athletes is “Positive talk about ALL coaches, athletes and programs.”
In addition to having school-wide core covenants that involve the athletic director, coaches, athletes and parents, each Lakewood team produced its own covenants.
A key step in the process took place at the school in mid-August, when more than 200 Lakewood athletes met with coaches, Blair and Bruce Brown, a nationally recognized speaker, author and former coach. Brown kicked off the event, which Blair dubbed Lakewood’s Summer Athletics Retreat, with an inspirational speech.
Brown pumped up all the students, Lakewood volleyball player Samantha Adams said, and the productive retreat set the tone for the 2010-2011 school year.
“It was high-energy throughout the day. It was amazing,” said Blair, the athletic director.
After Brown’s presentation, athletes met with coaches and came up with sport-specific covenants, developing a framework for what is shaping up to be a special school year and bright future.
“It was a very emotional, energetic, rewarding day from start to finish,” Blair said.
On the field, the results have been impressive. A sampling:
n Lakewood’s 4-1 football team seriously challenged top-ranked Archbishop Murphy (5-0) on Friday and is No. 9 in the Tacoma News Tribune Class 2A rankings.
n On Thursday, the unbeaten Cougars girls soccer team (7-0-1) earned the program’s first-ever win against previously undefeated Archbishop Murphy, ranked No. 46 in the nation.
n Both Lakewood cross country teams are ranked in the state coaches’ 2A top 10 (girls No. 3, boys. No. 10).
n The Cougars volleyball team (5-2) sits in third place in the eight-team Cascade Conference.
Success in terms of wins and losses, however, is only the beginning.
“Ultimately, the goal is not just excellence in our extra-curricular (activities),” Blair said, “but using the outside piece, this culture piece, to affect the culture in the hallway, in the school.”
Adams, the volleyball player, and football player Jacob Micheletti, are both representatives of their respective teams who participated in shaping the Core Covenants. They have both noticed positive changes at school.
“It’s really brought our whole morale up from where it’s been in the past. It’s bringing a whole new enthusiasm to the school,” said Micheletti, who noted a great side effect of the students’ increased pride: Cleaner hallways.
Plenty of students were skeptical at first, Micheletti said.
“Of things we’ve tried in the past, none of it has worked,” he said, but thanks to Blair’s energy and enthusiasm “everybody’s jumping on board.”
Said Blair, “It’s a lot easier to buy into something when you helped create it.”
Last fall numerous Lakewood varsity-team athletes were suspended for attending a Halloween party and violating team rules. Based encouraging changes he has seen, Lakewood football coach Dan Teeter doesn’t expect a repeat of those off-field problems.
“Our players are so committed and have worked so hard,” Teeter wrote in an e-mail, “that I don’t believe we will have to deal with some of the foolish mistakes of the past.”
The core covenants built on a motivational system the football team already had in place, Teeter said, and have done “an outstanding job of uniting the entire athletic program into one that supports each other across the board between all sports. The enthusiasm and school spirit at Lakewood is unlike any year I have ever seen at LHS.”
The covenants elevated expectations and commitment among girls soccer players, according to Lakewood girls soccer coach Jeremiah Wohlgemuth.
The covenants “guided us towards a belief that we’re playing for more than just ourselves and individual accomplishments,” Wohlgemuth wrote in an e-mail, “(and) instead we’re playing for each other, our school and our community and family.”
Mike Cane: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam and follow Cane on Twitter at MikeCaneHerald.