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Approximately 50 student-athletes from Napa, Vintage and American Canyon high schools met in the Napa High library Wednesday morning for a special event. They were selected by their coaches to participate in the inaugural Student Athlete Leadership Summit.

“The athletic directors and the principals, myself and Damon Wright were thinking, how can we build community and unity among our athletic programs,” Napa Valley Unified School District Athletic Director Jill Stewart. “All three high schools have very unique athletic programs and have great culture and are thriving. But now that we are in a new (Vine Valley Athletic) League and new section, this brings us all together, to have a student-athlete leadership team to show everyone this is Napa Valley Unified Athletics. This is who we are and how we represent ourselves.”

The three-hour summit featured leadership building exercises between the three NVUSD high schools. There was also a presentation by Kaiser Permanente about leadership relating to concussions and injuries.

“It feels really good to know that my coaches and the staff at my school can see the leadership that I try to instill in my team and in people around me at school,” American Canyon senior Haley Konoval said. “It’s awesome that we get to participate in things like this. I really think that creating a good connection between our schools is something we weren’t really able to do in our last league. So that the fact that we are able to do that in this league and get the ball rolling right off the bat is really awesome.”

Each of the student-athletes sat next to one from another school. Football, dance and everything in between were represented at the summit, which was sponsored by the Napa Valley Education Foundation.

“So we started this council last year and I think this year we have been able to move forward with bringing the athletes of our school and other athletes from other schools together to show our pride for our schools,” Napa High sophomore Megan Singer said. “A goal that we have is to show the spirit of our school. We have people from volleyball attend basketball games, cross country go to water polo. We are just trying to bring us all together and support each other.”

Added Vintage sophomore Marie Schaumkel, “We get to learn from other students how they make their team a team and how we make our team. I think it is good for us to go back to our teams and our schools to teach our classmates what we learned.”

Napa High senior Sofia Brandon and Singer were credited by multiple administrators as key players in setting up the event and pushing it forward.

“It is pretty honorable to be a part of this and I am appreciative that they think high enough of me to have me come represent my team at this event,” said American Canyon senior Eddie Byrdsong, whose football team visits Rancho Cotate for a North Coast Section quarterfinal playoff game Monday night. “I feel like it is good to have an open communication between all the schools. We are all learning how to be better leaders so we can pave a road for the people that will come after us.”

Added Jacob Aaron, a sophomore who stars in golf and football for Vintage, “Feels great to be surrounded by all these people in here from our district. Everyone here has a sense of leadership.”

The NVUSD vision statement was in full force on Wednesday. A snippet of that statement was at the heart of the event, reading “NVUSD Athletics is dedicated to offering student-athletes with a rich extra-curricular program that encourages student growth and leadership through team membership and the importance of being part of a team. NVUSD nurtures commitment, loyalty, teamwork, pride, leadership and sportsmanship.”

“What does leadership look like? Leadership is a big word and very broad, and applying that to if you are a captain or not on a team can take your leadership role in a different regard. You can support your teammates, direct your teammates, you can be in communication with your coaches. This is what this council is fostering, liaisons between administrations, coaches, families and students.”

Brandon said her basketball coach at Napa High, Darci Ward, told the group that a student’s voice is the strongest.

“This is our school and we are here for four years. What can we do to make a difference in not just our lives,” Brandon said. “As a senior, the decisions I make this year are not necessarily going to affect me as I am graduating, but they will help future generations of kids at Napa High be successful on the court and have those memories.”

The three high schools have their own captains programs. Napa High started one last year called the Student Athletic Council, American Canyon has the Captain’s Coalition, which has been going on for about six years, and Vintage has a captain’s program that was started within the past two years.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the kids and for all of us to develop leadership from an athletic standpoint as a team leader, and then as a student-athlete on their campus and bring it to their community,” Stewart said. “I think it is tremendous that these kids have the opportunity to build these types of skills.

“I think every student and every person has the ability to lead. We all lead in a different style. You see some captains of teams being super vocal and others leaders that work hard and are silent leaders. They lead by example, and I think bringing together the concussion workshop along with our leaders just makes athletics a safer environment and a positive environment.”

The event started with a presentation from Kaiser Permanente, as three educators went over ways to identify concussions and why it is important for leaders to know the symptoms. More than three million concussions happen every year, and 170,000 athletes are sent to the emergency rooms because of them.

“Our goal is help them. They are the ones on the field and at practice.” Kaiser Permanente representative Carolyn Menard said. “The big mission there is prevention, how we can help a concussion not happen, but sometimes they can’t be prevented.”

Education is a major part of it, said Kaiser Permanente representative Jeffrey Murray.

“Many studies have shown that when you go to the emergency department for a concussion or mild brain traumatic injury, patients who receive more education beforehand on what to expect fare better than the patients who are not educated about it. They don’t receive any different treatment; they are just more educated and are better prepared.”

The stigma of concussions is slowly changing, but still has a long way to go. The presentation went into ways a leader can help on the injury front, making sure their teammates’ safety is a priority.

“If they are aware that something feels off, they should sit it out,” Kaiser Permanente representative Gregory Jackson said. “Pros are doing it, college is doing it, and if we can get the younger ones to do it we can avoid them having a lot of issues later in their life. I think that is going to be the benefit of us giving these educational talks.”

After combined leadership activities, attendees posed for a group photo wearing “Student Athlete Leadership Team” T-shirts. School identity went away and at that point, and all of them were just leaders.

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