Students, Athletes, Leaders

Emma Caviness, Cori Gillen and Tania Rich at
the NESCL conference.
Courtesy Tania Rich

By Ellen Oliver

Several members of the Nashoba school community attended the New England Student Leadership Conference, held at Stonehill College, to develop and enhance their leadership skills. Amongst the 250 students who attended the July conference, were Tania Rich, athletic director for Nashoba, Stow seniors Cori Gillen and Emma Caviness, and recent graduate Julie Czapkowski, Stow, who attended as part of her role as a Student Advisory member to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“Overall, NESLC was an opportunity to teach student-athletes how to utilize the power of positive influence to become leaders of tomorrow,” explained Rich. “Our Chieftain student-athletes have a huge impact on the climate and culture of Nashoba, fellow students and our communities.”

Organized by the six scholastic athletic associations in New England, interested students had to apply to attend the conference. Caviness said she applied to be a delegate after hearing from friends about the opportunity. “I was first introduced to MIAA and all that they did when I submitted an essay on ‘Girls in Sports’ and won an honorable mention,” she explained.

The four-day conference focused on respect, positive values, perspective, sportsmanship, teamwork, healthy lifestyles, community service and self-evaluation. The attendees worked in small groups and listened to guest speakers who shared inspirational messages, stories of overcoming adversity and using the power of positive influence.

One of the guest speakers was magician Stephen Bargatze, who Gillen said promised to make them laugh and make them cry during his presentation. It was a promise he kept, according to Gillen. “He did perform some magic, and then twisted it into the story of his life. He had a hard life,” she said. “He needed someone to help him, to notice him.” The presentation ended on a positive note with more magic tricks and Gillen said his message resonated with her. “He said as a leader he looks to the person who needs help,” she said. “I have a better idea of leadership now. Things I didn’t notice I will notice. I’ll recognize those kids who need help.”

Caviness said the conference focused on positive values, especially regarding sportsmanship. “Make sure you are inclusive, be respectful, no judgment, stand up for each other,” she said. “Most of the conference was on proposing solutions. As leaders, it’s up to us to not create problems.”

Another emphasis of the conference was about giving back to the community, so all the participants were given community service assignments. Rich, Gillen, and Czapkowski were all assigned to The Farm at Stonehill College, where they spent the day weeding, picking vegetables, and removing a fence. “When we saw our section to weed, it was really big,” said Gillen, but the group of 20 worked together and, using the lessons taught during the conference, developed a plan. “We said let’s get it done in an hour, so we broke down the work and set goals,” she explained.

Caviness spent her community service day at a local school. “We made an assembly line, shared tools. It was like being back in school, helping each other get the work done. ‘Sharing is caring,’” she laughed. “Helping the teacher and giving back was a huge component of the conference.”

As a member of the MIAA Student Advisory Committee, Czapkowski helped facilitate the NESCL, the culmination of her year-long commitment to the committee. During the year, she attended seasonal meetings with the committee, helped facilitate student and captain’s leadership workshops and was chosen to speak at the MIAA Annual meeting last spring to discuss how Nashoba contributed to the community.

For Athletic Director Rich, the takeaway messages had a broad perspective. “The emphasis on being a positive influence has really stuck with me. I plan to focus on our student-athletes being positive influences in and out of school,” she said, adding that the positive role extends to coaches, too. “We all need to strive to be positive role models. Our coaches are not only teaching the skills to become a better athlete, but we are also teaching life lessons through athletics, which is why the MIAA calls high school sports ‘educational athletics.’”

Stow Student Earns Future Leaders Scholarship
On a related note, Nashoba High senior Sammy Gjeltema of Stow was selected as one of six winners statewide to receive a Bay State Games Future Leaders Scholarship. The scholarship has a rigorous application process including a panel interview.
According to a press release issued by the Bay State Games, Gjeltema is “a student athlete in the truest sense of the word. This individual has excelled in the classroom and has made every effort to expand her knowledge through her involvement with academics, athletics and a multitude of community service experiences.” A member of the Nashoba Regional National Honor Society, the release cites Gjeltema’s involvement with the Best Buddies program, adding, “As an athlete she is diligent in her preparation for her sport, on and off the field, and also has gone out of her way to support her fellow athletes.”

Gjeltema plays field hockey for Nashoba and came up through the Strikers field hockey program, started in Stow. She plans to attend Holy Cross after graduation and be part of their field hockey team.

Part of the NESLC was about giving back, so Tania Rich, Julie Czapkowski, and Cori Gillen were part of a community service group who worked at The Farm at Stonehill College. Gillen is third from the left in the back row, Rich is sixth from the left in a white t-shirt and Czapkowski is crouching in front in a white t-shirt.
Courtesy Tania Rich