When a school has a focus, it succeeds. Oak Ridge succeeds, and its focus? Right where it should be — the students.
At first, it seems the attention of the El Dorado Hills, Calif., high school is focused on athletics. Athletic director Steve White boasts confident programs that seem to always find success. This past year, only one sport did not make it to the playoffs. One. That’s impressive. But with a little digging, it soon becomes apparent that athletics at Oak Ridge serve as the glue that links different populations of students.
With athletics, White feels there is a unique opportunity to bridge gaps within the school. Athletics serve the students, and the students serve athletics.
“We try to involve as many aspects of the school culture as possible,” White said. “We have a sports marketing club made of kids who may not even play sports but write about them, produce video, and take live-action shots. They put together marketing plans for special events and in return develop their skills in business, marketing, producing, etc. We work closely with the band, we have a cheerleading squad — we want to get as many people involved as possible. We make it a community.”
This community, built by students and supported by teachers, coaches, and parents, promotes an environment within Oak Ridge that cultivates learning, expects progression, and embraces forward thinking. Students are given the opportunity to excel not only athletically but academically, musically — wherever they find ambition.
“I want everyone to have a positive experience,” White said. “When the name Oak Ridge is mentioned, I want people to have a positive reaction whether it stems from memories in the performing arts, different clubs, or athletics. I want everyone to have a healthy experience in which they’ve learned life lessons, hard work, and the value of being a part of something special.”
But how are true life lessons taught? To White, sports offer a certain version of life that can be applied to future jobs, relationships, families, and life in general.
“Life is not easy,” he said. “Nor are athletics. Competing at something and persevering when things get tough can be applied beyond the field. In athletics, students get a condensed version of life. Students experience the steady pace of life — the highs and the lows. One thing that’s hard to learn is that hard work doesn’t always pay off. Working hard doesn’t always mean you get to win. There’s a whole team working hard; but if the students apply themselves, they will eventually find their answer. We don’t want to put pressure on winning. We ask our coaches to mold young adults into great citizens and teach them the value of working hard. Winning is a byproduct.”
This philosophy has led to winning results for Oak Ridge, athletically and beyond. However, there are shortcomings with modern trends that sometimes make it difficult to maintain a positive athletic environment. These days, kids have more access to outside influences that have the potential to shape them. Also, kids are beginning youth sports at ever-earlier ages. And not only are they beginning at a younger age, they’re also specializing at a younger age. This adds pressure to a child’s development that could have negative consequences.
Therefore, it’s more important than ever for White to work tirelessly toward a sense of community. The students run the show, the adults facilitate. But they don’t just facilitate — they open their minds and give students the chance to explore projects.
“Last year, we auctioned off a car and one student put together a 15-second commercial, using a drone and following the car through the hills,” White said. “The kids — I shouldn’t say the kids — the young adults, they create the content here. There’s so much talent. If you give students the opportunity to be part of something, they just get better. They build. And that’s what we’re all about: a creative community that keeps building.”