Cherry Creek High School: Elite in Every Aspect — Education and Inclusion for All

Cherry Creek High School: Elite in Every Aspect — Education and Inclusion for All

TMR8 Blog Story

To borrow a phrase, with great power (and size) comes great responsibility. Cherry Creek High School, the largest high school in Colorado, has embraced this mantra for its athletic and academic programs.

Cherry Creek is a juggernaut in athletics and academics not only in Colorado, but the entire country. In 2014, its performing arts department was one of 12 awarded a Grammy, recognizing it for making an outstanding contribution to music. This past year, its broadcasting group was awarded the NFHS Network Elite School in just its second year of existence. Its speech and debate teams are annually ranked in the top 10 of the country, its CyberPatriot team, which competes in science and technology competitions, finished No. 2 in the country last year and its athletic varsity programs averaged a 3.52 GPA over the same span.

Running an athletic program of such large size and expectations is no small feat, so it’s a good thing Jason Wilkins is at the helm as athletic director.

Athletically, Cherry Creek is competitive in each of its 26 varsity programs. The boys tennis program has 41 state team titles to its credit, having won the title all but three times since 1972. The girls tennis team has won state titles 34 times overall and 20 of the last 21.

Everybody gets a chance

Over 300 athletes try out for varsity tennis but only 11 make each varsity squad. Wilkins was adamant that one of the school’s top goals is to provide a place for everyone since they have 2,000 kids (over half of the student body) who go out for athletics.

One of the ways to incorporate so many students is to have multiple levels of competition. The tennis program, for example, offers six.  If a player doesn’t make one of those six levels they are put in “The Ladder” where they play challenge matches in an effort to move up the ladder and make their way onto one of those teams.

“When you offer 26 programs and some of those have three, four, or five levels, it’s not always just about the varsity program,” Wilkins said. “We try to offer a spot for as many kids as possible as well as a good experience to all of our student athletes regardless of if they are a varsity athlete or a backup on the freshman team. We want them to have a great experience and to leave our school with a positive outlook.”

There’s little fun in fundraising

Cherry Creek has booster clubs for most of its programs, but the majority of funds raised through them goes directly to that program, which helps the program but not Wilkins’ general fundraising account. His solution: almost every program hosts a tournament or invitational with the proceeds going directly to the general fundraising account.  It’s a win-win; the program gets notoriety and Wilkins gets money that benefits the entire athletic department. It’s not like the events are a cakewalk for Cherry Creek either, most of them bring in some of the best teams in the state.

“The competition level is high. Teams want to come to our events since they are very well-run and they want good competition,” Wilkins said.

Cherry Creek’s business group, DECA, also runs its school store which sells athletic apparel. With the school’s size and number of athletes, it’s another way for them to raise money which is split between athletics, business, and technology for the school.

Partnering with Eastbay

When Wilkins took the job, he thought Cherry Creek could do a better job branding itself. Eastbay Team Sales provided the opportunity to build and portray an identity that Wilkins was excited about.

“Eastbay has allowed us to have a style guide. Now I can say, ‘here’s the font you use, here are the sizes, here are the logos you can use.’ So we show up or people come to our place and know that it is Cherry Creek,” Wilkins said. “It’s like when you see Ohio State or Michigan, everyone knows their uniforms and colors.”

Cherry Creek is on top of both its academic and the athletic game.  With young programs already earning national recognition and established ones continuing their success, it looks to keep up that level of greatness for years to come.

Craig Campbell: Different Experiences Add Up to New Results

Craig Campbell: Different Experiences Add Up to New Results

TNV7 Blog Story

After coaching high school girls’ basketball for 23 years, Craig Campbell continues to incorporate new experiences into his team’s program.

Campbell, head coach of the Clovis West high school girls’ basketball team in Fresno, Calif., got his first head coaching job at age 22 and has been at his current position for the past 12 years.

“I played basketball all my life and love the game,” Campbell says. “After high school and college, I had that passion to continue being involved in the culture. Coaching fueled that competitive fire while keeping me close to the game.”

Some of the unique coaching opportunities he’s had:

  • Campbell continues to coach at the Michael Jordan summer camp in Santa Barbara. It’s quite a different creature from the summer camps he runs, and it helps him approach coaching from a new angle.

“It’s a challenge but it’s been very rewarding because you’re dealing with a lot of kids who don’t speak English, so the game becomes your language,” Campbell says. “I’ve had teams where there are seven out of 12 players who don’t speak English. You have to come up with creative ways to communicate with them. It’s just been a lot of fun and a great value to coach kids from overseas.”

  • Clovis West moved to California’s Open Division — made up of more than 1,500 high schools in the state, regardless or enrollment or division — five years ago.

“There were a couple years where we got thrown into it and I didn’t think we belonged up there. We lost by 30 twice,” Campbell says. “We had a young team through all of that and this graduating class that just left us were freshman and sophomores on two of those teams that got throttled. That group saw what that next level looks like, and they just kept working.”

  • The daunting test reaped rewards, however — the Clovis West girls’ team won its first state title in California’s Open Division in 2016.

The path they took to the championship was difficult, even by Open standards. In the three games leading up to the title match, they faced three consecutive McDonald’s All-Americans — something that odds say probably shouldn’t happen considering there are only 24 of them annually. They held each player to her season low in scoring.

While some coaches are math or P.E. teachers on the side, Campbell chose a different path — art. He values the desk time being an art teacher allows him to have.

“Running a high-level program is honestly a year-round job,” he says. “Between fundraising, scheduling, running our own AAU program, and a summer program, it’s constant work. I couldn’t get it all done as a P.E. teacher, and art allows me to keep up with that.”

These days, the Clovis West squad also includes his daughter, Madison. “As a dad, your kids are always going to be judged and criticized that they got where they are by being a coaches’ kid,” Campbell says. “I’ve always gone to the other extreme. I’m way harder on her than anybody on our roster. I’ve definitely tried to make it very clear that anything she gets, she earns.  She’s been blessed to have played with so many talented players and seen great leadership in the classes ahead of her.”


Bishop O’Dowd High School: A Harmony of School and Sports

Bishop O’Dowd High School: A Harmony of School and Sports

TWS7 Blog Story

Established in 1951 and located near the San Francisco Bay, Bishop O’Dowd — a Catholic preparatory high school — is a powerhouse both academically and athletically.

Carlos Arriaga has worked at Bishop O’Dowd High School for 19 years, 11 of them as the associate athletic director. He knows the area well and points out the school as one of the most authentically diverse high schools in the country. “Being so diverse is definitely unique to our school both ethnically and in terms of what we offer,” Arriaga says. “It really addresses the broad scope of our community.”

Arriaga likens O’Dowd’s athletic program to a small-college program. “We offer small-college program levels of attentiveness with a lot more offerings in competition levels,” he says.  “We have 15 sports and upward of 58 levels of competition like varsity, junior varsity, and freshman programs within each of those sports and for specific genders.”

The sport with the longest tradition of success, Arriaga says, is the men’s basketball program; today, practically every sport competes at the state level. “That’s something we’re very proud of,” he says.

Something else the athletic program can be proud of: its commitment to the community. “Many of our teams have been working in the community to support sustainability efforts around our environment, local food banks, working to plant trees at local schools, working at homeless shelters, and supporting breast cancer awareness efforts,” Arriaga says. “It’s something besides athletics and competition we put a high level of emphasis on and makes our program unique.”

One more thing sets O’Dowd apart. For eight straight years, the school finished among the Top 10 schools for the Elmer Brown Award of Excellence. Then, in 2015-2016, O’Dowd won the award, which is given to the schools based on athletic success and team GPAs for each sport.

When it comes to fundraising, Arriaga offers advice to other schools that rely on a steady income stream for their programs.

“Build relationships with people that will help create the program and vision,” he says.  “We have a development department that handles all the major fundraising for our school, and we work closely with them.

“We also have an annual budget, so if we exceed it or if it hasn’t been planned for— maybe there’s a team traveling to a tournament —we may have to execute smaller-scale fundraising to help subsidize some of that travel.”

Working with Eastbay

The primary reason Arriaga enjoys working with Eastbay Team Sales is the field representatives. “We’ve worked with some really good reps and they’ve always supported us and our needs,” he says. “We’ve been able to establish and strengthen those relationships over the years, and that’s really the key to making this whole thing work. Everyone we’ve worked with has been in the industry for quite some time, so they know it inside and out.

“If you ask for recommendations, they give you their professional opinion, and because they’ve been in it for so long, they are spot on.”

Glenn Caruso: Made of the Right Stuff

Glenn Caruso: Made of the Right Stuff

When Glenn Caruso took over the NCAA Division III football team at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, he wasn’t expecting instant success.  However, when people ask him if he could have imagined being where he is today, his answer is a resounding yes.

Caruso has taken the Tommies to the playoffs in all but one season since 2009. He won the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award three times, the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year award twice, and was the American Football Magazine’s Coach of the Year once. He also guided his team to the DIII National Championship Game in 2012 and 2015.

Important Stops Along the Way

Born in 1974 in Greenwich, Connecticut, Caruso didn’t start life wanting to be a coach. He played football at Ithaca College in upstate New York. Caruso, who describes himself as a wildly average athlete on his best day, learned what it was like to be well coached and discovered his passion for coaching there, but it was his father who set him on the path to become a leader of men. He was preparing to go to law school when his dad helped him realize he loved developing people, communities, and the game of football. His advice was to get as far away from there as possible and find himself. That’s when Caruso got his first coaching job at North Dakota State, where he spent the first seven years of his coaching career.

After North Dakota State, Caruso had stops at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, South Dakota, and Macalester College (St.Paul) before settling into the St. Thomas job in 2008. The year prior to Caruso taking over, the Tommies were a 2-8 team in a school that was accustomed to winning. After he entered the equation, however, the program made a complete turn and finished its next season at 7-3. Caruso says the biggest contributor to their instant success was belief.

“We went from 206th in the nation to 2nd pretty quick, but that was not the intention. The intention was not for it to be a quick turn but a sustainable turn, built on a very strong foundation,” Caruso says.

Finding The Right Fit

Buying in is something Caruso thinks is very important to establish a successful culture. Recruiting athletes at the DIII level is always an interesting process, one he admits he failed at miserably early on in his career; that is, until he found his angle.

“Early in my career I thought recruiting was sales, and even though we might have gotten kids that were highly ranked, we didn’t find all the guys we needed to change the mentality of the culture the way that I wanted to. Now I realize that it’s about being ridiculously honest with who you are, who you’re not, and not trying to be something you’re not,” Caruso says.

“That’s something I think we do a really good job of. We may not be fancy, we may not be flashy, but we are absolutely authentic and the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.”

Finding the right type of athlete to build a culture around is another piece of the puzzle.

“The first thing you’ll probably see if you walk into our locker room is a sign that says, ‘If you enter this locker room please hold yourself and your teammates to the highest of standards, and if you are unable to do that please allow me to hold you to your highest of standards,’” he says.

The Role Of Good Leaders

Most sports require assistant coaches. Football in particular requires many assistants in order to run the ship at its maximum level.

“When you think about your coaching staff, you’re trying to build a culture, and it all starts with those early adopters and that first ring of leadership,” Caruso says. “They have to buy in and believe at the highest level. That being said, even though the way we do things and the core principles will never change, how they convey the message will. I think that’s important because I may be one way as a person and I might have a coach on my staff whose persona is completely different. That doesn’t mean he can’t spread the same message I would, he’s just going to do it in his own manner.”

Caruso’s attention to detail, commitment to accountability, and the feeling of family he instills on his team have made the Tommies’ football program one to be reckoned with.

Eric Borba: Preparation For The Game & Preparation For Life

Eric Borba: Preparation For The Game & Preparation For Life

TMR7 Borba Featured

Becoming a successful coach takes hard work, sacrifice, a little luck, and sometimes even a leap of faith. Eric Borba took that leap when he decided to leave the successful program he built from 2004-08 at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., and take the head coaching position at Orange (California) Lutheran High School.

Over 13 years, Borba has proven himself to be an elite coach in high school baseball. He’s amassed a 160-74-1 record and two Trinity League championships in his eight seasons at Orange Lutheran. He’s led the Lancers to appearances at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational (NHSI) in 2012 and 2014. Borba has had four players sign professional contracts and 22 players sign Division 1 baseball scholarships under his tutelage.

Borba had the privilege of working for high school powerhouse De La Salle before transitioning to Orange Lutheran. His first stop set him up for success at his current position.

“I think the easiest part of the transition was that I had worked in a very competitive parochial school for five years at De La Salle, so I had a good understanding of how I wanted to approach the program at Orange Lutheran,” he said. “We all learn from experiences and mistakes made through them, so I was able to use those experiences to establish a set of philosophies that would help us be successful.”

Along with previous experience, athletes are what make or break programs at most levels. Borba has an eye for talent and an interesting X-factor when projecting success beyond high school.

“The obvious identifier is talent, but even more is recognizing the kids that have the ‘it’ factor that is necessary for a collegiate or professional athlete,” he said. “These young men have to have a passion and a determination that they are willing to put in the time day-in and day-out. Being a ball player is more than just going to the field to compete. It is all of the little things off the field that prepare them to go compete at the highest level.”

America’s game, America’s team

One of the highlights of Borba’s career was being able to coach the 2016 12U National team, saying there’s nothing quite like wearing “USA” across your chest.

“Baseball is America’s game, and coaching kids overseas is almost surreal, even to this day. Every time I look at the jersey or hear the national anthem, I pause and think about how blessed I am to have had this opportunity.”

One of the toughest age groups to coach is high school athletes, and Borba fully realizes the challenges that face him year after year.

“Without a doubt the biggest challenge is trying to instill that ‘team first’ mentality in each of them,” he said. “These kids are growing up in an era that highlights self. They go to showcases and play with outside clubs that provide a platform to highlight their own individual talents. The increasing pressure that has been created through early college committing has really made the mental game even tougher than before.”

Through the years, Borba has learned many things, but his biggest piece of advice is to find a sound philosophy as a coach and understand the importance of character as an athlete.

“Coaches need to create an environment that promotes not only skill development and wins, but also one that prepares their players for life,” he said. “Be sure to re-evaluate those philosophies regularly, as there are times where we must adapt to meet the needs of our players. Aspiring players need to understand the importance of character. They need to commit to developing their skill set but also need to commit to being a good team guy. We, as coaches, want winners … guys who are going to find a way to be successful, even when the odds are against them.”

Success over time is no easy feat, but Borba has shown that he has what it takes to be an elite coach wherever he goes.