Focus Helps Keep Success In Sight For Oak Ridge High School

Focus Helps Keep Success In Sight For Oak Ridge High School

TWS Team Story

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.”                                             

Making a Difference: Larry Bull Is Leading The Charge For Cherry Creek

Making a Difference: Larry Bull Is Leading The Charge For Cherry Creek

By W. Keith Roerdink, Eastbay Team Sales Staff Writer


TWS8 Advisory Board Story

When Larry Bull tells you that the Cherry Creek School District mission statement is “to inspire every student to think, to learn, to achieve, and to care,” you can tell that’s also been his personal mission across 30 years as a Colorado educator.

Redondo Union High School: A story of renovation, modernization, and growth

Redondo Union High School: A story of renovation, modernization, and growth

Major renovation projects for athletic programs are almost always complicated projects.

Redondo Union High School (Redondo Beach, Calif.) began the process about 10 years ago. In an added twist, the school changed athletic directors shortly after the project was underway.

Around 2008, Redondo Union received a grant for about $90 million, with about $45 million earmarked for athletics. The previous athletic director left in 2010, and Andrew Saltsman took over as the renovation ramped up.

The money went toward new locker rooms, a new gym, the remodel of an existing gym, a new aquatics center, and several other major and minor modifications across the campus.

Of the many concerns Saltsman has to track, one of them surrounds coordinating with coaches and school officials on the scheduling of practice and event venues so the athletic teams don’t miss a beat.

“Our water polo and swimming teams had to travel to another school site to find some pool time, and wrestling had to go to another school for a period of time,” Saltsman says. “They did the construction and renovations in stages so we could schedule around some of it, but there were always some challenges with walkways and getting around in addition to finding time at alternate facilities. We had to move some people around, but at least we have two gyms. While one gym was being built, the other was being used, and vice versa.”

Redondo Union has become a force in California athletics. The girls’ volleyball team won state titles in 2014 and 2015, the boys’ and girls’ water polo teams each won their first California Interscholastic Federation titles under Saltsman’s watch, and the baseball team also won its first CIF title in 2015.

“We’ve had a lot of first-timers recently,” Saltsman said.  “Baseball started in 1915 and we won our first CIF title in 2015, so that was a pretty historic year and pretty cool to win it 100 years later.”


Strong Academics Make For A Strong Athletics Program

Redondo Union emphasizes school first and sports second, and Saltsman can point to the academic performance of Redondo Union athletics. Student-athletes average between a 3.3-3.4 GPA while non-athletes average between a 3.1-3.2 GPA.


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.”