Let’s Make Leaders!  Addition of Athletic Council Builds Leadership in School and Community

Let’s Make Leaders! 

Addition of Athletic Council Builds Leadership in School and Community

Deidra Bowling-Meade

The Ashland Beacon

leadership council

   What makes a leader? Jim Kouzes who co-wrote The Leadership Challenge stated, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or work hours. It’s about relationships.”  Relationships are being built through the Ashland Paul Blazer Leadership Council and Gender Equity Committee started by Athletic Director James Conway this 2022-2023 school year. Students who are part of the athletics program at Paul Blazer High School are learning that leadership is important whether you’re playing a sport or not.  Effective leadership builds character and strengthens relationships, which in turn can make a school and community stronger.

   The students who were selected to the Council were identified to Conway by their coaches, peers, teachers, and administrators. The Gender Equity Committee consists of the same students from the Leadership Council, and they serve on many different athletic teams.  The group is required by the KHSAA to meet three times per year to discuss gender equity across the athletic programs. Conway commented, “Although the Gender Equity Committee is a KHSAA requirement, it is still very important to get our student-athlete’s perspectives on our athletic programs and to see where I can assist in trying to make their experiences great while they participate here as student-athletes at Ashland Blazer High School.  The Leadership Council has been a vision of mine to get started to assist our student-athletes in leadership roles.” Members of the Athletic Leadership Council include:  Cole Christian, Grace Delaney, Sawyer Edens, Nate Freize, Alden Johnson, Ella Sellars, Emma Slone, Laney Sorrell, Luke Stahler, and Emma Wiley.

   Conway invited Kelly Wells, who is the current Director of Athletics and Former Head Coach at University of Pikeville,  to speak to the council and committee about the importance of leadership and motivate them to go out and be leaders. Wells’ resume is unmatched when it comes to true leadership and a drive for success.  A native of Rowan County, Wells was a successful athlete at both the high school and collegiate level, beginning with his four year career at Rowan County where he holds the all-time scoring record.  In 1991, Wells began his collegiate career at the University of Tulsa where he scored 169 points as a freshman. At Morehead State, Wells was a three year varsity letter winner scoring 450 career points. In 1992, Wells was named to the All-OVC Newcomer Team and was recognized with OVC All-Academic Awards in the following season.

   After finishing his collegiate career, Wells spent 15 seasons overall as a head coach.  Some of his successes include capturing the 2003 Kentucky State Championship and being runner-up in 2004 while coaching at Mason County. He was named coach of the year after both seasons, coaching Chris Lofton who would go on to be an All-American at the University of Tennessee.  During his time at UPIKE, his accomplishments with the Bears include the all-time wins title in men’s basketball history. He won the NAIA National Championship in 2011, has captured four MSC titles and coached 23 All-Americans. Wells put together a 333-123 record at UPIKE, including winning the 2011 NAIA National Championship. Wells was named the NAIA Coach of the Year following that championship season.

   Conway expressed the impact of Wells, “Wells is ‘A Big Timer, Who Doesn’t Big Time You!’  All of his coaching accolades and accomplishments explain why he is a Big Timer, but the person he is explains why “He doesn’t Big Time you.”  He brings energy and enthusiasm to the room, and you feel better about yourself just being around him.  He is also a very humble person.  I have coached against his high school teams and our relationship has been longstanding.  He is been very successful also, so there is no better person to bring to speak to our student-athletes.”

   Wells enjoys speaking to young people about leadership because it has an impact on their life moving forward.  He discussed the importance of praising your peers and having a servant’s heart.  Wells stated, “There is a difference between leadership and entitlement.  Hard work should be your foundation.”  When Wells’ team won the state championship, their ring had the words “I am because you are.”  It takes everyone working together.  As Wells described it, “It matters who is the leader, but that leader must be the maker of the soup.  You have to have the right ingredients and follow the directions for it to turn out right.” Wells encouraged the student athletes to be change agents.  They have the power to change the culture of their team, school and community with something as simple as a smile or picking up trash. Words and actions matter.  Wells’ visit impacted members of the Athletic Leadership Council. 

   Cole Christian, who is an 11th grade football, wrestling and track athlete commented, “Hearing Mr. Wells speak was an honor and quite eye opening.  Hearing someone who has experienced so much success from around our area encourages others from this region to be successful and meet their goals. There are different kinds of leaders.  I think it is important to find your role and provide change in that role.  Leaders must do what is right, and it is important to spread that to others.” 

   Nate Freize, an 11th grade football and basketball athlete for Blazer, remarked he wanted to “be the outlier and do the things that nobody else wants to do or expects you to do because that makes a huge impact.  When people see someone like an athlete, who people tend to put on a pedestal, lead by example.  It makes a huge impact.” 

   Junior Laney Sorrell, who plays golf, soccer, and basketball for Blazer, stated, “I can help improve leadership by helping someone out whenever I see them struggling and making an effort to be kind and smile to everyone around me.”  11th grade volleyball player Emma Stone agreed, “You can’t be the best player you can be without being a good person first.” 

   Ashland Paul Blazer High School is truly building stronger leaders through the council.  The future looks bright for all these outstanding students.  Cole Christian confirmed, “This group helps to generate change and healthy conversations about sports and life.  Being a part of it is an honor and encourages future leadership.”  Let’s continue to encourage these student athletes making a difference.

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