West’s Student Athlete Advisory Board

West’s Student Athlete Advisory Board: More than Meets the Eye
Posted on 09/09/2020
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Lakota West SAAB Zoom meetingWhat does a practice look like when it combines student-athletes from 27 different sports? It looks like Lakota West High School’s Student Athlete Advisory Board, better known as SAAB. 


Every other Sunday, August through May, nearly 60 of Lakota West’s finest student-athletes gather for two to three hours to practice a skill shared across all their sports: leadership. Senior members, or “veteran leaders,” organize and lead each meeting for their junior member counterparts, or “emerging leaders.” Following Jeff Janssen’s “The Team Captain’s Leadership Manual,” every meeting zooms in on a new chapter and theme, combining small group discussion with a former Lakota athlete as their guest speaker. 


“My biggest takeaway is definitely that if you want to enact change, it must come from you. You must take the responsibility to make you, your team and your community better,” said West senior Caitlin Creach. “SAAB transcends athletics because many of the lessons we learn not only make us better leaders, but better people.” 


Lakota West Athletic Director Scott Kaufman, who advises the group alongside six other coach leaders who attend every single meeting too, reiterates that the group’s impact extends well beyond the fields of play. In fact, members sign a pledge through which they commit to be a positive role model around school and in the larger community.


“The skills I refined and developed were used beyond just athletics,” reflected 2020 graduate Tori Kelley. “I was more comfortable with stepping up in difficult situations and when 50-plus kids are going through the same program, that’s a good amount of people who can make an impact within a community.”


“SAAB doesn’t just affect our teams in a positive way, but also the school community around us,” added senior Rachel Curry. “We want to encourage others to be the best that they can be and to bring out the leader that we all have in us.” 


The two-year commitment requires that members miss no more than one meeting. Yet, in its two full years of operation, the group has only lost two members to this requirement. “It’s an intense commitment, but they buy in because they truly want to be there,” Kaufman said. “I haven’t had one kid come back and say they regretted it.” 


Over and over, current and past members validated this sentiment, playing back the long list of experiences and takeaways that made all the time well worth it. “The personal growth as a leader both on and off the field has made this commitment 100% worth it,” said senior Jessica Jackson, who says that her biggest takeaway has been that communication and commitment are the center of any successful team. “Learning skills such as resolving conflict among teammates and knowing when to lead by example or be vocal are things that we will carry with us the rest of our lives,” added senior Will Barber


Tracey Kornau, a Lakota West teacher and girls volleyball coach, has been involved in SAAB as a coach leader since its inception. Like her athletes, she appreciates the opportunity to grow personally and professionally through the group. 


“It’s so great to be with the best of the best,” Kornau said. “Not only do I get to be with my volleyball kids, but I get to meet the basketball, lacrosse and soccer kids too. Different kids bring different things to the table. They never cease to amaze me. It’s really fun to step back and listen to what they have to say.”


Kornau has enjoyed connecting members with a whole host of Lakota alumni to serve as guest speakers as well as another contact in students’ personal networks. That list ranges from NFL players Troy Evans, John Connor and Ryan Kelly to Honorable E. Gerald Parker, among many others. “We have these amazing people who are so willing to give back,” she said. “It’s continued to amaze me the number of old Lakota people who want to be involved.”


Kornau emphasizes the camaraderie that develops between SAAB members, spurring one another to attend a sporting event in support of a program they likely wouldn’t have considered otherwise. “The leader on the soccer team now sees the leader of the lacrosse team and they can really lean on each other to do what’s right,” she adds. 


The reflections among current and past members reveal countless lessons and positive results. Graduate Anna Huston, for example, contends that SAAB has eased her transition to college, giving her ample experiences and references for the leadership learning community she is now a part of. Others, like senior Ramiah Curry have witnessed how setting a positive example or simply “conducting myself with class” has encouraged other non-SAAB students to “step up and be a leader for their friends and people around them.” 


If you’re following the prediction of senior Aneesh Vyas, look out for more good coming out of this newer student-led group at Lakota West. “When you have a large group of people with the same goals but different experiences, something good is bound to happen,” Vyas said.