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VNN’s Katelyn Kasella sits down with Tony Fisher, District Athletics Director, Minneapolis Public Schools and Co-founder of NOMAD, the National Organization of Minority Athletics Directors, and Emily Zimmerman, Athletic Director at Evergreen High.

Katelyn Kasella: Hey everyone thank you for joining us for today’s webinar on promoting diversity and inclusion in your athletic department. My name is Katelyn Kasella and I’m a brand content specialist here at VNN, and today I’ll be sitting down with two special guests. First we have Tony Fisher, he is the district director of athletics for the Minneapolis Public School District, and he also co-founded the National Organization of Minority Athletic Directors. After Tony, we’ll sit down with Emily Zimmerman. She is an athletic director at Evergreen High School in Washington. And Evergreen, along with six other schools, recently joined a new athletics conference, bringing a lot of new diversity and an attempt to let the kids build relationships and get ahead of their differences.

Emily, along with several other ADs, co-founded the KSALT, which is the Kingco Student Athletics Leadership Team. So very excited to chat with both Tony and Emily today.

Before we get started, just a few quick things. There’s a side panel, if you have any questions throughout the webinar, please ask, we will be in touch with an answer, and a recording of this webinar will be available after the fact on our YouTube channel, and we’ll make sure to email that link out to all of you here today. So without further ado, let’s kick things off with Tony.

Hey Tony thanks for joining us today, how are you doing?

Tony Fisher: I’m doing great, and yourself? Thank you for having me Kate.

KK: Yeah absolutely, I’m doing well as well. So I’m just going to kick it off right away. I know you wear a lot of hats, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

TF: Oh boy. Well first and foremost I’d just like to say thank you to VNN, I absolutely love the product. I’ve been using VNN for quite some time now and just never can get enough of it, so I certainly appreciate the work that you all put into creating a superior product for us athletic directors. But a little bit about myself. I’ve been an athletic administrator for 13 years, I actually have a pretty wide lens as it relates to making decisions that will impact all, or have the greatest impact on the most amount of students. And what I mean by that is, my first athletic directing job was a small urban christian school of about 330 kids. That was located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The second school I served as athletic direct and basketball coach at was a small rural christian school of about 330 kids. The grades were K4 through 12th grade, so it was a combination high school. I moved on from that small urban christian rural school to a large urban public school in Orlando, Florida. And again, that school may have been close to 4,00 students. So going from 330 to 4,00 was quite the jump, but I was certainly prepared for it.

After that I took a job at, it was a large suburban public school of about 2,100 students, and I served as the director of athletics there for one year, and that’s when I moved on to have again, a greater impact on students or a large number of students, and now I currently serve as the district director of athletics for Minneapolis Public Schools. And our student population is roughly 37,000, so as you can tell there’s been a progression over those thirteen years, and that’s why I was able to admit at the beginning of this that my lens is pretty wide.

KK: Yeah, wow, that’s amazing. And along the way you co-founded the National Organization of Minority Athletic Directors (NOMAD). Can you tell me a little bit about where that came from?

TF: So NOMAD is an interesting concept. And for those that do not know what NOMAD stands for, it represents the National Organization of Minority Athletic Directors. And on the heels of the aftermath of the George Floyd murder here in Minneapolis, the first question that came to mind is, I know that I own a small piece in this world in terms of making this world a better place, but what can I do individually to improve our current climate. And one of the ways that I thought I could assist was through athletics. And so it all started with, I was asked to participate on a national AD HOC committee based around diversity for the national interscholastic athletic administrators association.

And so one one of the first questions that I asked when I was allowed to speak at that committee meeting was, number one, why is this and AD HOC committee. If it’s important to you all just as finance would be important or membership would be important, then why is diversity not important. Considering the fact that I had, I was able to read their strategic planning goals of this organization, and of the 40 strategic planning goals, 10 of them spoke to underrepresented athletic directors or diversity, and so in saying that, why is this an AD HOC committee, why is this not a full-fledged committee.

And then my second question was, is it possible to provide the numbers in terms of people of color serving on executive boards within their athletic administrator associations, because it would be interesting to tell the tale, you know, maybe numbers don’t lie, in my opinion. And it’s pretty eye-opening. And I’ll just give you an example here in Minnesota, which is that the acronym is the MNIAAA, so that’s the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. And that falls under the umbrella of the NIAA. In 51 years of existence, the MNIAAA had two women serve on the executive committee. They’ve had one person from Minneapolis and St. Paul, of which that athletic administrator was actually from St. Paul, and they’ve never had a person of color serve on their executive board. And so that was a part of what I wanted to uncover or unveil. What are the issues, the systemic issues, as to why people of color are not breaking through that particular ceiling.

And so during that diversity committee meeting, I met a gentleman by the name of Kevin Adams, who’s an athletic director out in Virginia. And I reach out to him, we had, you know,, just some conversations about again, what can we do to move the needle forward. He introduced me to a gentleman by the name of Anthony Thomas, who is out of San Diego, and another gentleman by the name of Carlos Reed, who is out of Oakland, California.

And the four of us met on June 5th, and we just started to brainstorm. And that’s essentially where NOMAD originated. And so we called ourselves the co-founders of NOMAD simply because of that meeting on June 5th, and at this moment we have a little more than 250 members. So there’s, that tells us that there’s a need for this type of work. And we’ve done some pretty special things, I think, in a very short amount of time.

KK: Can you touch on some of those things and talk a little more about the mission of NOMAD?

TF: So our mission is essentially to, basically you know, provide networking opportunities, resources, support, and pathways for underrepresented athletic directors, folks that look like me, talk like me, and come from the same background as me, and as I mentioned before with 250 members, there’s certainly a cry out for this type of work. And so some of the things that we provide, our membership, when I talk about resources, we, currently, on our website through VNN, have a job board. And that job board is set up where we’re able to input information of available jobs out there because, again, sometimes the narrative is we didn’t have a lot of qualified minority candidates that apply for this job, so NOMAD is looking to kind of be that liaison in assisting organizations with providing quality minority candidates for athletic directing jobs.

When I talked about pathways also, we’re looking into assisting, whether it’s collegiate students or high school students, with the profession of being an athletic director, so, you know, just providing resources, providing information, whatever is necessary. And I’ll give you one example, there was an athletic director, I believe she was an assistant athletic director out of Atlanta, she reached out to NOOMAD, became a member, and we all kind of pitched in to help her secure employment. And right now I believe she’s a finalist for a job down in Atlanta, and you know a part of that was having some of those one-on-one conversations with athletic directors all over the country, or in particular our NOMAD board.

We’ve done webinar series, and so there’s been five webinars, and those, excuse me six webinars, and those webinars have been what I would describe as very powerful. I actually just got off of a webinar to be very honest with you, it was our fifth webinar, and the title was “Athletes and Activism” part one. It’s a family affair, and that webinar featured Earl Edwards, who is the director of athletics at the University of California, San Diego, and his son Earl Edwards Jr, who is a DC United soccer player, and on the executive board of Black Players for Change. And so those conversations today were very powerful, just in a sense that, you know, what can we continue to do to support our athletes if and when they decide to engage in activism efforts.

We did a webinar, webinar four was on the life of duality women in color in athletic administration, our stories and our truths, that feature Dana O’Hara, she’s the head of athletic and physical education director at Covenant Steward Hall, which is located in San Francisco, California. Candace Story Lee, who is the vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs, and the athletic director at Vanderbilt University, Angel Mason, director of athletics at Barry College, located in Rome, Georgia. Jackie McWilliams who is the commissioner of the central intercollegiate athletic association, I’m trying not to forget anyone, Dr. Sylvia Salinas who is the executive director of athletics at, within the Dallas Independent School District, and Alexis Williams, who is the senior associate athletic director and the director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Colorado. So again, when we talk about underrepresented, our women are definitely underrepresented in this particular profession. And so we wanted to be able to speak to that topic.

Webinar three was a two-parter, but it spoke to, the title was “Let’s talk about race: the collective responsibility of discussing race with your student athletes and coaches”. And for basically implementing different strategies and so forth. Star-studded panel there of Dr. Scott Brooks, who is, he’s the associate director of the global sports institute at Arizona State University, Dr. Renee Miles Payne, who is the senior associate athletic director and chief diversity officer at the University of Miami, Matrice Meriwether, who is the chief talent officer at the National Federation State High Schools, so the NFHS basically, and Dr. Keith Brooks, the director of equity and inclusion here in Minnesota, at one of our large public school districts. Now part one, we were able to secure Dr. Richard Lapchick, and I’m not sure if your familiar with Dr. Richard Lapchick, but Dr. Richard Lapchick serves as the executive director of an organization called TIDES. TIDE stands for the Institute for Diversity and Equity in Sports. Dr. Richard Lapchick is, huge, in the sense that he’s walked arm-in-arm in protests, marching protests, with Nelson Mandelo. The man actually took a punch for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when they were kids at basketball camp in New York, and other kids were basically razzing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for being the only person of color at this camp. Richard Lapchick stepped up, and the kids swung at him and took a punch to him. So just those types of resources I think are huge in facilitating these different conversations as it relates to race.

And then the last think that I’ll speak to in terms of some of the resources. We have book studies, and so we’re in our second book study currently, but our first book study we engaged in conversation around race talk, and the Conspiracy of Silence by Dr. Daryl Wing Sue, and that book is really about understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race. And currently we are engaged in what’s called Urban Trauma, by Mesa Akbar, and that basically speaks to a legacy of racism and just, how we got here, and you know, different things to pay attention to when we’re, you know, dealing with our student athletes and the different traumas that they go through on a daily basis that a lot of the majority are unaware of, which ultimately impacts their behavior throughout the day.

So those are some of the resources that we provide in NOMAD, and I think that, again, it’s definitely necessary considering the fact that our membership continues to grow on a daily basis. So on top of the webinars, book studies, all these great resources for athletic directors, consuming all this information, how does the trickle effect work, how does it positively impact the students that they’re dealing with on a daily basis?

I would answer that by basically saying, you know, when you look at DEI work, diversifying, providing equity, and being inclusive, I would say that the impact on students from a diversity standpoint is that it exposes your student athletes to all types of backgrounds, and so when you talk about positively impacting, it’s educating our membership on why it’s important to understand diversity, and implement diversity within your athletic programming. The equity piece, I think is critical in the sense that, you know, we want to be able to provide resources, or similar resources, or close gaps that may exist in athletic programs, and coming up with solutions on how to address those equity gaps. NOMAD speaks to those types of, you know, those types of issues that exist in programs as well.

And then the last piece is the inclusion piece, which, all of these should be core values, but creating environments where athletes get to know one another, and then they can build solid relationships that will ultimately improve teams. So someone once explained, DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion to me, or defined it in a way that really stuck with me. Diversity, would be considered being invited to the party right, inclusion would simply mean being asked to dance when you get to that party, and then the equity piece would be centered around the music that’s played, that everyone tends to enjoy, not so much just being one-sided, and only a certain group can enjoy it.

So when you look at defining it that way, I think that can also drill down to student athletes, and really have a positive impact. Because at that point, they will also be conscious to invite folks to ask them, once they’re invited to engage, and then be mindful or intentional about their likes and their dislikes.

KK: Tony, how can athletic directors and coaches who aren’t underrepresented by allies for organizations like NOMAD?

TF: I think it’s simple, but these two solutions are pretty loaded. Number one, educate themselves. So when I talked about the resources before in terms of the book studies that we’re engaged in in NOMAD, this is an opportunity to engage and educate, and I think the second part of that which I believe is simple but it can be difficult, is just willing to have those tough conversations surrounding race. I mean, if I think, if you start to understand the person that you’re having the conversation with, staring across the zoom meeting, or you know, sitting across the table from you, if I can slowly but surely understand who you are as a person, that’s going to give me more, what’s the word I’m looking for, more of a willingness to not be so defensive, or not be so protective. When, and if, you were to say something that may not sit well with me, so you and I having this conversation right now, is essentially breaking barriers. Because of the fact that you’re understanding me as a person, and then ultimately that will open the floodgates for you to then share with me your story.

And now we can kind of empathize, when and if there’s a situation that, you know, I can’t really relate to, or you can’t relate to. So educating themselves and being willing to have the tough conversations, I think is how athletic directors and coaches who are not underrepresented can serve as allies.

KK: Okay thank you. How can a coach or an athletic director who is interested in this organization become involved today?

TF: So I think that’s pretty simple as well. Visit our VNN, I always want to throw that feeler out there, or that marketing tool there, but use our VNN website and we have a membership form from there, and it’s very simple. You certainly just fill out the information that pertinent to you, or that’s detailed for your particular situation. Like for instance, I think that form asked for first name, last name, city, and state schools that you serve at, and then it asks for any topics that you would like to address, and I would be remiss to not mention this, this is a free membership. So again, it’s just one of those situations where it seems to be needed based off of what I mentioned before, how our membership continues to grow.

And we’re not saying that we have all the answers, but what we’re willing to do is educate ourselves with one another, and we’re willing to have those tough conversations.

KK: Alright thank you Tony. I’m going to move into just a few general questions now. And they’re very broad, so I mean as deep as you want to get or as surface level as you want to get is completely fine, What are some of the biggest challenges that you have seen diverse students facing in all of your years of experience in athletics?

TF: I think the first one that I would throw out there is white privilege. I think that student of color in particular, and I’m just speaking from my lands, I never understood white privilege and once I got to the point of educating myself, now I understand it. But it’s one of those things where, you know, how do you help other people understand it. In being a person of color at a young age, you know not really having a concept of the color of your skin providing you with more opportunities. You know I never really understood that, and so I think one of the biggest challenges now is with our diverse student athletes, helping educate them on that particular topic.

And I think the education happens on both ends. I think our students of color have to understand what that is and what that means, and then I think that, you know, our counterparts if you will, need to understand that it exists even though they may not think that it exists, you know. I think some other challenges would be, I spoke to education, so I would say lack of education of the non-diverse population. You know, the more they know I think the better you can understand where diverse groups are coming from.

I think, being I spoke to this earlier, but being willing to have the conversation, just simply having an openness and, you know, part of the conversation is listening, right? So if I see that you’re engaged, like you’re nodding your head when I’m saying some of these things, that tells me that you’re open to hear more, and then at that point I continue to give more, and so just being willing to have the conversation, I think that’s a big challenge, because a lot of people, non-diverse folks I should say, are unwilling to have the conversation. And I think if we can get to the, and diverse folks as well, don’t think it’s, you know, that it’s a single-sided story. I think both ends of the story, or both ends of that spectrum are not willing to come to the table and have those conversations, and so I think if we can get to the point of wanting to have the conversation, I think that’s big hurdle that we would be able to overcome.

And then I think the last piece that, just some examples of institutional racism, so you know, so I spoke to the organization, only having two women, one from the two major cities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and no person of color serving on their executive leadership team, being able to put those kinds of examples on the table. And you know, sharing why that’s not okay. So I would say those four things are probably the challenges, the white privilege, the lack of education, being willing to have the conversation, and just the one example that I spoke of institutional racism, but there’s tons of examples out there.

KK: And I know you’ve spoken a lot about taking the first steps of seeking education, and so is there anything else that coaches and ADs can do to begin to address these challenges?

TF: Yeah it’s interesting you say that today during our fifth webinar with Dr. Earl Edwards and his son Dr Edwards of the University of San Diego California there. He came up with an acronym called PAL. And PAL spoke to, and again he would do a much better job at explaining this, but I thought that, you know this fits this particular question, he talked about the P representing personal attacks, so eliminating personal attacks, this is how we can address these challenges right. He talking about the A representing assuming good intention, so when we’re having this conversation, assume that I’m coming from a place of wanting to fix the problem, and you are coming to the table as well with that same intent. And then the last letter there is the listening portion, and just being focused on the works, not so much the individual.

So once you hear what I’m saying, you then begin to eliminate what I look like or where I come from, then you’re more so focused on what it is that I’m saying, and that tells you the true story of who I am. So I thought that that acronym by Dr. Earl Edwards was spot on in terms of PAL. No personal attacks, assuming good intention, and then listening by focusing on the worlds and not so much the individual.

KK: Yeah definitely. That’s great. All right well that’s all that I have for you today, I did want to give you a minute here if you have anything else that you’d like to add before we wrap up.

TF: Yeah, you know I think the last thing that I would add is just, you know, again, fresh off of the webinar there, Dr. Earl Edwards spoke about our sphere of influence, we all have a sphere of influence in a sense that you may influence just your family, or you as an athletic director may influence an entire athletic community, or you as a senator may have some influence on, you know, a state. Whatever the case may be, we all have this amount of influence that we have, and essentially if we just all make it a point to do our individual part, ultimately we can solve this issue. But it really boils down to taking care of home, taking care of what you can take care of. I can’t solve what took place between, you know, a police department, and you know, a particular individual. I can’t solve that problem because that’s outside of my lane so to speak. But what I can solve is creating solutions for athletes when it comes to supporting their activism efforts within the Minneapolis public school district, and then serving as an example for other school districts on how to approach those types of situations.

I can influence being a part of organizations like NOMAD and, speaking at different speaking engagements like this and sharing the story just keeping it to myself, I think a part of that influence is if you’re not willing to speak up, then it’s very difficult for people to change, because they don’t, they don’t understand, you know, your story. So that influence, we have a responsibility to serve that influence and a part of serving that influence is being willing to just do your individual part. I think if we all have that mind frame, we may not get there tomorrow, but we could certainly get there.

KK: Okay thank you so much Tony, appreciate you hopping on today and chatting with us.

TF: Absolutely, thank you for having me I certainly appreciate it.

KK: All right once again, that was Tony Fisher with NOMAD, and if you’re interested in learning more about this organization or signing up, visit them online at Next up we have Emily Zimmerman, so let’s get her on. Hi Emily, thank you again for joining us today, how are you?

Emily Zimmerman: I’m well how are you?

KK: I’m doing well. We’re super excited to hear a little bit more about you and KSALT. So just to kick things off, can you kind of introduce yourself and KSALT?

EZ: Yeah! My name’s Emily Zimmerman, I’m the athletic director at Evergreen High School, which is in Seattle Washington, and we are a member of a Elite 24 of 24 School League, the Kingco league. We are one of seven schools who newly joined the league this year during the pandemic. so in joining a new league and bringing in new students with some diversity that wasn’t previously there, we made a student group call KSALT, the Kingco Student Athlete Leadership Team, to inform decisions of the ADs, to elevate the leadership within our student group, and most importantly we didn’t do anything in the fall in terms of sports, so to provide some opportunity and connection points for our students even though it was virtual.

KK: And can you talk a little bit about the mission and goals of this organization?

EZ: Yeah. So in establishing this, our goals is really to create a platform where students could bring up, address, talk, about current issues that are happening within our league. Obviously we’re not playing sports, there’s not a lot going on. so we’ve used it as an avenue to do some professional development for our students and do a lot of leadership work. That was the top thing they talked about wanting to do. And so we’ve used that to really really elevate their leadership potential, and to provide voices. So when we’re making decisions as athletic directors, the hope is that we’re making them on behalf of our schools. But student voice in those decision makings is so important, so it’s an advisory group right. It’s something that we can bring decisions to them, and say are we on track here? Is this the right, are we on the right path or not? And it’s a really just, vital group of kids to be able to do that.

KK: And there’s kids from each school, correct?

EZ: Yeah, two students from each school, a male sport and a female sport is how we kind of identify that.

KK: That’s awesome. And how often have the kids been able to meet this far? You launched in October right?

EZ: We launched in October, so we met every month, we meet monthly yeah. We met, I mean, maybe a couple more times in the fall. We really wanted it to be something that was happening and current, so we meet month, and recently we added students to our planning committee. So now, our decisions are informed decisions on how we plan the meetings are informed by our students as well, so we’re slowly working to hand over the group to students so that it’s much more student-led. So we have a meeting this afternoon and our students are leading half of that meeting.

KK: That’s awesome. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things the kids talk about during these meetings, or weigh in on when it comes to conference decisions?

EZ: Yeah. So you know one of the things that’s been really great about it is, as, in our state we’ve been very conservative about restarting sports, and there’s been just decisions happen from the top, and I think for students and for us, that’s confusing and frustrating. So one of the best things I think we’ve had is just a space for kids to be able to say how they feel. So one of our meetings was timed right after kind of a big decision was made by our state about sports, and we spent half the meeting just leading them through kind of processing and providing feedback so that we really knew what was important to them.

And what came out of that was so much confidence for us as athletic directors to know that the kids are going to follow rules, they’re going to do what they can to play, because that’s important to them. So I think that’s one of the great things, and then I think just again, when we did a lot of surveying at the beginning to be sure that we were hitting on things that kids were interested in, and we talked about the survey items for leadership and sportsmanship, race and equality, and things like that. And the top thing that the kids really wanted to talk about was leadership, and I think when we talking about it, it encompasses all those things, right.

Leadership is sportsmanship, leadership is having an equality lens, and so it’s been fun. We brought in a speaker last meeting and that speaker was, is, an alumni of one of the schools in our league who’s gone on the play professionally, and then also has a professional career, and spoke about his leadership potential and development in the league, and as a high school athlete, and how it’s impacted him. And so now we’re doing this week’s meeting is really action oriented, we’re going into our first season, so we’re working on getting these athletes to look at the five-week season and really figure out what are they going to do, right. We’ve had all this work, now what are we going to do as a league. How are we making our mark.

KK: And as we move forward, and COVID hopefully comes to an end, what do you see the future goals of this organization being?

EZ: I think moving forward, our goal is that this continues to be an advice group for the athletic directors and that when we’re making decisions that impact kids, which we normally are, we’re involving them in the decision making. And then secondly it continues to be a place of growth for kids. So a place where they can create community between schools, where we can address issues if they occur in a really honest way, and that we can bolster who these athletes are and provide them with a little bit more, you know, learning and experience that they can then take back to their teams.

KK: Thank you for providing a little bit of context and background of KSALT. I’m going to move into some more general questions, so I know when you and I have spoken in the past, you talked about this platform for the students to talk about these big topics like diversity and mental health and COVID, and what have been some of the benefits you’ve seen from giving students a platform to speak about this?

EZ: I think that one of the things as adults that we do is we sort of feel like we know what they’re thinking, right. We, especially those of us who are really, I mean athletic directors are super in touch with their community, and around a ton and in the building a bunch and around kids a lot, and so I always fool myself into thinking that I’ve got a really good handle on what kids are feeling, thinking, doing, and I’m always humbled when I actually hear what they say. And we actually provide a platform, because sometimes I’m, yeah I’m maybe in the same world, but where I’m able to really see and have that as evidence to then pivot and figure out what my work is doing to truly support what they’re saying and doing. So I think having a platform where you actually ask kids and make kids feel like their opinion is important is huge.

KK: Yeah definitely. What has been some of the biggest challenges for KSALT, and how have you overcome it?

EZ: Well we’re currently experiencing our biggest challenge, so as I have said a couple times, up until now we haven’t been in season at all, we didn’t do a fall season. And so it was really easy to find time in the day to do this, because our athletes weren’t doing what they normally do. We know that our athletes are the busiest kids on campus, right. Oftentimes they’re involved in athletics and clubs and other activities or jobs or home things, so we’ve had the gift of time up until now. And we’re looking at doing three seasons in four and a half months, and obviously we want to put the emphasis on that, but we also don’t want lose KSALT. So I think finding time is slowly becoming the hardest thing. We’ve shifted to going in the mornings and kind of, we centered on kind of lunch time for a lot of our students. Again, we’re across many different school districts, so we’re just sort of doing our best and then we’re going to see what next year would look like. But I think just thinking about the longevity of this program, as always when you’re creating something new it’s hard. And continuing for me to center it when I’m also thinking about running games and doing things that I haven’t had to do in a really like time.

KK: And how have you navigated connecting virtually?

EZ: You know I think again, something that we as adults feel is very foreign, kids are much more comfortable with it. It’s been interesting as we talk to our leaders who are now on our planning team, about how much more comfortable they are leading things when it’s virtual, versus maybe less comfortable if they were in person right. And so I think for kids it’s very approachable, because they can come home, or I mean they’ve been online right, all day, so they just kind of hop on another meeting, and it’s approachable. So I think, you know, we do everything through zoom which is really easy. And you know the link gets sent out, and kids know how to operate that. So that has actually gone smoother than I would have thought it was.

KK: That’s awesome, what’s one of the coolest things that you’ve seen come out of this initiative?

EZ: The coolest thing is, last meeting we had a guest speaker, and it was also after we had made an announcement about sports, so we were announcing that the seasons were going to happen, and so we really wanted to make sure that we were honoring the guest speaker’s time, so we kind of told the kids, hey stay after if you have questions, like we know that we just announced a big thing but we really wanted to honor what we had planned. And a student stayed after and a couple other students asked sports questions, and this student said, “Oh I don’t really have a sports question, but I’m just wondering, next year, are we going to be the same people on KSALT or are we going to have new members, because I have a younger brother and I’d really like for him to be a part of this”. And it was sort of one of those moments where you’re like, this is being talked about at their dinner table, right. This is being talked about outside of this meeting. And I think as an educator, that’s always your goal, that you’re not just doing something to do it, but that kids are walking away with something to hold on to, even if it’s small. Even if it’s five minutes the meeting made sense to them, you want to walk away, take away, and you want them to have someone else experience it.

And I think that has been, that was I think for a lot of us, just kind of like, wow, great, we’re on the right track here.

KK: Yeah definitely. And kind of in that same realm, has there been anything that the student athletes have done or said that surprised you?

EZ: I think their resilience and maturity in a pandemic is, shouldn’t be surprising, but is a great reminder that they are far more resilient and mature than we give them credit for, than most of us are. They roll with the punches, and their ability to adapt and to think critically is just really impressive, and I’ve really enjoyed that when we did some processing through, some of the COVID decisions, we had seniors who were maybe looking at not playing their senior year, and they were so just resilient in those things that they were talking about and in their leadership. They’re all about the relationship building of sports, it’s so interesting when you get kids in a room that they just talk about the relationship piece of sports. They’re not talking about the state titles, they’re not talking about the wins and the losses right, it’s all about team and what do they miss about their team and what do they miss about their coach and their teammates. And a lot of them are wondering about their legacy, and how are they leaving a legacy, and it’s all of those bigger things about sports that consistently come out and are really exciting to see.

KK: That’s awesome. And is there anything that you as a league or just personally have been able to change or implement after hearing from the athlete’s perspectives?

EZ: I think just continuing to elevate the student voice is probably our biggest takeaway for this year. And my hope is that we continue to use this as a vessel for decision making as a league, I think just that was some new learning for some of the athletic directors in the league of just how passionately their students felt about all parts of the decision-making process. And so I think that’s probably our biggest takeaway.

KK: Awesome. Is there anything else you want to add Emily?

EZ: I think just elevating student voice is really the best thing we can do in a world where we have so many different things going on, and you know we all have a lot to learn in race and diversity and things like that, when you have a space for kids to interact with one another and interact with you and provide some sort of that feedback, that’s really when the work starts to occur, and I think we’ve been really lucky to be able to see that happen. So I would just encourage anyone thinking about it to take the leap and go for it. Kids don’t expect perfection, they just want a space.

KK: Awesome great! Well thank you so much, I appreciate you joining us and weighing in today.

EZ: Yeah absolutely thank you so much.

KK: All right thanks again to Emily and Tony for joining us today, thanks to every one of you for attending. I hope you learned something new. Again, this recording will be available on our YouTube Channel, and we’ll get that link out to everybody, so look for that email to come. Have a great rest of your Friday everyone and a fabulous weekend.

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