JAY — The Regional School Unit 73 board of directors received an update Thursday night on the new mental health program for student-athletes.

Athletic Director Marc Keller explained the eight-week program and shared topics to be addressed each week. They include coping with COVID-19, identity and self-esteem, the athlete and academics, training the athletic mind, leadership and “the season’s over … what now?”

Keller said prior to the 2019 winter sports season, Spruce Mountain High School in Jay had 13 students on the ineligible list/probation because of grades. At the start of the 2020 winter sports season, there were 47 students on the list who were failing 126 classes.

“When we found out sports were approved, I talked with every single kid and said: ‘This is a gift. You need to bring your grades up or you won’t be eligible,'” Keller said. “The number has gone from 47 to 14 failing now. That’s incredible. With that motivation, we went way down.”

Guest speakers will be brought in to speak with students at the middle and high schools as part of “training the athletic mind,” Keller said.

“The first is my brother, who is the men’s soccer coach at the University of Southern Maine,” he said. “Kawika Thompson grew up in the area, with not a lot, and became a very successful athlete.”

Last week, out of 41 hours of team time, 8.75 hours — about 21.3% — were dedicated to mental health, Keller said.

“When they’re in practice, they’re working on skills in leadership, communication, physical fitness, team cohesion, problem solving, handling pressure situations and time management,” he said “These kids have changed, When they found out they could play, that was an automatic boost to their mental health.”

At a Dec. 22 special board meeting, Director Joel Pike added a requirement that when low- and moderate-risk winter sports were approved, all participating athletes must spend at least 25% of team time each week focused on mental health activities, and report their compliance each month to the board.

“I’m very glad to see they’re taking this to heart and have this plan together,” Pike said. “It’s a big part of everything we do. If this turns out to be something bigger and better later in life, I appreciate it.”

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