JAY — Regional School Unit 73 directors were given an update Thursday evening on the new mental health program for student athletes.

Athletic Director Marc Keller gave an overview of the eight-week program and shared the topics to be addressed each week:

Week One: Coping with COVID-19 response
Week Two: If our county is yellow
Week Three: Identity and self-esteem
Week Four: The athlete and academics
Week Five: Training the athletic mind
Week Six: Leadership
Week Seven: Being ‘coachable’
Week Eight: The season’s over … what now?

Every other week, athletes will complete a self-assessment survey that will be shared only with school counselors and social workers, Keller said.

“We wanted them to see it,” he said. “If our coaches see it, our kids may not be 100% honest. The coaches may not see some red flags.”

Prior to the start of the winter 2019 sports season, Spruce had 13 kids on the ineligible/probation list because of grades, Keller said. At the same time this year, there were 47 kids on the list failing 126 classes, he added.

“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 coming 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 or 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.”

Director Joel Pike at the Dec. 22 special board meeting when low- and moderate-risk winter sports were approved, added a a requirement that all participating athletes 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, 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.”

Director Patrick Milligan was pretty excited about the guest speakers.

“I think that’s a pretty unique aspect that we haven’t really been able to have because of COVID,” he said. “It’s all good things coming out of this.”

Director Phoebe Pike was particularly pleased with the week focusing on ‘Who am I.’

“I think that’s a really important aspect for our athletes to consider,” she said. “They are so much more than just athletes.”

“I am amazed at how close you got to reaching the 25% weekly goal,” Board Chairman Robert Staples said. “That was my only reservation. I’m very comfortable with the numbers I’m hearing.”

Director Andrew Sylvester was pleased with the information provided on the academics and athlete eligibility for 2019 and 2020. He spoke of the presentations student athletes gave at the special board meeting in December.

“Many of them mentioned they worked harder when they were motivated,” Sylvester said. “I’m glad they’re holding up their end of the bargain.”

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