Plainfield Athletics Offers Students Multiple Leadership Opportunities

Photography provided by Amy Payne & PCSC

The world needs strong, passionate, competent leaders, and Plainfield High School (PHS) is doing its part to help create the leaders of tomorrow. They do so by providing students with numerous leadership opportunities throughout the year. For instance, every spring they take 10 juniors to the Mid-State Leadership Conference where they get to interact with 70-80 other area student leaders.

Because of Plainfield High School’s central location and state-of-the-art facilities, each June for the past seven years, the school has hosted the IHSAA (Indiana High School Athletic Association) Student Leadership Conference.

“More than a thousand top student-athlete leaders from high schools throughout the state send their best and brightest to Plainfield High School for this conference,” says Torrey Rodkey, PHS’s Athletic Director. “We pick 8-12 students to represent Plainfield as well.”

Participants hear inspirational speakers who discuss topics like unifying sports for students with special needs, dealing with bullying and harassment in locker rooms, and excelling as a college athlete. Students then disperse into break-out sessions on various topics.

“Kids can attend the topics that interest them,” Rodkey says.

For instance, they might choose to sit in on a session that highlights a career in sports marketing, sports management or athletic directing.

“We’re proud to host it, and it’s a great leadership opportunity for our kids,” Rodkey adds.

Shane Abrell, PHS Varsity Baseball Coach, is pleased by how these unique opportunities foster leadership skills that serve students in every aspect of their lives.

“Attending the Mid-State Leadership Summit and the IHSAA Leadership Conference allows student-athletes from high schools all across the state to have discussions with coaches, school administrators and IHSAA commissioners,” Abrell says. “This empowers the student-athletes and gives them a voice that is welcomed by those in attendance.”

In addition, several years ago, PHS staff created the Athletic Leadership Council, designed to enhance the student-athlete experience by encouraging a positive student image, expanding school and community relations, sponsoring and participating in community service events and promoting school spirit. The Athletic Leadership Council is headed up by Coach Woodard, Andy Weaver (PHS’s head basketball coach), and Pat Cavanaugh (PHS’s Assistant Athletic Director). Prior to that, Chris Cavanaugh, PHS head swimming and diving coach, was also at the helm.

“This dedicated staff of coaches have the right big-picture perspective when it comes to working with young adults,” Rodkey says. “Those guys got together and said, ‘We need to lift up our best kids in terms of leadership in the building, on the fields, and on the courts.’”

The Council is made up of one to three students from each PHS sport. Students are recommended by a coach or administrator — and it’s not always the best athletes who are selected.

“It’s not necessarily the superstar on the team but someone other kids can look up to,” Rodkey says. “Someone who does the right things inside and outside of school. He or she may be quiet but has good leadership potential.”

They look for good athletes, good people and good representatives of the school who can take leadership to the next level.

“We want people who will take the bull by the horns in good and bad times,” Rodkey says.

Joe Hoffman, PHS Boys & Girls Cross Country Coach, maintains that student-athletes at PHS have developed lifelong leadership skills thanks to the leadership experiences offered within the school’s athletic department.

“Several runners have participated in these programs over the last decade, and I’ve noticed the product of their experiences having a positive impact at our practices and competitions,” Hoffman says.   

Dalton Kane, a senior who runs for Hoffman, says these opportunities have helped mold him into an effective leader and a well-rounded person.

“I’ve learned to not only be a better leader [but also a] better student and teammate,” Kane says. “As one of the top runners, a lot of people look to me for advice. At first, I didn’t know how to help. As I progressed as a leader, [however,] I have found that there are a million ways to be a good leader.”

Rodkey is proud of the fact that all of PHS’s sports are highly competitive — from football, basketball, and swimming to cross country, tennis and golf.

“In the mid-state conference, we are always at or near the top in our all-sports standings,” Rodkey says.

Even the teams that aren’t listed as official IHSAA sports, like cheerleading, have improved immensely over the past few years.

“They used to stand on the sidelines and cheer and now they are a competitive cheer squad, getting stronger every year,” Rodkey says.

He also mentions the evolution of the soccer program.

“A decade ago, we were nowhere close to being able to compete with Avon and Brownsburg in terms of soccer talent and skills, but in the last several years, we expect a win [against those schools],” Rodkey says.

The swim team has also made great strides due, in part, to the creation of Plainfield Community Aquatics (PCA), which was created in 2016 and has grown to include hundreds of students from preschool through high school.

“Our natatorium is now used nonstop 12 months of the year, and we’re a top 15 in the state,” Rodkey adds.

Last year they even had a student diver participate in the Pan Am games, placing second in the state. PHS has a total of 19 official IHSAA sports. That doesn’t include activities like cheerleading and dance.

Rodkey and the rest of the faculty are thankful to have a community that supports them as well as parents who are super involved and invested in athletics, starting at a young age.

“Plainfield has a lot of great youth programs such as swimming, baseball, softball, tennis,” Rodkey says. “And we have high school coaches who believe in running a program where they have an impact on what’s going on in the middle school and youth programs in the community.”

According to Rodkey, although the PHS head coaches are all fiercely competitive and drive their athletes to go for the W, winning is not the end all be all. And they are sure to share that perspective with their students.

“Winning is not life or death,” Rodkey says. “High school athletics should provide a valuable experience that these kids will remember for the rest of their lives. It should provide valuable people skills and leadership skills that they’ll take into college and their professional lives.”

PHS coaches stress such things, acting as good role models as they devote countless hours to their craft.

“To be a coach is a 12-month a year job if you want your team to be successful,” says Rodkey, who notes that PHS coaches talk a great deal to their athletes about the journey since, in sports, there really is no destination.

“Every one of us would love to wind up with a state championship, but really, it’s those experiences learned along the way that count the most,” Rodkey says.

He appreciates the graduates who come back to visit their coaches and reminisce about old times, whether that’s two years or two decades later.

“At the end of the day, these athletes are not going to remember the wins,” Rodkey says. “They’re going to remember the friends they made and the lessons they learned.” 

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