A CLUB OF THEIR OWN: Soroco High School
The Be An 11 clinic really hit home to students who had been searching for something to take pride in, and purpose or cause to stand behind.
By Laura Dayton
Published: Spring 2002
There is a Gary Larson cartoon that depicts a finishing school for gorillas. Walking in are straight and tall, intelligent-looking apes. Coming out are primates with hunched backs, forward head posture, furrowed brows and the slumped, scrunched shoulders that people get when they do way too much bench pressing. It’s a parent’s worse fear: you send your still-innocent child to school, and what comes home is an insolent, angry, pierced and tattooed version of your son or daughter. That’s why Soroco High School’s story is such an inspiration. It’s a school that’s undergone a big attitude change, for the better.
Soroco High School is located in a small city 20 miles west of Steamboat Springs in northwestern Colorado. Last year, Soroco’s graduating class consisted of 23 seniors. This year’s student body, grades 9-12, consists of 126 students. It’s a school where everyone knows each other and where peer pressure is great. If a football star is seen at a keg party, you can bet there will be at least three freshmen who try to follow suit. It’s a school where one bad apple, given the chance, could adversely influence many.
But that isn’t likely to happen. Not now. Not since the BFS Be An 11 clinic was held at the end of the last school year. Certainly not since more than half the student body attended the first 11’s meeting at the start of this school year and decided to form their own club.
“Over the years I’ve noticed that our school has lost a lot of its support and spirit,” says student Katie Craven in her formal request to be elected a representative for the Be An 11 Club. “It’s not very often that you hear a student say ‘I’m proud to be a Ram [the school mascot]’ or see a student help another who is struggling. I don’t run for very many things like class president or head girl because I believe that they have lost their spark. I really believe that the 11’s can and will bring ‘life’ back to Soroco.”
A Club of Their Own
The Be An 11 program was created by BFS to establish a program whereby students can hold themselves to the highest possible standards. It came to Soroco as part of a BFS clinic for the school’s struggling football team. Pep rallies were practically unattended, and the team’s morale and performance were low. Steve Longwell, head football coach, and Jeff Seale, physical education teacher and assistant coach for football and basketball, organized the clinic. “It began as a football thing,” says Seale.
The Be An 11 clinic really hit home to students who had been searching for something to take pride in, and a purpose or cause to stand behind. The message went far beyond the football field to reach all the students at Soroco High: boys, girls, those in sports and those not. However, due to the small school size, most of the kids are into one sport or another.
“Every school has kids with great ideas. The problem is they can’t get their ideas to materialize,” says Seale. “The 11 Club shows them how to accomplish those goals. For years we’ve had sport programs that were losing money. The kids had lost their pride. Now they’re proud to be an 11 and it’s changing the tide of everything at the school.”
Interest was so great following the initial BFS clinic that Seale knew he had to channel that enthusiasm into the coming school year. The students wanted their own 11 Club, based on the BFS Guidebook for Success. That club was to be formed and governed by the students. “My job mostly is to stand in the back of the room and watch,” says Seale.
The kids set up a code of conduct that does not allow drugs, drinking, smoking, lying, disrespectful behavior, cussing or fighting. Two infractions mean dismissal from the club. On Identification Day, 11’s dress up in slacks, button-down shirts, skirts and dresses as a way of identifying themselves to the student body and setting an example.
In just the first meeting the kids established a substantial list of projects that included painting the end zones. Immediately kids were on the phones soliciting contributions from local paint stores. They succeeded and 26 kids showed up with the paint and brushes in hand. It took six hours (one student’s father did donate a sprayer, or it would have taken longer), but this year’s team can enjoy coming out to a fresh, new field.
Other projects identified and still in the works include
• Establishing a Spirit Bus to bring fans to the games. The kids hope to be able to bus in people from retirement communities.
• An ongoing tutoring program. Already 16 kids are tutoring other students, mostly in math.
• A Lift-a-Thon to raise money.
• Organizing the homecoming game, pregame parties and pep rallies.
• Each member must perform ten hours of community service each year.
• A quarterly newsletter for the 11’s.
• A Copper-Silver Drive to help the families of those killed on September 11.
Obviously, improving the sport programs rates high on the 11 Club’s agenda. Student Tony Iacovetto explains why. “Sports are my life and I really want to excel in everything I participate in. When I look at our district championship banners for basketball I really get embarrassed: the last time we had one was back in the ‘80s. I want to see some pride back at our school.”
The students wrote their own statement of purpose describing the club’s goals:
“Elevens are not determined by physical characteristics, talent or popularity, but by the choices they make. Elevens live differently and always hold themselves to a higher standard. They never settle for less. Even when the road looks hopeless, 11’s persevere. Everyone can be an 11! All it takes is a willingness to try to better yourself constantly. Everyone falls from time to time, but 11’s get up and, instead of complaining about the fall, learn how to do better the next time. However, no one is an 11 all of the time, but the goal of this program is to help you become an 11 more of the time. Changing yourself will be one of the hardest things you will ever do, but it will be the most rewarding.”
The last line of the contract reads “I pledge myself to a better way of life in which my good choices and healthy lifestyle clearly distinguish my character. On a scale of one to ten, I choose to be an 11!”
The Football Team
With such a small student body, mature muscle on the Soroco football field is in high demand. “Last year we only had two seniors, Willie Spicer and Casey Means,” says Seale. “These guys sacrificed a lot. We were playing a JV schedule, and they knew we were out of contention for state and all the big titles. Still, they made every game and they really helped the other kids.
“The team really rallied and we finished with a better record than any from the three previous years. The kids got the idea that it’d be nice to dress nicer and went out on their own time, with their own money, and the entire team rented tuxedos for the homecoming game. They wore them the entire day. That really got the community to take notice.”
Seale believes in calling a spade a spade, and while optimistic about the team’s future, he knew this season would probably not be a winning season. “I told them, ‘If we’re lucky, we’ll hit 500. But you’re the start of something new for Soroco. You’re just the beginning.’”
The team, with four seniors this year, has done a great job both on and off the field. Seale credits the BFS Be An 11 program for both. “We had no problems with the football stars. Grades went up and so did the level of respect. One of my colleagues made a correlation between the 11’s and the honor roll-they seem to go hand in hand.
“These days it’s the kids getting after me instead of me going after them. The gains in the weight room have been phenomenal. Huge gains. And it’s all them.”
Making the Choice
While sports and academics are two great reasons for a school to host a Be An 11 clinic, there are other matters of far greater consequence.