Staples Student-Athletes Learn To Lead

Being chosen as captain of a Staples High School sports team is a great honor.

Coaches congratulate the young man or woman. Parents beam with pride. Teammates look to their peer with new respect.

And then — just like that — everyone expects the teenager to lead.

For better or worse, sports programs help define a high school’s environment and culture.

Staples athletic director VJ Sarullo wants to make sure that at his school, that’s a positive one.

For that to happen, he says, leaders must know how to lead.

VJ Sarullo

So, starting this year, Sarullo is bringing together dozens of captains and future leaders. He’ll give them the tools to create a positive culture — one, he says, that can spill over into the entire community.

Actually, he won’t “give them” those resources. He’ll help them discover them on their own.

Sarullo became athletic director in March. He organized a similar Leadership Council at his previous school, Jonathan Law High.

But there were only a couple of dozen varsity sports at the Milford school. Staples fields 39 varsity teams. That’s a lot of students thrust into leadership roles.

This summer, Sarullo asked all 39 varsity coaches for the names of captains. For winter and spring teams that did not yet have them, he asked for potential leaders.

He got 98 names.

The AD asked them all:

  • What are your personal goals, as a Leadership Council member?
  • What areas should we focus on, to improve our Athletic Department?
  • What areas should we focus on, to improve Staples High School overall?
  • What other suggestions do you have?

Answers came quickly. Major themes included:

  • Equal treatment for all teams and genders, in areas like funding and facility usage.
  • A voice for athletes.
  • Increased recognition of student-athletes, in areas like social media.
  • Ensuring that everyone — including freshmen, transfers, and newcomers to a sport — feels welcome and involved.

Two weeks ago, the Leadership Council held its first meeting. It was, Sarullo told attendees, “the only time all year I want to start off by talking to you. From here on, I want you to drive this.”

The first meeting of the Staples High School Leadership Council.

After presenting the survey results, the leaders broke into small groups. Each included a wide range of teams, and both genders.

They brainstormed ideas. Some were broad: a welcoming field day for all athletes. Others were specific: an explanation of the budget process.

All, Sarullo says, will help focus the Leadership Council the rest of the year.

“This is all about being better,” Sarullo says. “This department already has a great culture. But we want to make sure that everyone feels welcome, feels that they’re treated equally, and supports each other. And that affects the entire school.”

The next meeting will feature Dan Switchenko, former baseball coach at Eastern Connecticut State University. He’ll help the teenagers understand the connection between leading by example, and team culture.

The Leadership Council will meet monthly, at 7 p.m. (Chartwells — Staples’ food service — provides food for athletes just coming off a practice or game.)

Student-athletes like Santi Alfageme (#15) are learning to lead, on and off the field. (Photo/Mark Sikorski)

As they learn about leadership, Sarullo is learning from them.

“These kids are honest, and incredible,” he says.

“They all dug in, right from the start. I had to get them to stop their meetings, so they could get out of there by 8:30.”

After all, they still had homework to do. Games to prepare for. Teams to lead.

A captain’s work is never done.

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7 responses to “Staples Student-Athletes Learn To Lead

  1. What a Great Concept! Kudos

  2. Wow what a great benefit these students will have going forward in all areas of life! I know that many employers already look for college varsity student athletes to fill many higher end jobs because they value the determination and teamwork required to become a varsity athlete in college. It has shown that these students already have things that are hard to teach adults when they graduate college. Student athletes have to be able to multitask in order to perform well in both academics and their sports so they are valuable to employers already. Now these Staples HS students will have even another leg up on other students from other HS’s as leaders of their peers. They will learn how to be a leader and lead by example which will make them even more valuable to future employers and may even be better at being entrepreneurs.

    Thanks for helping young Westporters be even better!

    • Beth: Having played varsity soccer in college (and having continued to play it for many years afterwards), I fully understand the benefits associated with that and why employers appreciate it. But, having become involved in collaborative arts-related projects many years after college, from my perspective the same types of life skills and beneficial experiences associated with sports are true in those endeavors as well (and I see no reason why employers shouldn’t value that type of background too).

      I applaud the leadership program put forth by the new AD and, as noted by Jimmy Izzy below, I think it would be great to have this extended to all areas of extracurricular activities at Staples.

  3. Looks and sounds like a great leader and facilitator for future leaders being produced in sports at Staples. Hope in the future that this leadership stays in Connecticut and uses that leadership for the Nutmeg State.
    Kudos and thanks to VJ Sarullo for his foresight and vision.

  4. This is awesome! VJ thank you for having the vision to do this. Kids want, and crave guidance and responsibility. It takes adults to help put them in a “position” to feel confident in taking responsibility and leadership roles

    The next step should be creating a “council” or “Circle of Staples” where leaders from all the different interest groups from the Staples Players to Robotics, and everyone in between, meet once a month or quarter.

    Instead of the BOE “appointing” two students to BOE as “observers and contributors” why not have the “collective student body” of Staples report to BOE?

    Just an idea…

  5. Great program ‼️
    “Leadership is the art of influencing and directing others to obtain their loyal support and willing cooperation.”
    USARMY Infantry School

  6. Deirdre O'Farrelly,

    really wonderful that the captains can share with each other their experiences and management skills and then to their teams, time management is one that everyone needs. Well done VJ and Staples HS.

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