Extra, Yet Essential

Extra, Yet Essential
Posted on 01/15/2021
Kyle Plummer and the Blue Springs South High School Cross Country TeamI was blessed to have grown up in the Blue Springs School District. I am a proud alum of the class of 1987. Back then, we only had one high school in town, but it was one of the bigger schools in the state. Now we have two of Missouri’s largest high schools in the same district. Blue Springs High School is the largest in the state, with 2,487 students enrolled, and Blue Springs South is 11th largest, with an enrollment of 1,965 students.

It can be overwhelming for students attending a large school to find their own way. I was one of those students back in the early 80s, trying to find a way to feel connected in a big school environment. My saving grace was Coach Gary Parker. He was the boys’ head track and cross country coach. I gladly ran hundreds of miles for Coach Parker.

Coach Parker was amazing. His coaching resume is outstanding. He won numerous state trophies, conference championships and district titles throughout his illustrious career. There is a reason why the track facility at Blue Springs High School is named in his honor. Coach Parker helped me compete in cross country and track at a “respectable” level, as he would phrase it. Coach Parker did not just help me out in the athletic realm, but more importantly in the social game of life. He provided an inclusive atmosphere on his teams that gave his athletes a sense of belonging.

I will be the first to admit that I was a very awkward kid. I sported a bowl style haircut and was afraid of my own shadow. That did not prevent Coach Parker from helping me out. Coach took me in with open arms and helped build up my self-esteem in all areas of my life: socially, academically, and athletically. He provided a sense of community for his athletes. We will never know one of the most important stats about Coach Parker—and that is how many kids, like me, he helped find their way in life.

It has come full circle for me. I am the head boys’ cross country and assistant track coach at Blue Springs South. I consider it an extreme honor to have the opportunity to coach and provide a sense of community like Coach Parker did for me over 30 years ago.

Here is a little history lesson: the first extracurricular activities began in the United States in the 19th century. Harvard and Yale Universities created literacy clubs to help students achieve a higher level within their class settings. Later, debate clubs, fraternities and sororities began to emerge. Athletic activities soon followed. During the World War I era, clubs focused on the creation of newspapers and yearbooks.

The United States, in comparison with other countries, has taken the lead in providing as many extracurricular programs as possible for students. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), indicators of successful participation in extracurricular activities includes improved and consistent attendance in school, as well as higher levels of academic achievement and aspirations for continuing education beyond high school.
Last spring, when our schools were shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak, my athletic director Tim Michael had a great idea. Since we could not have our normal head coaches meeting, he asked us to share our life journey of how we got to where we are now. We shared our stories with each other about every other day.

It was an amazing experience to get to read all my coaching friends’ life stories. Several common themes stood out to me. Every one of our coaches is passionate about what they coach, and mentioned they do it because a coach believed in them. Most of our coaches did not have an easy road to get to where they are. That did not stop them. They understood what they were willing to take on was worth the sacrifice.

The amount of time educators put into our extracurricular programs is astounding. Every afterschool program we provide in the Blue Springs School District is changing lives. Every program is providing an opportunity to help our students find their way. Within our district, we have educators who are passionate about their craft and willing to provide a sense of community our students so desperately need. Educators like Coach Parker have blazed the trail for many who came afterward — teachers like me and my coaching friends who want to make a positive lifetime impact on our students. While activities like band and sports seem like “extras,” they are essential to the development and well-being of our students.