What’s your definition of an All-American high school student-athlete?
For veteran Bangor High School athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine, that definition would include a student who attends school at least 95 percent of the time, regularly makes the academic honor roll, excels in athletics and boasts a positive attitude both with his or her team and around school the rest of the day.
So Vanidestine, who oversees an athletic department that serves 300 to 400 student-athletes during a given sports season, has developed a program to recognize those within the Bangor student body who succeed not only in competition but also in the classroom.
To him, they’re “Bangor All-Americans.”
“I looked at all the great kids and families that have come through here, and I thought about what were the common things they shared,” Vanidestine said. “We found academic excellence, the fact the kids were very good athletically, they had excellent attendance and a great attitude, so we thought it would be good to recognize this.”
Seen as a pilot program that also could be used by other co-curricular entities within the school — the Bangor All-American program was introduced last fall at the urging of Bangor superintendent Dr. Betsy M. Webb, who tasked Vanidestine to develop efforts to enhance attendance and academics throughout the athletic program in accordance with the school department’s pursuit of academic excellence.
“We challenge our student-athletes to do well academically, to be role models in their sport and to maintain strong attendance, which has a direct correlation to academic achievement,” said Webb. “We want to continue to strive to find our ways to help our students excel and prepare for the next level.”
Data outlining such details as the number of students on each sports team, the grade-point average and attendance performance for each team, individual attendance and the number of student-athletes on the honor roll is collected. Also, a listing of student-athletes who have achieved 95 percent attendance — missing two or fewer days during an academic quarter — and made the honor roll is forwarded to the various coaches.
Coaches then consider the student-athlete’s athletic excellence and team attitude, leading to the selection of the Bangor All-Americans.
Another element of the program allows coaches to keep up with their athletes’ academic performance every two weeks through the school’s computer system, which groups student-athletes not only by their classes, but also by their teams.
“The benefit is that the kids know we care about them in class, on the field — we still want to win — but we try hard to find a balance between all the skills necessary to leave here and go on to be successful in college and in work,” said Vanidestine. “We feel that if you look at the successful worker, if you’re on the job a high percentage of the time, you work hard, you’re bright, and you have a good attitude, you’re going to be pretty good in whatever you choose to do.”
Bangor football coach Mark Hackett sees the chance to check on his players’ academic progress periodically as another mentoring opportunity.
“We can just keep on them a little more to keep up with their work just like a teacher would do or just like a parent would do,” Hackett said. “It works wonderfully because there’s no (eligibility) surprises, and when you start keeping data on things like attendance and honor roll, it just proves what you thought anyway, that the kids are special, they always exceed what you expect.”
Those who achieve the four A’s will receive a student-endorsed black T-shirt with the “Bangor All-American” phrase on front as well as the school’s ram logo circled by stars that reflect the All-American persona. On the back of the shirt is a listing of the four “A” categories checkmarked as completed, topped by the phrase “Mission Accomplished.”
“I’m hopeful that this will signify a thank-you to the kids, a small symbol of accomplishment in those four areas over time,” said Vanidestine. “I’m in hopes the kids wear these with pride.”
The first group of “Bangor All-Americans” will be honored during a rally at the school on Friday, and the number of recipients will be significant, Vanidestine said. In fact, he had to double the number of T-shirts he originally ordered to cover the number of the recipients — estimated at more than 150.
Students will be eligible to earn just one T-shirt, but Vanidestine is working on how to recognize students who achieve the program’s standards more than once.
“The families and people in the community have really supported academics and athletics here. We have some families that have been incredible, and I just feel that the award might give them a little thanks for doing such a good job,” said Vanidestine. “We don’t have a lot of problems here.”