BREWER, Maine — One morning every other week, 23 student-athletes make their way into Brewer High School bright and early at 7 a.m. Not for study hall or weight training but to develop a collective voice for their sporting interests.
The school’s newly created Student Athlete Advisory Council is a work in progress at present, but its future parameters will likely include fundraising efforts, community service, enhancing school spirit at athletic events and raising awareness about such policy issues as academic eligibility and the student-athlete code of conduct.
“It gives a chance to get an athlete’s point of view on certain issues,” said council member Matt Morrow, a senior at Brewer. “As athletes we don’t always get to voice our opinion on certain matters and with this council I think we’ll have the chance to speak out on certain issues and I think it will be good for everybody in helping to determine good athletic standards for our school and all of our sports teams.”
Brewer’s student-athlete council is the brainchild of first-year athletic administrator Dave Utterback and is one example of a growing effort to create more opportunities for student-athlete input in both policymaking areas and community service efforts, according to Gerry Durgin, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association.
“Brewer should be commended for what it’s doing,” Durgin said. “I think it will help serve to unify the school in a positive direction.”
The MPA not long ago created its own 16-member Student Advisory Council comprised of two representatives from each of the state’s eight high school athletic conferences.
The MPA grouping, which also encompasses both large and small schools as well as representatives from both northern and southern Maine, organizes an annual community service project for schools around the state — this year raising funds for the Maine chapter of the American Cancer Society. It also sends students to regional and national leadership conferences each year and is active in promoting good sportsmanship.
In fact, the MPA’s practice of awarding good sportsmanship banners in various sports has been revised and expanded to include all 27 of the student activities sponsored by the association in large part because of the input of its student advisory council.
“We’re trying to create a student voice,” Durgin said, “and this certainly has been a good step.”
Utterback’s vision for the Brewer student-athlete council was based on his experience as an intern in the Husson University athletic department under former athletic director Gabby Price.
As Husson was switching its affiliation from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the university was required to develop a similar student-athlete advisory council. Utterback was assigned to work on that effort in conjunction with faculty representative Warren Caruso, the Eagles’ men’s basketball coach.
When Utterback applied to replace retiring Brewer athletic administrator Dennis Kiah this spring, he brought the concept of a student-athlete advisory committee with him.
The council subsequently was approved by the Brewer School Committee in August, and since the start of the school year the group has met regularly to develop bylaws, elect officers and discuss various issues.
“We’re still in the first stages of this, but I think it’s great for the students to have a voice,” said Brewer softball coach Skip Estes, who along with cross-country and track coach Glendon Rand serve as the council’s advisers. “What I think has been a lot of fun already has been to watch them get their by-laws together and run their meetings.
“It’s fun to watch them in this process, but they’ve organized it themselves.”
The council includes student-athletes representing all sports offered at the school as nominated by coaches as well as both upperclassmen and underclassmen to preserve continuity from year to year. Among the members’ duties are to serve as liaisons to their respective teams.
“It’s a more direct source of student input,” Utterback said. “Now they’ll have the voice to say ‘This is what we’d like to see.’”
Already the council has sponsored a bonfire held before the football team’s final home game, and the group currently is organizing a door-to-door nonperishable food drive in Brewer for this Saturday.
“I think in the future we’ll start focusing on more things like school-sponsored events, getting the student body involved in all of the sports and providing a voice about athletics in general at the school,” Morrow said.
The council also discussed the pending reclassification of school athletic programs statewide, and the possibility that Brewer might be shifted from Class A to Class B in more sports based on enrollment.
“Going to Class B has been a big issue here that we’ve touched upon,” Morrow said.
Among big-picture ideas under longer-term consideration may include the development of an athletic hall of fame at the school, Utterback said.
“I think it’s a lot more helpful and productive having this type of group together,” Morrow said, “with everybody bringing their different thoughts of what they think should be done with a common goal of getting across what we want to have as an athletic program.”