When most of us adults think back on our high school experience, the things that stand out most in our memories are the sports and activities we participated in, the friends we made along the way and the life lessons we learned while participating: perseverance, teamwork, goal-setting and so many more.

That’s why it feels good to see our high school students participating in their spring activities and sports this year, especially after last year’s spring season was canceled. Athletes are working out at their fields and facilities, music students are preparing for spring concerts, and student performers are honing their skills in speech and drama. It’s great to see these students able to participate in the things they love.

Sports and activities are more than “extras” to the students who participate. For some, these extra curricular activities might be the reason they get out of bed and get to school every morning, or the motivation that propels them through their school day. In the teenage years, students crave independence from their parents and begin looking for social and emotional support from peers and other caring adults. For many students, that support comes from those they know through a sport or activity. When all of this is in place, students are more easily able to focus on school work and think ahead toward the future.

We know that participation in extracurricular activities has a strong positive influence on students. The physical and mental challenges of these activities nudge students to work a little harder and push outside of their comfort zone in order to achieve their goals. Team and group efforts show students how to work together with others toward a common goal. Coaches and advisors provide an additional layer of caring adults to help guide and support our students.

This year, with COVID adding many more complications to student participation, sports and activities are teaching a few additional life lessons. Safety guidance like social distancing and masks have taught our students to be adaptable and resilient. In some cases, in order to participate at all, students, coaches and advisors have needed to use a lot of creativity to come up with ways to make things work within the safety guidance.

Most importantly in this year of COVID, we’ve learned gratitude and appreciation for the ability to play or participate whenever we can. We’ve seen many cases in our school and others where big games, tournaments or events were canceled due to COVID. One case of the virus or one group of students on quarantine can quickly derail the season or force a new game plan, and all of us — parents, students and staff — have learned to appreciate every competition and every chance to perform, and not to take those opportunities for granted.

As we look ahead to the spring season and the last several weeks of this challenging school year, it’s great to see our students participating in the sports and activities they love, especially when these seasons were lost last spring.

Mike Hennen is the Activities Director at Forest Lake Area Schools.

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