Inaugural Big 12 Leadership Summit Concludes

July 18, 2010

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas Athletics hosted 48 student athletes from around the Big 12 conference this weekend when the inaugural Big 12 Leadership Summit began its run in Lawrence.

For three days, student-athletes, which included KU’s Rebeka Stowe (cross country/track & field), Chris Gilbert (men’s golf), Daymond Patterson (football), Monica Engelman (women’s basketball), Shelby Williamson (soccer) and Tayler Tolefree (volleyball), participated in events designed to promote leadership and sportsmanship, with the goal of becoming strong leaders on their respective teams and in life.

“We hope they come away with more self awareness and a better understanding of themselves,” said KU counseling and sport psychologist Megan Harrity.

Harrity, along with Associate Athletics Director Mike Harrity, former Jayhawk track and field athlete Matt Baysinger and sport psychology graduate assistant Brett Haskell designed the summit’s curriculum. At its core, the Big 12 Leadership Summit was designed as a way for student-athletes to develop leadership qualities and learn about strength-building tactics that could then be taken back to each athlete’s respective schools and teams.

“The goal is for them to take with them the energy and focus to go back to their campus and make positive changes happen,” Mike Harrity said. “Positive changes on their teams and within their athletic department – that is something that the Big 12 takes very seriously.”

The event began Friday with a dinner hosted by KU Athletics Director Lew Perkins at the Oread Hotel, the main site of the event. Social activities soon followed, giving rival competitors a chance to interact with one another in a different manor than usual.

“Through compassion comes understanding,” Mike Harrity said. “I think what they are finding is that there are more similarities than there are differences with each other. Of course there’s the good-natured ribbing, but I think they are really identifying with each other more.”

The sportsmanship theme hit a high note Saturday. A speech from KU track and field great Billy Mills and a kickball tournament with Special Olympians highlighted the day.

Mills served as the keynote speaker at Saturday’s lunch. The Olympic gold medalist gave student-athletes insight into his remarkable journey to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and orphaned by the age of 13, Mills took the sports world by storm when he won the gold medal in the 10,000 meters, becoming the first, and still currently the only American man to win gold in the event.

However, Mills preached that the destination is a mere afterthought compared to the journey. And the journey included being a dedicated athlete, a gracious competitor and a role model for others. He included video clips in his presentation that touched on rival athletes and the friendships they shared.

A charismatic speaker, it was evident that Mills had touched the student-athletes. His audience sat captivated during his speech, even bringing a few to tears. A line of students out the door of the Oread’s Hancock Room followed, as students patiently waited to thank Mills and tell him of their own goals and inspirations.

With the format now fully in place, the Big 12 Leadership Summit will now rotate between the campuses of the 12 member institutions each year. Although the 2010 summit was just the first, its creators feel as though the effects have already been seen.

“It was a lot of work to put this weekend together,” Mike Harrity said. “But seeing the smiles on their faces and the excitement with the different activities we’ve done is showing us that they are engaged and they are invested.

“When they get back on the planes to go back to their respective campuses they will be able to bring back positive changes.”