Tolefree Takes Away Lessons From Big 12 Leadership Summit

July 20, 2010


Last weekend, sophomore-to-be Tayler Tolefree of the Kansas volleyball team participated in the inaugural Big 12 Leadership Summit along with nearly 50 student-athletes from around the conference.

Participants of the event, which was held in Lawrence, had to be nominated by their respective coaches to attend. Tolefree was joined by fellow KU student-athletes Monica Engelman (women’s basketball), Shelby Williamson (soccer), Chris Gilbert (men’s golf), Rebeka Stowe (cross country/track and field) and Daymond Patterson (football).

The weekend was filled with a variety of activities that included group discussions, athletic competitions, guest speakers and a kickball game with Special Olympians, Tolefree’s favorite part about the summit.

“The Special Olympians had a big impact on me,” said Tolefree. “There was an Olympian there who I went to elementary school with but I didn’t think he would remember me. I did not have many interactions with him in elementary school. But when I showed up there he knew my name and was asking how my siblings were. We talked the whole time we were playing kickball. That was definitely a bright spot and I’m glad I got to make that connection.”

Tolefree also spent a lot of time in discussion groups. The groups discussed topics such as leadership, teamwork and team chemistry.

“I was surprised that we did a lot of looking introspectively at ourselves and the experiences we have each been through,” said Tolefree. “We learned a lot about how we can use our own strengths and weaknesses to help our teams. We also talked about problems we have encountered on our teams, how we solved them and what things worked for us.”

Several guest speakers also made presentations at the summit including former KU track and field standout Billy Mills, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist, Tolefree pointed out.

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 the only American man to win gold in the event.

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.

Despite the fact that there were rival athletes at the Leadership Summit, Tolefree said there were no hard feelings between athletes from different schools.

“It didn’t matter that we were all from competing schools. We were all there to figure out how to help our teams and make our schools better. I actually made a really good friend from Kansas State,” Tolefree said with a smile.