There's an old saying often associated with sports, "Leave it all on the field." It's meant to inspire a person or a team to give it their all, commit to doing their best and give everything they have. But the saying and the message behind it go far beyond the field or the court when it comes to Tulsa Public Schools athletes.
"Our coaches are focused on getting kids to the next level, even if it's not playing. They want those kids to be able to get to college and live out their dreams," said Assistant Athletic Director Jen Sanders. "As a coach, you become so close with kids and you want to see them succeed."
And succeed our students have. Jen says one of the biggest things athletics teaches students is about discipline - a trait that goes beyond a sport and into the classroom, keeping a high academic standard.
"They can't have any Fs if they want to play. We know that it's driving academics because for them to play or participate they have to have a high academic standard. They have to be disciplined enough to know school comes first before anything else," Jen said.
For the 2018-2019 school year, more than $900,000 in scholarships was given out to Tulsa Public Schools athletes. The year before, more than $1 million in scholarships was given out. Because of these scholarships, many students were able to reach their dreams of going to college.
Another goal of the athletic program is to create leaders in schools. Through the Student Athlete Advisory Council, students discuss how to create a positive school culture, discuss social issues, and learn to lead the right way.
"Our students have noticed that when athletics or any extracurricular activity is going well kids are excited about doing things, which helps build a positive school culture," Jen said.
That positive school culture was felt throughout the district in the 2018-2019 school year. More than 5,500 students participated on 194 teams across middle and high schools, with championships won in basketball, soccer, pom and more. But it's not just about winning, it's about giving back.
Another goal of the Student Athlete Advisory Council is to work with the community. For the past two years, students have worked with Night Light Tulsa - an organization that supports Tulsa's homeless community. It's an experience the students learn a lot from.
"They get to be a part of the community. They get to see and know that our job as human beings is to help each other. This experience changes these kids," Jen said.
One student was so moved by his time helping Night Light Tulsa that he organized his church to volunteer for several weeks.
The goal for Jen and the entire Tulsa Public Schools athletics department isn't just to win, it's to set up every student for success. It goes beyond football, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, cheer, pom, volleyball, or track. It's building relationships, instilling discipline, creating strong leaders, and getting them to the next level in life.
"We don't count wins and losses, we count how many kids go to college or career school and where they are today, which is the most important thing. As a teacher or coach, it's important that we're producing citizens that contribute and are excited about leaving a positive mark on the world," Jen said.
You can learn more about our athletic program here.