THE CKA
 

By Nancy Luse

Athletic shoes squeaked on the polished floor of John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring and there was the swish of basketballs sailing through nets, followed by cheers — or groans from the other team. To be sure, last December’s holiday tournament was about the game of basketball, but there was something else going on, beginning with the way students organized the event — right down to running the concessions — to the decision to donate game proceeds to a cancer research foundation.

But that’s not all. In addition to playing or watching their teams in action, students were also given advice at tables set up outside the gym about how to work successfully at their academics, in addition to hearing from college recruiters that a dream of continuing their formal education past high school was attainable.

Welcome to the workings of CKA-SAVE Project, sponsor of last winter’s basketball tournament, just one of the many initiatives the group promotes. The non-profit is geared towards student athletes and was founded by Silver Spring resident, Keith Adams, a social studies teacher and basketball coach. He was mentored as a teenager by his basketball coach, Hank Galotta, who inspired him to go on to college and imparted the admonishment to “stay true to how you were brought up.” Adams is now returning the favor by also directing students along a positive path. Taking it a step further, he also instructs other teachers on how to make a difference, not only those in his school, but also by conducting workshops at national conferences.

The organization’s initials stand for “Coach Keith Adams — Student Athletes Valuing Education,” and the group has a vision statement of using “academics and athletics as catalysis to lifelong success.”

Adams played and coached basketball at high schools in Montgomery County and is now assistant coach for men’s basketball at Hood College in Frederick.

“Basketball is a microcosm of life,” the coach believes. “There’s no magic pill, you’ve got to prepare, whether for a test or for a game.” His formula is to teach structure, discipline and support.

“With structure you find that people function better with boundaries. With discipline comes accountability and with support, we’re going to help you and you help others,” Adams said. Students are taught study skills, how to manage their time and how to best communicate with teachers. Upperclassmen with at least a 2.5 grade point average serve as mentors to younger students.

Katrele Carroll, a founding CKA-SAVE board member and college and career information coordinator at Kennedy High, recalls her student days as being interested in sports, but “also passionate about academics,” and sees a fit between the two. “We can captivate students’ attention” with events such as a basketball tournament, “but academics are always a priority.”

In the three short years of the group’s existence, Carroll said she has received much positive feedback from parents and students “who want to give back, either to our organization, or to classmates and siblings, anything to help youth.”

Fellow board member Cheryl Williams said she was inspired to join the organization because of the emphasis on education. “The student athlete designation is usually not applied until college,” she said, adding that the values fostered through the program can be used by students to be better citizens.

“Kids look up to athletes,” Williams said. “CKA provides a way for them to be the role model” not only while in the game, but also in their daily lives. “There’s a responsibility to being a student athlete.” She also is proud that the program’s blueprint includes teacher training since they are at the forefront of a student’s education. “I see this growing, bringing on more students and having a presence more than at Kennedy High.”

Millie Valenzuela, a junior at Kennedy, was involved in Adams’ Connections class when she was a freshman. The class fostered ideals that later became the foundation for the organization. “I found it really helpful,” Millie said. “I was an average student, but with the program it helped me improve my grades.” She’s not an athlete, although she enjoys watching sports, and said the pairing of sports and academics still works for her. “I find it interesting. It all connects and makes sense.”

CKA is not just about working hard, Millie said. There are also fun times like an upcoming trip to Six Flags amusement park. Adams said it’s designed to be “one day when they get to forget their troubles.”

Collin Dobbins, also a junior at Kennedy, is on the swim and lacrosse teams and is a CKA mentor. “What it has done for me is to teach me about leadership and self-advocacy, to be someone who can help other people.” Collin said the program operates in a friendly environment and that both groups of students — those mentoring and those being mentored — come out winners. “It’s a fantastic program,” he said.

Dajanet Lantion is a student at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., where she is also on the basketball team. But whenever she’s back home she is available to talk to students at her old school, telling them what it’s like as a college student. “The project has allowed me to interact with many different students,” she said, many who appreciate hearing what she has to say because she’s living it.

This year the group hopes to raise $5,000 in donations through various undraisers to be used for activities such as teacher/student trips to visit colleges, an academic support camp and summer basketball league. Organizers are also looking to form outside partnerships and want to get their story told at conferences and symposiums.

More information about CKA-SAVE is available at www.ckasaveproject.com.


Nancy Luse is a freelance writer working in Frederick, Md.

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