CONWAY — Kennett High students are getting into the holiday spirit a bit earlier than usual this year.

The KHS Life of an Athlete Leadership Team is sending out holiday cards to members of the military as part of the Holiday Cards 4 Our Military Challenge.

“I brought this idea to the guys at the end of the last month or the beginning of this month, and they said yes, let’s do it,” said Kennett High Athletic Director Neal Weaver, Life of an Athlete program coordinator.

“We brainstormed some ideas on how can we get 716 kids (in the flex block schedule classes)? We decided to give them to the teachers, who can have their students do them during their flex period.”

Students address each holiday card to “Dear Warrior” and then a holiday greeting such as “Happy Holidays!”

They also write a personal note to each of the troops, letting them know what is going on in our hometown or region of the country.

Weaver said the message can be serious or funny or both, “always keeping in mind that appropriate language and wording are important.”

Students are asked to sign their first names and the town and state in which they live.

The cards, basically messages on index cards, need to be completed by  Thursday. They will be collected and shipped to U.S. troops.

It is the first year that the Eagles have taken part in the the holiday card program.

According to lifeofanathlete.com, the programe was created in 1999 by John Underwood, “a former NCAA All-American, international-level distance runner" who had coached dozens of Olympians.

The program "has been adopted in many schools across the country,” the website states. “The goal is to increase healthy lifestyles among youth, including the choice not to misuse alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

"It is a school-based program that primarily targets student-athletes as the entry point to change norms and create a positive school climate based on increasing healthy lifestyle choices," the website continues.

"The curriculum teaches about adequate sleep, nutrition and abstinence from drugs and alcohol; a whole health approach.”

Kennett is in its fifth year of the program, which also is under the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athlete Association’s umbrella.

Members of the Kennett Life of an Athlete Leadership Team are seniors Hannah Frittenburg, Sophie Killeen, Trevor LaRusso and Reilly Murphy; juniors Parker Coleman, Amirah Daugherty, Alexis Gunn; and sophomores Camden Bailey, Sam Habert-Jaques and Grace Murphy.

The team generally meets every few weeks.

LaRusso also serves as an officer for the state Life of an Athlete Leadership Team.

It is an honor and privilege to be on the team, said Weaver. It is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors, who need to apply each year to be part of it.

“They fill out an application,” Weaver said, explaining that the students are asked what leadership skills they have; what ideas for programs they bring to the team; and how being on the team will help them improve as a person.

They are then asked for a recommendation from a teacher or coach.

“Then what happens is I kind of rank them," Weaver said. "Then two teachers rank them, and then the three outgoing seniors rank them, and we get a composite score.

"It’s very objective," he said, the top candidates being "more or less who gets the best numbers from six different people.”

Weaver said more than 30 people applied to be on the team this year.

LaRusso said, “During my freshman year, a number of captain and team leaders in my sports teams told me I should join. I applied at the end of my freshman year.”

He added: “My favorite thing about Life of an Athlete is meeting a lot of other leaders from sports I don’t play, so I get to hear a lot of input about how they lead, so I learn from them.”

Frittenburg said being part of the team has helped her leadership skills.

“With certain events or activities that we do, it helps get our teams involved, and we’re able to use our leadership skills by being a part of this to get more athletes involved in the different events that we do,” she said.

The team does a number of activities during the school year. They kicked off this school year by getting all of the fall sports teams to donate 200 school-supply items to the North Conway Cares Backpack giveaway in August.

In September, the team led the New Hampshire Tackles Hunger food drive at KHS. This year they collected 1,316 items (double last year's total), 1,070 pounds of food (triple last year's weight) and $190 (almost five times last year's amount), all donated to the Vaughan Community Center/Food Pantry.

The team also organized and ran a freshmen field day last month.

This winter, the team will once again host “Whiteout Hunger,” asking people to bring food items for local pantries to doubleheader basketball games, as well as organizing fun student halftime activities.

They also will do an Angels & Elves donation where the team will go out and purchase gifts for children.

In the spring, the team will attend the state conference at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. They also will run Operation Hat Trick to honor the military and will take part in a mental health awareness week.

The students like being part of the team.

“I’d definitely encourage people to apply,” said Reilly Murphy. “I think the more people who apply, the bigger voice you have in the school. The more people we have, the more we’re able to do. We get to be part of a lot of good stuff.”

“I’d tell people to join as early as possible,” added LaRusso, “so when you're put into leadership roles as seniors and juniors, you definitely have more knowledge and information about how to be a leader, how to be a captain.”

“That’s one of the things I’m always trying to help them with,” said Weaver. “I’ve said a lot of times, you might not have the skills yet to handle some of these situations that you’re put into as leaders on your teams.

"Hopefully, this is something that this group helps them learn. They’re 15, 16, 17 years old and put into a difficult situation most of the time with their peers; you know that’s challenging for them.

"That’s something that this group really tries to instill them with, the ability of how can I do this, I have to do this. I’m a leader, this is expected of me.”

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