Leadership participants pay it forward at J. Kyle Braid program in Colorado

These Local student-athletes from the Class of 2016 were selected for the J. Kyle Braid Leadership program:

HINSDALE CENTRAL: Nathan Hill (cross country/track); Jim Walker (soccer); Caroline Morris (lacrosse); Emma Stapleton (track)

HINSDALE SOUTH: Danny Milosevich (water polo); Dylan Boye (football/track); Madison Cebular (soccer); Kailey Hoel (track)

LYONS: Mike Phelan (football/baseball); Nick Rosenberger (water polo); Daniel King (football/basketball); Jennifer Grissim (soccer); Kyle Strasser (basketball); Diana Kafkes (cross country/track)

OAK PARK-RIVER FOREST: Jay Heininger (football); Will Dunne (soccer); Jeremy Gaines (baseball); Brianne Bujnowski (soccer/field hockey); Nora Sullivan (swimming)

Kailey Hoel has played softball at Hinsdale South and currently competes in track and field, but one of the biggest challenges she’s faced was staring down a 12-foot wall at an obstacle course in rural Colorado.

Hoel was one of four student-athletes from Hinsdale South invited to participate in the annual J. Kyle Braid Leadership program last month in Villa Grove, Colorado.

High school students live nearly a week at an impressive three-story log ranch with three smaller support buildings nearby. There is little else around other than rough terrain, wilderness trails and the picturesque Rocky Mountains.

Hoel spent nearly 32 hours in the classroom over the week learning leadership techniques and skills before tackling other tasks, such as the imposing obstacle course.

“There is a 12-foot wall and everyone is supposed to get over the wall,” Hoel said. “You learn that you have to use each other [to get over].”

Campers wake up each day at 6:45 a.m. and attend classes before and after lunch. Then it’s time for karaoke, horseback riding, hiking, bonfires and hanging out at the sauna or hot tub. Students must check in their cell phones when they arrive; calls home can be made on Wednesdays.

“It was weird. In the first few days, you reach for your phone out of habit,” Hoel said. “But you get to know each other better. You are always planning ahead [in person] and not texting someone. It’s much easier to know people.”

This summer, the JKB Foundation hosted 115 students from 23 high schools in the Chicago area. Twenty-eight other students came from five schools in Ohio and another 20 students arrived from five Florida schools. Boys and girls attend seperate weeks.

Any student-athlete entering junior year can be nominated by a teacher, coach or alumni. At OPRF, a field of 70 students was pared down to eight boys and eight girls. Each candidate created a resume, wrote an essay and was interviewed by a panel of more than a dozen teachers.

Lyons’ junior Mike Phelan learned how to be more confident and how to refuse peers when they press him to make uncomfortable choices.

“You learn what to do and why,” Phelan said. “You learned how to say, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ and say, ‘I want to do this instead.’ ”

OPRF’s Brianne Bujnowski discovered how she can affect other students based on how many contacts she makes in a day as a classmate or teammate.

“We learned how a flyer can help keep people drug- and alcohol-free,” Bujnowski said. “We learned how to be a leader. People sometimes need that in times that are tough.”

Once the students return, their high school teachers help apply the lessons.

Social studies teacher and assistant water polo coach Chris Wilbur, who has been with the JKB program at Hinsdale Central for 10 years, introduced the group’s role-playing skills to eighth graders at Clarendon Hills Middle School.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for kids to practice and utilize their leadership goals [when they return],” Wilbur said. “We provide volunteer opportunities, set up transportation, help with an event to put on. The kids do the planning and we take care of the adult things like reserving space. We let the kids do as much as they can do.”

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These Local student-athletes from the Class of 2016 were selected for the J. Kyle Braid Leadership program:

HINSDALE CENTRAL: Nathan Hill (cross country/track); Jim Walker (soccer); Caroline Morris (lacrosse); Emma Stapleton (track)

HINSDALE SOUTH: Danny Milosevich (water polo); Dylan Boye (football/track); Madison Cebular (soccer); Kailey Hoel (track)

LYONS: Mike Phelan (football/baseball); Nick Rosenberger (water polo); Daniel King (football/basketball); Jennifer Grissim (soccer); Kyle Strasser (basketball); Diana Kafkes (cross country/track)

OAK PARK-RIVER FOREST: Jay Heininger (football); Will Dunne (soccer); Jeremy Gaines (baseball); Brianne Bujnowski (soccer/field hockey); Nora Sullivan (swimming)

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