United South Central’s activities director Joe Kuechenmeister is showing the district the importance of participation in school sports and other activities by joining USC in the Minnesota State High School League’s “Why We Play” initiative.
Statistics from the MSHSL have shown that students who participate in high school activities tend to have higher grade point averages and better attendance records, and students who participate in athletics are three times more likely to graduate from high school and go to college. Not only that, but the MSHSL says that students who participate in high school activities tend to have lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems than other students.
The “Why We Play” initiative began with Jody Redman, a member of the MSHSL board and coach, herself. She began the initiative in response to the “win at all costs” culture that was growing in high school sports.
“For a lot of parents, coaches, and players, when asked the question why we play, the answer was to win,” says Kuechenmeister. “And in today’s high school sports culture, we have a different view. It’s ‘we before me.’ Our goal is to be successful when we are intentional as coaches with our teams in things like overcoming adversity, being a good teammate, and learning from our mistakes and our failures.”
Kuechenmeister says each sports scene has a unique set of tools and skills that it takes to achieve a growth, and potentially a win.
“Everyone wants to play, and this initiative helps us to show that everyone on the team has a crucial role, whether it’s being able to support other players, or share different dynamics to create the same outcome,” says Kuechenmeister.
Each 9-12 grade coach at USC takes an online certification class through MSHSL on the Why We Play initiative.
“In this certification, we kind of flip the camera on the coaches and ask them what it is like to be coached by themselves. What’s important as a coach influences these players, so we want our coaches to compete with integrity, with respect for others, and show our students these important dynamics that will help them in the real world as well.”
Kuechenmeister, himself, has grown up in a world of athletics. As a Blue Earth Area High School graduate, he says he has played sports almost his entire life and says he would not be the person he was today if it weren’t for the environment he grew up in.
After high school, he went to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter to obtain degrees in health and physical education. From there, he went to MSU to obtain his teaching license and adapted physical education degree.
During that time at MSU, he coached volleyball for New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and was their assistant boy’s basketball coach, as well.
From there, he went to LeRoy Ostrander where he taught health and physical education classes as well as being the school’s community ed director, activities director, and the volleyball coach as well as the junior high’s boys basketball coach.
“I am so fortunate to have loved sports as much as I have and I am so excited to be doing what I am truly passionate about,” he says. “There are good lessons and tough lessons in sports. There are wins and losses, struggles with injuries and team dynamics, but those lessons are so important. It gets me so excited to create those types of impacts on these students.”
Kuechenmeister says USC has an advantage of being a small school because there are a variety of activities students can be involved in, and, if they so choose, be involved in multiple activities.
“We are so fortunate to have such great coaches and activity leaders here at USC,” says Kuechenmeister. “Every activity brings its own unique flavor, and as enrollment changes, our activities are able to shape and strengthen the environment and our district. Activities are so important, and these coaches and leaders bring not only academic benefits to these students, but physical and social benefits as well.”
The activities director says their head football coach, Brandon Neseth, hosted a “mom’s practice” for the football team. The football players cooked a meal for their moms (and dads), while the parents met with the athletic trainers and coaches to learn more about health concerns like concussions and injuries, as well as getting a “chalk talk” about the different positions on the team.
“For some of these students, this team is their family. For some students, their school life is better than their home life, and we want to show those students what good leadership looks like, what working towards a common goal looks like, what perseverance and being pushed outside of their comfort zone looks like,” says Kuechenmeister. “This Why We Play initiative has already created a great impact at USC, and it is an exciting time to be a USC rebel.”