The values gained by participating in interscholastic athletics and activities are preached daily by educators, coaches and athletic administrators. While school-based programming seems to be in a constant battle with club sports over its ability to increase college and professional athletic probability, no one disputes the virtuous opportunities provided by representing something larger than yourself.
Coaches like Robert Riggins of Pojoaque Valley High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Alan Edmonson of Carlsbad (New Mexico) High School are instilling in their athletes that the name on the front of their jersey means far more than the name on the back.
“You want your community to support your program, you have to go support the community first,” Riggins said.
To gain the support of their community, Riggins decided to challenge his athletes to perform random acts of kindness. His intention to create a community service project for his baseball team blossomed into a social media movement when Riggins teamed up with Edmonson.
“I had this idea to make an impact on our community,” Riggins said. “I wanted to do more. I wanted something bigger. I came up with the idea and contacted Edmonson. He had some great ideas, and we partnered together to help grow the challenge.”
The idea has become known as the #RAKEChallenge standing for Random Acts of Kindness and Empowerment. It’s simple, really. A team performs a random act of kindness in its community, posts about it on social media with the hashtag “#RAKEChallenge” and challenges another high school to do the same.
“As coaches we realize that the game of life is far more important and lasts much longer than high school athletics,” Edmonson said. “The lessons you learn about life and being a better person out-weigh the base hits, the strikeouts, the wins and the losses. As a coach, it’s more important for my athletes to leave my program as better people than better athletes.”
The giving began at Carlsbad High School with the glazed, iced and even sprinkled fried dough confection loved by kids everywhere – the donut. Members of the baseball team surprised the unsuspecting student body on a Friday morning with the sugary treats.
“When our boys were presented with the idea they were excited and could not wait to jump on board,” Edmonson said.
Baseball players were instructed to hand out donuts to students they did not already know. On the surface their act of kindness was providing breakfast, but on a deeper level the intent was to create new interpersonal connections and to instill the act of giving to not just those they knew, but more importantly, those they did not.
“As coaches it’s important to teach our kids that at some point their athletic career will come to an end. However, being a good father, husband, friend and community member doesn’t,” Edmonson said. “We want them to do good in the world outside of athletics.”
Pojoaque baseball began its #RAKEChallenge by surprising three students at the high school with a pizza party. In addition, they outfitted each student with a Pojoaque baseball shirt, hat and hoodie encouraging the idea that support of the community will equate to community support of Pojoaque baseball.
“My players love it,” Riggins said. “They love being active leaders among their peers and spreading kindness and empowerment to their classmates.”
Each team, in the spirit of the #RAKEChallenge, posted its RAKE on social media and challenged area teams.
“Every month Carlsbad and Pojoaque post new videos with the #RAKEChallenge tag challenging two new schools,” Riggins said. “We give the new schools deadlines to complete their RAKE. We’re hoping it grows into a nationwide thing.”
The New Mexico high schools of Valencia, Rio Rancho, Atrisco Heritage, Manzano, Rio Grande and Sandia have all accepted the challenge. Their acts of kindness can be found in photo form on social media and include helping with local little league teams, cleaning up an assisted living facility, feeding the high school band, and cleaning up trash around the school.
#RAKEChallenges have been issued to other athletic teams and activity groups within the same schools and even across state lines.
Riggins and Edmonson understand that their roles in the lives of these young people are far greater than teaching them the game of baseball.
“The greatest joys I’ve ever had as a coach are watching my ex-players become great fathers, husbands, community members and citizens. Their family experiences mean more to me than any game I’ve ever been a part of,” Edmonson said.
The power to have an impact on an entire community is what makes high school sports so special.
“Giving something positive to these kids that they can turn around and give to someone else is amazing. We’re creating a legacy of servant leadership that will influence others for generations to come,” Riggins said.
To get your team involved in the #RAKEChallenge, perform a random act of kindness, post a photo of the act on social media with the hashtag “#RAKEChallenge” and challenge others to make a difference in their community.
Lindsey Atkinson is director of sports/communications associate at the National Federation of State High School Associations.