Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wanted: student athletes

The Community School and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation join forces

Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and The Community School have announced a formal partnership combining a highly competitive nordic ski program with a college preparatory education.

The private school in Sun Valley announced last Tuesday that the new alliance has been created to help high school athletes receive academic support while taking part in the ski education foundation's U.S. Junior Nordic program, led by Head Coach Rick Kapala.

"Since coming here almost three years ago, I've strongly felt that there should be an organic relationship between the local ski organization and the school in which the student athletes can thrive," said Community School Headmaster Andy Jones-Wilkins.

Jones-Wilkins said the intention is to create a program that falls somewhere between a school that happens to exist in a mountain town and a ski academy such as Utah's Rowmark.

"We don't want to create a school within a school or have growth for growth's sake," Jones-Wilkins said. "At our core, we are a small, independent school and we don't want to jeopardize the intimate feel of our classes."

Ski Education Foundation Executive Director Don Wiseman said the partnership is beginning with the nordic program because the athletes' commitments aren't quite as demanding as those of the alpine skiers.

"This is just one of our first steps out of the box," Wiseman said. "The nordic program is the easiest to incorporate right away, as the school won't have to change its schedule. The training takes about half the time of the alpine program."

Because of that, the nordic skiers won't require major shifts in their academic programs, but Wiseman said a partnership would help accommodate athletes with intensive training and racing schedules that take them away from the classroom. He said alpine skiers are often on the road for 45 to 60 days during winter, making it difficult if a school cannot provide a flexible class schedule. To that end, ski academies adjust their schedules by offering summer or online classes, he said.

Wiseman said the ski education foundation has also been working with Wood River High School to make sure the athletes in the program are getting the support necessary to make the most of their athletic and educational experiences in high school.

"We want the kids to feel like they nailed it in high school," Wiseman said. "Both the academic and athletic workload has increased for these students, so the focus is to blend the two—they're not separate entities."

Jones-Wilkins said the quality of Kapala's program and the school's record of college placement could provide a draw for students outside of the Wood River Valley. He said that in that event, the school would look into providing a homestay with a family, as it does for international students.

"We could use a few more kids, but we're not talking about doubling the size of the school," Jones-Wilkins said.

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