Stevensville High School is taking a bold step — it's ironing out the details so skateboarding students can earn a "letter."
Junior Ryan LaBenske is the Skate Club president. He’s been skating for five years, competes in local events and was involved in the Stevensville Skate Park fundraising and design.
“We’ve ... had pro teams come use it,” LaBenske said. “People are thrilled to try our park.”
The Skate Club went through the process to form a club at the high school — presenting to student council, building a roster of members and creating a mission statement and vision of what they are about. They found a school sponsor in longboard rider and fourth-grade educator Scott Siebert.
“The Skate Club gave us an organized way to use the skate park,” LaBenske said.
LaBenske also credited the efforts of Stevensville council member Ray Smith.
“Ray Smith has been instrumental in all kinds of things with skate club and the skate park,” said Brian Gum, Stevensville high principal. “He’s done a great job with the kids and has been motivated in acquiring helmets.”
Activities director Nate Fry said every coach has criteria for lettering.
“It may be that you have to make the tournament team at the season to letter,” he said. “For any outside group like a ski team or rodeo team we want to recognize our students (who) are competing out there.
“With Skate Club we would have to find that way to rationalize it and monitor it,” he added. “A letter is a prestigious thing — you get a varsity letter if you make it to the top level. It would be cool to make it possible for skating.”
Gum said he is working with the Skate Club to formulate the criteria to letter.
“We have kids coming from all over the Valley to use the skate park,” Gum said. “We’ve taken that small thing and it has grown to something really cool.”
Gum said once Stevensville decides on lettering requirements, it would be exciting if it inspired neighboring schools to adopt the plan and build interschool competitions.
He praised LaBenske.
“I’m so proud of Ryan and how he has evolved and matured as a student,” Gum said. “Ryan is a really good leader and has captured those kids who aren’t networked or involved in school and might not graduate. Ryan has corralled that entire group and will keep them making good choices. He’s a neat kid and has done a lot.”
LaBenske said he has been jotting down ideas for lettering requirements for skateboarding.
“It might be learning a certain number or types of trick, battles between ourselves, attending club meetings and community service,” he said.
Lettering in an activity can be what keeps students in school and on course for graduation.
“Even if you’re not in football or basketball there is speech and debate, music, Key Club — so many different ways to be involved in the school and community,” Gum said.
LaBenske said Skate Club allows for individuality and creativity while recognizing athleticism and the physical demands of the sport.
Plus, the experience of working with the school and community has developed in LaBenske the skills he’ll need later in life.
“If being a big time pro-skater doesn’t happen, you can take the knowledge and the drive and all these things to run your own skate shop some day or (make) big money running a big skate shop,” Gum told LaBenske.
“I actually co-run Emanuel Skateboards now that I’m sponsored by them,” LaBenske said.
Gum said the criteria for earning a letter soon will be in place, and letters will be awarded this spring.
“One year we did lettering in weight lifting and body building,” Gum said. “I’m always looking for unique ways for students to link into our school. We’re pushing the envelope on new things and hopefully more kids from the Valley might say they want to do it.”
LaBenske credited Gum for his success:
“I really appreciate that he allows me to do what I want to express myself.”