Pursuit of PerfectionSep 02, 2021
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It's an early morning in August, and the sun lies low on the horizon as students take to the field across the city of Moore. Even with peak temperatures six to eight hours away, the young men and women who represent the three local high schools and six junior highs in athletic competition and extracurricular activities are quickly drenched with sweat as they go through pre-season workouts and practices.
It's an integral part of life across the country. Here in Moore, the administrators, teachers, and coaches overseeing this critical part of the student experience take great care and pride in making sure it meets the needs of every participant.
"We start early with our kids in providing opportunities, whether it be the athletic or the fine arts component," said Dr. Robert Romines, Moore Public Schools (MPS) Superintendent. "We've come to understand how important it is for our kid's overall development and have made it an area of strength for Moore Public Schools."
Visit any of the junior high or high school campuses in Moore, and you'll see the depth of that commitment on display, not just in the presence of excellent athletic and fine arts facilities but also in the large number of kids who participate in sports, band, choir, drama, and speech/debate. Romines says he and the entire MPS community are grateful for how the community has continued to support these programs.
"All you have to do is to walk around and take a look at our facilities and what our students are provided with," said Romines. "The community has been remarkably supportive and generous in making sure our students have a great platform upon which to grow in these areas."
UPGRADES AND OPPORTUNITIES
This past spring, voters stepped up to the plate again, overwhelmingly approving a $338 million bond election that will help meet the needs of a district that continues to grow each year, even with a slight drop during last year's pandemic. With right at 24,000 students, Moore is slightly behind Edmond as the state's fourth-largest school district. The bond issue will provide desperately needed upgrades in technology, classrooms, security, air conditioning, college and career centers, roof, and other construction projects.
It will also include the construction of upgrades at Westmoore and Southmoore, providing fully functional home stadiums for the first time in the history of those schools. That's a game-changing moment for everyone involved at those schools. The Jaguars and Sabercats will be able to play home football games on their campuses, which has never been possible before. In addition to the new stadiums, all three high schools will get indoor practice facilities and upgrades to softball and baseball facilities.
"This is going to be huge and not just the athletic component," said Romines. "Not only will our athletic teams be able to practice in heat or inclement weather, but our band kids also won't be forced to practice on parking lots during the heat of summer."
District Athletic Director Brian Fitzgerald echoes his appreciation of voter support for the bond issues that help elevate the facilities available to MPS students.
"These stadiums at Westmoore and Southmoore are something I've felt we've needed for a long, long time," said Fitzgerald. "Our central stadium is a fantastic facility, and it has hosted a lot of state and regional events. But there's just something special about having a game on your campus. There's something to be said for coaches and teams to be able to dress in their locker rooms and not board a bus and drive it to home games."
Fitzgerald pointed out that the stadium and indoor practice facilities would serve the entire school's programs, not just football. The athletic directors at all three high schools enthusiastically agree that these upgrades put Moore Public Schools on solid ground for years to come.
"We are so grateful for the way people support our schools and kids," said Moore High School's Chad Mashburn. "For each school to have its own home field takes a huge load off their staff because now they're able to focus on the games or the events instead of travel and other logistics. Plus, there's the simple but profound truth that it is their home. We'll get to put a Lions logo on our field, just like they'll have a Jaguar logo at Westmoore and a Sabercat logo at Southmoore. It's hard to underestimate what that means to a school."
"We're ecstatic about the new stadium and indoor practice facility," said Westmoore Athletic Director Zach Bice. "Not only are we excited to turn on the lights and play games at our home stadium with our logo on the field, but we're also happy about the indoor practice facility from a safety standpoint. Whether it's heat or cold or lightning, our teams and the band will be able to move indoors and protect themselves."
Southmoore Athletic Director Greg George adds that the upgrade in facilities also helps the district keep pace with other schools across the state and provides a competitive advantage.
"I don't know that I'd compare it to the kind of facility 'arms race' that's happening at the collegiate level," said George, "But you need good facilities to stay competitive, especially when you consider what some of the other large school districts around the state are doing. I'm grateful that the people of our community support us as well as they do when it comes to these bond issues."
ONE SCHOOL VS MULTI-SCHOOL DISTRICTS
When it comes to comparing school districts like Moore, Edmond, and Norman to Broken Arrow, Union, and Jenks, the question of having multiple high schools always enters the conversation. This is particularly true when local sports fans talk about state high school football championships. The last time a westside high school won a state 6A title was when Midwest City beat Putnam City North in 1995. Since then, every title has been won by a single-district eastside school: Jenks, Union, Owasso, and Broken Arrow.
While some football fans argue that returning Moore to a single high school format would make them more competitive, those actively engaged in MPS extracurricular activities firmly believe that having three schools is the best choice for kids.
"When I graduated from Moore High in 1988, there was just one high school," said Romines. "You know, there were probably less than 150 participants in the band. Now we probably have over 700 kids that participate across the district. There's just more opportunity."
Fitzgerald and all three athletic directors agree that having multiple high schools opens the door for more kids to experience the thrills and challenges of participating in athletics, music, and other fine arts programs. Instead of only 22 players starting a football game for one high school on Friday nights, now you have 66 players representing three high schools. You also have three full casts for the spring and fall drama productions, slots for speech and debate competitors at all three schools, and choirs with greater participation than ever.
"And I would argue that we aren't giving up much when it comes to being competitive in all those areas," said Fitzgerald. "When you take an overall look at our programs, we are always in the mix for the highest accolades in nearly every sport or extracurricular activity."
Westmoore's Bice points out that it's not just the students who benefit from the chance to participate.
"Just stop and think about the rest of the community," said Bice. "You have the parents and grandparents of all those kids who now have a chance to see their kids on the field or on the stage. There's a level of family and community participation that's irreplaceable, and I love that. Sure, if we pulled it all back under one high school, we might put some extra trophies in the trophy case but look at what we'd be giving up."
That tradeoff also motivates Mashburn and George as they facilitate the activities at Moore and Southmoore. Having more opportunities for participation is of immeasurable value to students, teachers, coaches, and the entire community which supports the schools.
George said, "You just can't underestimate the value of getting kids on the field, the court, the mat, or in the pool. And we're still going to work hard to compete at the highest levels. Just look at what our softball team has done, and we're the youngest school in this district."
"First of all, our academics are second to none in Moore," said Mashburn, "But what athletics and extracurricular activities do is add another level of experience to our kid's experience. Many of those kids will be able to attend college on an athletic scholarship, and when you have three high schools with room for those kids to grow and achieve, you're going to have kids who might have slipped through the cracks in a one-high school district and never had the chance to realize their potential."
LEADERSHIP BY DESIGN
One of the biggest challenges in a three high school district like Moore is that administrators are challenged to find people of high character and integrity to fill the roles as coaches, band and choir directors, and school publication sponsors. Any student of modern leadership will quickly point out that it takes commitment and focus throughout an organization to recruit and keep the kind of leaders that bring sustained excellence to a school.
"That's an intentional thing that we do when we're going through the interview process," said Fitzgerald. "We want people who are well-versed in the X's and O's, but more than that, we look for people who are relational and who display the hallmarks of high character."
There's a balance that MPS administrators look for between success and good citizenship. There's also a commitment to hiring individuals who can elevate the students' experiences under their direction to something extraordinary that makes them better people.
"We're thorough on going through all of the background stuff," said Mashburn. "And we've been pretty fortunate in the people we have here now. They take care of our kids. They're high character people, and they want to win, but they want to do it the right way. They want to teach our kids how to play the game and how to be good people, how to be good citizens outside of here."
Dr. Romines points out that all anyone needs to do is follow any of the social feeds for the district's athletic teams or other extracurricular groups to see the kind of quality students the leadership is producing.
"The relationship piece is vital to me, too," said Romines, "And when you go to social media and look on our accounts, and you can see football teams that are out cleaning up homes, painting. You've got wrestling programs that are out doing the same thing and getting out and involving our community, and being a community support group. And so that's very important to me. It's a sign that our coaches across the board are building those relationships and character."
Finally, it's all about someone being the right fit for the school and the community.
"We don't spend as much time as you'd think talking about things like a win-loss record," said George. "We talk about how they've treated students and what their relationships are like. We look for those who are here because of that passion and not just as a stepping stone.
We don't look at our schools as stepping stone schools. We look at us as a destination school."
"We just have unbelievable coaches," said Bice. "Just look at Coach Zielny and the pom squad, for example. Their level of excellence, discipline, and work ethic is just off the charts. Then there's Billy Elles speech and debate team, who has become a nationally recognized power. And then last year, our boy's track team won the state championship. There is a level of excellence that's obvious, but when you look at the kids those guys and the rest of our coaches are producing each year, they are kids of high character and integrity. For me, that's what it's all about."