By PUYALLUP TRIBAL NEWS STAFF

Scott Halasz is the athletic director and head coach for the boys’ basketball team at Chief Leschi Schools. The News Staff talked with him about the impact sports is having on the students at Chief Leschi, and why this program is important.

What teams are playing right now?

Right now, we have boys’ and girls’ basketball, and wrestling. In the past we’ve only had three to four wrestlers a season, but we have 17 wrestlers this year. A lot of those wrestlers are now football players because wrestling helps them with football. Then they go from wrestling into track. All these sports help each other, and these athletes are starting to realize that. And both basketball teams are making a run for the playoffs.

What is the philosophy and standard that you try to hold your students to?

Holding kids accountable and teaching them that it’s about more than the sport, and that we’re trying to teach them to be young men and women. You’ve got to be at practice, and be there on time. If you’re not there, you don’t get to play. It’s a privilege to play sports at your school. So, this develops character, and it helps young men and women go out and be successful, and represent their tribe and be proud of it. We’re trying to make them realize they are important pieces in their community. And I think by helping them feel like they have a sense of purpose, they walk around proud with their heads up. And they don’t want to lose those opportunities, so they work harder to stay there.

What opportunities are available for students who are interested in sports but don’t quite know how to start?

We have parent and student interest meetings before each sport, where we serve hotdogs and hamburgers, and show the families how you can register. We’ve held physical days with PTHA [Puyallup Tribal Health Authority] where they come in and you can get your free sports physical through the clinic. So, lots of opportunity before each season.

What would you say to encourage kids to participate in sports at Chief Leschi or elsewhere?

I would say it’s a win-win situation for you. To play sports you got to be [academically] eligible, so if you’re eligible, you’re graduating. It’s a great catalyst to go be a leader in the school, and it can also give you opportunity to be around friends and create relationships. It’s an opportunity for you to have an outlet outside of school and be a part of something special. You get to travel and create memories. I think that’s what it’s all about: creating those memories, being academically eligible. So, it’s a good motivator to help you make the right choices, and be a part of something, and have friends and establish relationships with other kids.

Can you talk about the middle school athletes, and how they feed into the high school?

We have a great middle school [basketball] program right now that’s undefeated and has pretty much locked up the league championship. So, we’re looking forward to them joining what we’ve already established at the high school. We also let them come in and practice with the high schoolers every once and a while. We have good varsity guys that are now role models to the younger guys. Then you have a seven- year stretch of the young kids looking up to the older kids. It just becomes a revolving door of success.

What kind of skills and wisdom do you try to pass down to the students?

Really just to be accountable and take responsibility for your actions and realize that everything’s a choice. You’ve got to make a choice in life in everything you do — you make the right choices, then you’ll go down the right path. Then, when you make wrong choices, you’ve got the coaches and leaders around this school that are here to pick you up and give you that second chance. Or help walk you through that adversity and make the right choice the next time. We’re trying to create young leaders on the team so that if a kid is not always comfortable coming to a coach or adult, they have good teammates and friends that they can get that advice from.

How does education play a role in what you do here?

The number one priority is to get these kids graduated. In sports in general, and in the athletic department, that’s what we’re here for. It’s to hold them to that great standard — we do grade checks weekly and if they don’t make the cut, they don’t play. Sometimes that’s what it takes for a kid to learn that he really wants to be here. But, that’s the goal every year: graduate as many kids as we can.

What makes the athletic program at Chief Leschi special?

I would say the bond. We have a theme called Warrior Family. We put it on everything, it’s on the back of our jerseys. There’s no individual name, everything says Warrior Family on it. Because we’re a family. I think the Warrior Family theme really makes up the athletic department as a whole, then the community aspect. The circle, Powwows and the cultural aspect makes it that much more special. Because you get to be a representative of your community every time you take the court. It’s a prideful thing to do. We’re making a name for ourselves and they’re making their community proud.