Dr. Dan Switchenko talks to students at Thursday’s leadership forum. (St. Mary's High School)
Lifestyle, News

Seminar at St. Mary’s teaches upperclassmen how to be leaders

LYNN There was a lot of dreaming going on this week at St. Mary's High School. 

But it was dreaming with a purpose. 

That is what Dr. Dan Switchenko, now in his 44th year of teaching exercise science, with 39 of them at Eastern Connecticut State College, explained as he spoke to a select group of student leaders at the school. And he provided a different definition of the word "dreams" from the one we usually associate it with.

"Dreams," he said, represent "Dedication, Respect, Enthusiasm, Attitude, Mental toughness and Sacrifice."

And that was the message Switchenko and softball coaches Kate Bettencourt (Endicott) and Ashley Waters (Boston University) tried to impart on the incoming juniors and seniors at St. Mary's Thursday morning at the Student Leadership Retreat.

"We have these every five or six years," said athletic director Jeff Newhall, one of the administrators who helped moderate the forum.

"The success of any team is directly dependent on the quality of leadership," said Switchenko, who was also the men's basketball coach at Eastern Conn.

And, he said, "leadership has very little to do with skill. Leadership is action."

Switchenko tried to impress upon the students that they were at the forum for a reason: they've been identified by the administration as leaders.

"Most people follow because they don't have what it takes to lead," he said.
The message reverberated with 55 students who attended. Many of them were athletes, which, Newhall said, was not unusual.

"There's a lot of crossover," he said. "We have a lot of National Honor Society students who are also athletes. It's what you want, I would imagine. You want your leaders to be solid in all areas."

"It was an honor to be recognized that way," said Marina DiBiasio, a rising junior who plays softball and hockey. "I learned most that leadership is just as important off the field as it is on."

Samantha Porazinski, also a softball/hockey player, talked about what the coaches told her about their expectations in college.

"They're looking for a good attitude," she said. "It's not pressure so much as it is setting a standard. If you set the standard, and follow it, people will notice."

The coaches stressed that leaders have outgoing personalities. They "high-five" teammates who make the effort, DiBiaiso said. 

She was especially impressed with Waters, a North Andover High graduate.

"She was honestly amazing," said DiBiasio. "She talked a lot about the skills you need to be a leader, like always be there for your teammates on the field and off."

"This forum makes me want to be a good role model, and to do my best at everything," Porazinski said. 

Tabon Manyok, a Nigarian native who has been in Lynn since 2009, said he learned the value of encouraging others on his cross country team. 

"When I started running," he said, "I focused on myself. I'd finish the race, find out my time, and that was it. 

"I learned today that if you want to be a good leader, I have to focus on others," he said. "I really liked (Dr. Switchenko's) talk. It taught me a lot about leadership. I liked the whole DREAMS thing.

"All the coaches told us, too, that we'd never get anywhere, no matter how good we were at sports, if we didn't do well in the classroom. That's the most important thing."

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