Numerous high school athletes file off a yellow school bus. Infectious positive energy permeates through the air. Excitement spreads from the tips of the student-athlete’s toes to the highest hair on their head. They experience deja vu as they enter into a familiar building from their past, even though a lot has changed. It is a school setting, but now, the ceilings are a few feet shorter, the desks a bit smaller, and there is no gut wrenching smell of body odor. The elementary school students spot their Warrior Way buddies, and grins spread across their face as if they just saw their favorite professional athlete. “Do you think you’ll get an autograph, Joey?” whispers one student, as another one adds, “I can’t believe they are actually here!”
The Warrior Way is a leadership program at Andover High School, created and still currently led by Mrs. Martini, one of the physical education teachers. Martini has been utterly devoted to this program since the day she began planning it. “I have always wanted to establish a relationship between high school athletes and the youth leagues in town or elementary school students,” Martini states. At her past school, she developed a similar program and wanted to bring her ideas to Andover.
The Warrior Way only started with fifty kids. Now, it is comprised of 300 committed students.
This was not an easy task, but Martini eagerly took it on. Martini explains how the Warrior Way was eventually narrowed down into four values: Character, Teamwork, Sportsmanship, and Always Give Your Best Effort. Martini stresses how these principles do not relate just to athletics, but rather to everyday life. “When you are a good teammate, [the Warrior Way] tries to emphasize it doesn’t mean just on an athletic team. The principles of being a good teammate apply to being a good classmate, or being good to other people in your building.”
The students in this program that teach these values are carefully selected. Primarily they are selected for showing exceptional athletic character by their coaches. Martini describes these students as “the right high school athletes.” Martini has a close relationship with many of the athletes at the high school. She understands how hard they work, on and off the field, and how they have to manage their time. “I think the values that you learn as an athlete, like how to be a good teammate, how to handle adversity…are the same skills that make you a better student,” Martini states. “And I think the values that you learn as an athlete have tremendous lifelong values in college and whatever career you ultimately decide to participate in.” Martini plans for this program to be a cycle. She wants the students that are currently receiving the program to be a part of the Warrior Way by the time they enter the high school.
And the most rewarding aspect of all — the goals Martini sets for the program are being achieved.
Mrs. Brezinski, a fifth-grade teacher at High Plain Elementary School, thinks that the Warrior Way is fantastic. “Our students are mesmerized the second the Warrior Way students come in. They listen to their every word and want to learn as much as possible about them and what they stand for.”
Courtney Grygiel and Connor Merinder, two seniors and board members of the Warrior Way, only build this praise higher and higher. Grygiel recognizes Martini’s hard work by saying, “She’s amazing. She dedicates a ridiculous amount of time every year to [the Warrior Way]. We are lucky to have her.” With similar ideas, Merdiner states that he thinks Martini is “one of the hardest workers in the school. She is definitely deserving.”
The MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association) recognized Mrs. Martini and the Warrior Way with an award. Every year they give a “Spirit of Sport” award, which according to the MIAA, “recognizes individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics.” In the spring of 2014, Mrs. Martini was the recipient of this award.
As the Warrior Way visit winds down, there is a change in emotion. Happy goes to sad, and excited becomes indifferent. The Warrior Way students are attacked with hugs from small arms and crying faces. They file back onto the yellow school bus, joined by memories and drawings from the young kids. Martini thanks everyone for their commitment to another successful day – another day of what Martini states as “taking ownership for the whole town, and what we value for the whole school.”
By Dillon Clancy