When Madeleine Pape and Lydia Reimbold entered Bishop Luers as freshmen, both immediately took over key roles on their varsity teams, Pape as a golfer and Reimbold as a basketball player.
And that can be difficult situation for ninth-graders who expect to let their older teammates take the lead.
“With a lot of upperclassmen, at first, you don't know how to act, and you want to fit in,” Reimbold said after the 2019 Wedge Foundation Leadership Awards Luncheon, where she and Pape were among the 64 student-athletes from 16 Fort Wayne-area schools recognized for their leadership abilities.
Now juniors, Pape and Reimbold have enjoyed athletic success: Pape tied for second as an individual at the girls golf state finals in September, while Reimbold is averaging 14.3 points this year after the Knights went 18-8 last season. But their experiences might sound familiar to speakers Eric Wedge, a Northrop graduate and former major league manager, and “Mr. Mad Ant” Ron Howard, who addressed the luncheon attendees and emphasized that opportunities for leadership often come before you feel like it's your turn to step up.
“I don't know if you're ever ready for that first opportunity,” said Wedge, whose foundation first hosted the leadership awards last school year. “I think it's thrust upon you, and sometimes you might not even understand or know it. You definitely don't feel like you're ready for it, but that's where that leap of faith comes in. ... Truly, until you unlock that, you haven't lived. And once you do that, you can be a difference-maker forever.”
Howard, who helped the Mad Ants win the D-League championship in 2013-14 and was the D-League's all-time leading scorer when he retired in 2014, told the assembled students that his coach would send him to calm down an angry teammate, even though Howard didn't know why he was the man chosen for that job.
Eventually, though, he realized that he did have the unique ability to listen to his teammates and figure out what motivated each one of them.
“Someone else understood that I could handle it,” said Howard, who is now community development director for the Mad Ants. “Maybe I didn't know I could handle it, but someone else knew, and they felt that it was necessary for me to stand up.
“And sometimes we need that little push, because we can be shy, or maybe feel like 'I don't want to step on anyone's toes,' or 'I'm a freshman and maybe the seniors should be talking.' But that's not always the case.”
Jake Fulk and Gage Kelly, who are both multisport athletes at Churubusco, said that attending a smaller school means that each athlete has more opportunities to become a leader.
“At Busco, there's 100 kids in a graduation class, so there's not a lot of kids to choose from, so you've got to step up,” Fulk said.
Based on his experience with a variety of teammates at all levels of basketball, Howard said that you can work with just about any teammate once you find out what makes him or her tick.
And in that aspect of leadership, Fulk and Kelly said kids from smaller schools do have an edge.
“It's nice, because you know everybody and what they're capable of,” Kelly said. “And that makes being a leader a lot easier.”