GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Society has changed a great deal over the course of the past 20 years. Young men and women live in a world of online video games, social media and are pulled in many directions. Many times in directions that lack the morals and values that will help them succeed as adults.
That’s why Capt. Christopher W. Simpson, Recruiting Station New Jersey’s executive officer, began the RS New Jersey Leadership Seminar for High School Athletes more than two years ago.
“Good leadership is something young Americans thirst for,” said Simpson, a Rochester, N.Y., native. “This new generation has been raised to believe that things should be handed to them and they lack the challenges that help prepare them to become productive members of society. What better example of leadership is there for these athletes than those who have led men and women in combat?”
Utilizing a classroom and a projector, Simpson and canvassing recruiters from RS New Jersey teach young athletes about the Marine Corps’ 14 leadership traits; justice, judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, endurance, and about the Corps’ leadership principles.
The Marines then take the students to the football field, where the athletes are broken into teams of four as they are lead through a circuit course of exercises, such as the fireman carry, medicine ball, squats and tire flips.
The exercises are designed to build on their team work. While two of their team members perform the exercise at their assigned stations, the two remaining members perform intense exercise routines until their counter parts complete the goal at the station. The sooner the first pair completes the station, the sooner their counterparts receive a break and vice versa.
“The Marines have a distinct voice that the players hear,” said John Liberato, former head football coach of Summit High School in Summit, N.J. “We talk to them about the same things that the Marines taught at the seminar, but when it comes from a United States Marine it has a much bigger impact.”
Despite Summit High School’s football team losing only two games in the past four years, the Marine leadership seemed to be exactly what they needed.
“When you are accustomed to that kind of success, you become complacent,” Liberato said. “The Marines have a great saying that they said to the students, ‘complacency kills.’ That’s the kind of message they teach. Not to get to comfortable, work hard and stay on your game. It was the perfect message for my kids.”
Although the Marines assisting Simpson, an infantry officer, are canvassing recruiters with a mission to accomplish, Simpson stresses that the program is not a recruiting tool.
“This program is not about selling the Marine Corps, it’s about giving back to the community,” Simpson said. “These Marines aren’t just recruiters, they are infantry men, tankers, radio operators, etc. Marines have always participated in community service programs and the leadership seminar is a free community service project where athletes can learn from some of our nation’s best and most experienced leaders.”
According to Simpson, a graduate of West Virginia University, the program is about much more than instilling leadership principles. It’s about teaching them the values of team work, hard work, perseverance and being a good person.
“What really gets me about this program is how the Marines interact with the students and get them involved in class,” said Ed Sachloch, head football coach for Cedar Grove High School. “These kids learn how to stand up for what they believe in and that foundation of leadership doesn’t just help them as a strong football team. It’s lessons that will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
After running the program for more than two years, Simpson has been amazed by the community’s response.
“I couldn’t have imagined just how this program has evolved since it was started,” Simpson said. “Word of mouth has gotten around to the point that I’m overwhelmed. I have high school coaches contact me almost every day about how they can have their team attend our seminar.”
Despite his passion for the program, Simpson will soon be departing RS New Jersey for the next chapter in his career, but he has faith and high hopes that the command will continue to what he started.
“This program has an immediate impact on the future of America,” he said. “My hope is that it carries on and I see it snow balling larger and larger helping these young athletes get the leadership they crave long after I’m gone.”