A whole new division within the Education Department is getting former Ivanna Eudora Kean Athletic Director Peter Seipel fired up about plans – including the creation of statistics and video banks for players – that he said would help boost exposure for local student athletes and increase the caliber of competition in the territory.
Six months ago, Seipel was brought in as the department’s territorial sports and athletics director, a newly created position that he said has some big long-term goals. From the development of school leagues to the implementation of new sports programs, Seipel said these plans are all about putting the infrastructure in place to get students to the next level athletically and, as they continue to travel, to give them a broader view of the world.
“We could have the next Tim Duncan, Serena Williams or Tiger Woods out there,” Seipel said, while talking about the department’s plans to eventually add new swimming, tennis and golf programs to their league system. “But we need to get our student athletes seen and going places.”
“We want them playing on the collegiate level, in major leagues, and even overseas to Europe and Asia, which are untapped leagues, but we need to make sure we do everything we can to put them out there first.”
Seipel said that the territory “definitely” has the “product,” but his job now is give both the athletes and their coaches the tools they need to succeed.
So far, that has entailed overseeing everything from physical education programs in the public schools to interisland travel, but Seipel said that providing coaches’ training, increasing competition with Puerto Rico and Tortola, and improving communication between the department and the local Interscholastic Athletic Association are all also on the front burner.
Scheduling for the school leagues, specifically getting sports games set and confirmed, has long been an issue in the territory, but Seipel said this week that one of his first steps is to work with coaches on creating their schedules a year or two in advance so the seasons can begin to move more fluidly.
“And we’re going to start the process with that hope that this will eventually become common practice,” Seipel said. “But it is a very big, ambitious step and we understand that it is a process so it might not be this year, or the year after, but it is something that we see happening down the line.”
Once the schedules are set and the players are on the field or court, Seipel said the department hopes to start collecting all the stats and video footage it needs to get them seen by colleges or big league teams. There’s no start date on this yet, but Seipel said that the goal is to put “all the information we can” at the fingertips of college recruiters or pro scouts, or even schools that want to look it over for scholarships.
The extra attention being put on local athletes could also inspire an increased level of play between sports teams, including competition with Tortola, Puerto Rico – whose football teams recently came over for games against Eudora Kean and Charlotte Amalie High School – and even teams on the mainland.
“The level of competition will be built not only by our students playing each other,” but also with teams outside the territory, Seipel said. “That way, when they go off to these Division I or Division II schools, or elsewhere, they will not for the first time be seeing a whole new higher level of play. They would have already experienced it.”
Creating more training opportunities for local coaches will also help achieve this goal, he added. This week, for example, the department is hosting a clinic with former Milwaukee Brewers second baseman, Virgin Islander Calix Crabbe, that is open to all coaches in the district, and Seipel said that there are more to come.
“We will just keep sending out information,” he said. “And that’s our goal. We need to provide opportunities for our coaches to learn new things so they, in turn, can teach our student athletes to do better, to learn the right skills and techniques, and whatever else they can to make them successful. When the coaches get what they need, our athletes will get what they need and it will keep them on the right track.”
Funding to help sustain these efforts is already in the works; Seipel said the administration has pledged money from the Tourism Development Fund and that additional funds, which would probably have to be approved by the Senate, would also come when the community starts seeing the benefits of the department’s new division and what it wants to do.
“Once they see what we are doing, then they will buy into the idea,” Seipel said, when speaking about asking the Legislature for money. “Once they see that this can happen, that this is where we would want to go, they will make sure they’re in and, in the meantime, we are fully supported by our commissioner of Education and the administration.”
“We know that this is wanted, we know that this is needed and we know everyone wants to work together for our student athletes in the territory.”
Support from the students is also important, and Seipel said that getting them to accept the “student” part of being “student athletes” is the first priority.
“Books before balls. That’s maybe our motto,” he said. “Our students need to know that if they don’t do their academics, they’re not going to be doing sports, and we’re putting in place certain rules and regulations to make sure that happens.”
“When you are a student athlete, it means that you are a student first. Sports can get you all over the world. It can get you a job. But if you’re not academically inclined, you’re not going to be moving on in life. You have to have those basics first.”