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Grimes: No excuses when it comes to RHS athletics

Heath Grimes hates excuses.

In his quest to achieve success for Russellville City Schools in the classroom, and on the field, he won't be deterred by excuses made by some people, whether they are part of the RCS faculty or members of the community.

In recent years, there has been a growing perception, or excuse, that when it comes to athletics, Russellville “is a 5A school playing with 3A numbers.”

This excuse comes from the thought that Hispanics, who comprise nearly one-half of the system's enrollment, don't participate in athletics in the same numbers as other students.

When Grimes was hired as Russellville City Schools Superintendent three years ago, he heard excuses about large Hispanic enrollment driving down when it came to academic success for the system.

It was just an excuse. When we as a system overcame that excuse, we saw tremendous growth. Our motto in academics at Russellville City Schools is 'no excuses,' and the same is true with athletics. We want to see our students and coaches achieving maximum potential in all sports,” Grimes said.

That was a primary message when Grimes called together every coach in the Russellville City Schools system on January 3rd for a 'state of athletics' meeting.

We realized our standards were not being met in some programs and we want to continue to build all our programs, especially girls sports,” Grimes said. “The ethnic diversity of our school system shouldn't have a bearing on our athletic success but it takes a mindset to change that,” he added.

Russellville's varsity soccer program, which began last year, is comprised of primarily Hispanic students. When Grimes watched RHS soccer games, he didn't see Hispanic students—he saw athletes, some of whom were top-notch.

We had tremendous athletes on the field. They are fast, skilled, with great hand-eye coordination. Some of those kids in our school could help football, baseball, softball or volleyball,” Grimes said.

When we reach out to those students, we will see diversity on all teams. But right now, the diversity on our athletic teams does not match the diversity in our schools,” he added.

Grimes wants to have an environment where all students are made to feel welcome and are urged to get involved with athletics.

We need to reach out to every student in our system to encourage athletics. I never want a student to feel like he or she isn't wanted to play. Whether they are white, Hispanic, black or any ethnicity, we need to make all students feel they are encouraged to get involved, help our programs and not make excuses we are a 5A system with 3A talent,” Grimes said.

While Grimes doesn't believe there is any effort to discourage any students from participating, he's primarily being proactive to avoid these problems down the road, he explained.

We all can see where if we don't change the mindset it will be an issue in the future. Our mutual goal is to maximize potential and make things better in our schools, including athletics,” Grimes said.

We have a sing out front of our school that reads 'Tradition of Excellence.' If we are to be a school of excellence we can't have pockets of excellence. It can't be only one sport, or only male sports. We need to understand that level of success if the standard in all sports.

Take tennis, for example. Some might say it's a small spring sport. But if we are going to have a tennis team, we must expect that it will be a highly competitive tennis team,” Grimes added.

Grimes urged each coach to self-evaluate and make sure he or she is fully dedicated to maintaining that standard of excellence.

I asked them to check themselves and see what they've done in the past that's been successful. Are they still doing those things and what things can they do better?,” Grimes said.

And when it comes to diversity in athletics, Grimes believes that must be a two-way street.

I'm at most of our sporting events. We have some tremendous talent from our Hispanic students on our volleyball teams, our football teams and our soccer program. But with the exception of soccer, we're still below the percentage of our student demographics,” Grimes said.

Conversely, in our soccer program, we need to seek diversity on those teams as well,” he added.

Grimes came away from the coaches' meeting with a “sense of family” and really believing the athletic program is going to pull together and succeed if three tenets are followed.

The first is our mindset. We must have a positive mindset in order to succeed. Second, there can be no excuses. We need to start developing our young athletes year-round, even in the youth leagues. And we need to market our own system,” Grimes said. “It's important what we say, how we address Russellville athletics and what we put on social media. We need to reach out and bring more kids into our athletic programs.”

And a positive mindset, Grimes explained, includes focusing on what a special place Russellville is, including its community, the resources the system has, the facilities and the community.

Our success is predicated by that continued support,” Grimes said.

What I see happening is our diverse population is learning from our more traditional population that Russellville is a special place with community support and we have a part to play in that. And now, by following that lead, Russellville has become a very special place to our diverse community as well,” he said.

And when it comes to Russellville's athletes, their attitudes are formed in large part by what they see from their coaches, Grimes believes.

We tell players every day to be positive and never make excuses, so as coaches and leaders we must have a positive attitude and not make excuses,” Grimes said. “We want to have a standard with our coaches as they go through the rest of this year and beyond that we do everything we can to build success and have a championship-caliber program because that's the level everyone expects of us,” he added.

Grimes also addressed what he describes as a misconception that the success of Russellville's varsity baseball program, which has won three consecutive state titles, is somehow hurting the football program because some of the baseball athletes are deciding not to play football.

We have a rumor that one program may be hurting another sport. I can't say that student choices may not affect that, but there's no effort from one program to hurt another, or one coach to hurt another,” Grimes said.

I've talked with Coach (Chris) Heaps a lot and he's very supportive and constantly trying to get kids out to play football. His sons play football. We've had numerous conversations about how the success of one sport contributes to the success of the entire athletic program,” Grimes added.

When a program is successful, students tend to gravitate to that program. Kids are drawn to discipline, success and camaraderie. If you want to get multi-sport athletes, make sure your program is doing those things,” Grimes said.

With the growing popularity of travel baseball, Grimes said that has led to some young athletes, through the influence of their parents, to focus on one sport.

In the community, we have some parents listening to travel coaches. They believe their son is on track for Division One or the major leagues. And the truth is a lot of parents encourage their kids to play only one sport and that contributes to the lack of success of other sports,” Grimes said.

Grimes plans to meet with Russellville's student athletes this spring to share some of the messages and ideas discussed at the coaches' meeting.

I'm going to meet with them and focus on the fact we have a tradition here and in order to maintain that, we have a responsibility as student athletes to contribute to other programs and if we don't, then obviously we will lose some of that tradition,” Grimes said.




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