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LHS earns sportsmanship honor

By Henry Luzzatto

Correspondent

It turns out that nice teams don’t finish last.

Lakeland High School was rewarded for its fair play as one of 39 schools awarded the 2015-16 Claudia Dodson VHSL Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award.

The Virginia High School League uses this award to recognize schools that make sportsmanship a priority. Lakeland was the only school in Suffolk to be recognized for the award this year.

“It’s probably our most important award, because sportsmanship is such a priority,” said Mike McCall, VHSL’s media and information specialist. “It’s awarded to the whole school, not just one team.”

Gregory Rountree, activities director at Lakeland, said he was overwhelmed at the recognition.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said when learning of the award. “I’ve got chills through my body.”

Rountree, who oversees athletics at Lakeland, said the award was a huge accomplishment for the school.

“Sportsmanship means a whole lot to us,” he said.

Rountree said the school had applied for the award the previous two years, but did not receive recognition. More than one ejection of a player meant automatic disqualification for consideration, meaning Lakeland could not be recognized the past two years.

This year, Lakeland instituted a new program to help facilitate a culture of sportsmanship, Rountree said.

He said students each wrote one-page reports about sportsmanship, which they brought home for their parents to see. By making every student think of the importance of sportsmanship, it helped breed a culture of ethical athletes, Rountree said.

McCall said a culture like that is key to winning the award.

“The award is given to the entire school,” McCall said. “The players, fans, coaches, administrators, parents — everyone has to put the effort in.”

The selection process for the award involves two different types of evaluations. First, the school must answer a 50-question form about conduct. Second, two schools that are in the same conference must fill out peer evaluations of the applicant school’s ethics and sportsmanship. Finally, VHSL Assistant Director Tom Dolan evaluates the school.

“It’s a very thoughtful process,” McCall said. “We do our due diligence.”

Of the 315 VHSL member schools, only 39 were recognized for the award. Lakeland received the award for the first time, but Rountree expects it to happen again.

“We’ll definitely do it again,” he said. “We don’t go backwards.”

Though Lakeland’s sports have been successful on the scoreboard, Rountree said this award was the most important to its goals as a school.

“Sportsmanship is everything to us,” he said. “Without it, you’re not a winner. The game is over at the end of the day, but how you act and how people perceive you lasts a lifetime.”