More than 200 driven high school students from Miami-Dade and Broward were invited to participate in the ninth annual University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute Student Leadership Day. The program was started to inspire and empower students to be leaders and role models for others.
Dr. Lee Kaplan, Director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, led the event at UM's Newman Alumni Center. He was joined by athletes and leaders including former Miami Dolphins NFL linebacker Twan Russell, former Miami Heat player Jamal Mashburn, Olympic silver medalist diver and former UM athlete Sam Dorman, NFL player Lorenzo Jerome, University of Miami men's basketball coach Jim Larrañaga, University of Miami women's basketball coach Katie Meier, motivational speaker Monica Reyes, and Coral Gables Chamber President and CEO Mark Trowbridge.
Kaplan started the program when there were two UM football players in his clinic who lost their scholarships, one because he was caught in a car with guns, the other because of cocaine distribution. He noticed that one of them ended up turning it into a positive and playing in the NFL, while the other fell apart.
"How can we influence decision-making to reverse this? Maybe we have to do a top-down approach, instead of looking at at-risk individuals, maybe we should focus on the leaders in their schools," Kaplan said.
He hopes that students will "use this experience to coalesce what their own personal vision is, and then use that to come up with a strategy of how to reach their goals."
Jerome hopes the participants will walk away from Friday's event understanding that they can't rely on other people or drugs during trials and tribulations.
"If you're playing sports, if you're in a job field, work your behind off," James said. "There's someone just like you with the same talent, size, and physics waiting to take your job. You need to try to outwork them."
Aiyana C. Edwards, a rising senior at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, attended the Student Leadership Day with the Urban League of Broward County.
"It's important to remind yourself that obstacles may come in your way, but if others have ultimately reached their goals the same is destined for you," Edwards said.
During the sports panel, which featured Larrañaga, Jerome, Dorman, and Mashburn, students learned about the importance of resilience in the face of adversity.
Larrañaga shared his alliterated criteria of being a leader: character, competitiveness, confidence, consistency, communication and commitment.
Later in the panel, the speakers encouraged students to be the best they could.
"Do not stop working the gift that God has given you," Lorenzo said. "Doubt drives me to be the best I can everyday."
During his closing remarks, Dr. Stephen Henry, a family and sports medicine physician at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, urged students to stand up for themselves when nobody else will.
"If you can't stop thinking about it then don't stop working for it," he said. "You need to protect your dream because no one else will."