Lakeside’s varsity volleyball team was among the 1,313 teams that earned the United States Marine Corps/American Volleyball Coaches Association academic award for the 2019-2020 school year.
In order to be considered, a team must have a collective 3.30 GPA or higher on a 4.0 scale or a 4.10 on a 5.0 scale the whole year.
“We got the team academic award from them because we have above a 3.75, so we’re almost into the next category,” explained head coach Rhonda Thigpen. “I was really, really proud of them. The graduating seniors that we had had great grade points, and the team we had — and we stress this — is to be a student-athlete, not just an athlete. I want to make this a tradition where they want to do it. This is recognized all over the nation.”
Thigpen utilizes a quiet time at away games and grade checks to encourage the team to keep up with their studies.
“My volleyball team are self-motivated,” she said. “They really want to achieve. That’s one of the strengths they have as a team — that they want to achieve in the classroom. They don’t want to just achieve. They want to be the best, and they really strive to be the best. As a coach, it’s been motivating to me to see how self motivated they are. … I try to keep up with their grades, and then if somebody is low, we want to talk to them or talk to their teachers.”
Thigpen said that one thing that she encourages is for the players to be responsible.
“It’s not the coach that ought to be running to the teacher,” she said. “It’s the student that should be going to the teacher going, ‘Hey, I’m going to be out for these games. What do I need to do?’ I praise their parents, and I praise these young ladies because it’s an ethic. This is an ethic that they have inside them, and I’m just really blessed to be around it. If I can motivate them and encourage them to keep up their grades, that’s my part. That’s my job as the coach, but it helps when they have that self-driven already.”
Thigpen, who is entering her third year at Lakeside, feels that the school offers programs that enhance the academic atmosphere as several graduates from the team earned college scholarships.
“They’re in study groups, and they have big study groups for their AP classes,” she said. “They have all kind of projects they’re involved in academically. When I got to Lakeside, I was told it was one of the best academic schools, and I can say this, not just told that now, I believe it. … I don’t have to set up study halls. They want to be take the top classes. They want to be college ready. I think a big green light for them is they all try to get college ready so the ones that graduated last year had tons of scholarships — academic scholarships for everything from Oklahoma to U of A, UCA. They’re all over the place because that’s the students we’ve had the last two years I’ve been here. I’m proud of that.”
Thigpen preaches two main philosophies — Mental Toughness Extra Effort (MTXE) and the three C’s: Court, Community and the Classroom.
“We have guidelines in the classroom that’s gonna establish us as a student athlete and not just an athlete,” she said. “The girls follow those guidelines. For the most part, we have a pretty good reputation, so I try to instill that you should work as hard in the classroom as you do for me on the court and they represent the program. So if I found out that someone’s not being respectful to a teacher, not carrying their end in the classroom — that’s a reflection on me and that’s reflection on my program. Honestly, there’s a lot more positive comments about my girls. When I send those grade checks out and I get them back, I’m very proud of the teachers at Lakeside that take the time away from their busy schedule, and they’ll turn in information for me about these girls, but they’ll also work with the girls.
“They don’t just do it for the volleyball players. They’re doing it for everybody, but I’m just saying is that helps a lot. It’s a motivation and (the girls) know what my standards are in the classroom. I know that I have some strong students coming back, but I lost some strong students as well. Those girls that graduated were outstanding students, so I think it’s big shoes to fill but I’m going to preach to the younger girls coming up. It only takes two or three girls that go below par, and it pulls your grade point as a team way down. I would hope that they want to be the ones that get us over the edge. I’m gonna put that on them.”
Thigpen has hopes of presenting the plaque the team will receive at a home game, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, the idea isn’t set in stone.
“We might livestream it,” she said. “We’re gonna present it, hold it up in the air, and livestream that proud piece of wood.”