Jeffersonville High School takes different approach to weightlifting
Story and photos by Jen McNelly
It’s 7:45 AM at Jeffersonville High School and the first bell rings. A group of students shuffle into the weight room. It’s early. Some kids choose to snooze during first period, but not these students. They are ready to attack the day with full force.
“Alright, focus!” yells coach Daniel Struck, right after instructions are given. The music starts and the lifting begins.
Struck, now entering his 15th year of teaching and coaching at Jeffersonville High School, has created a program that takes a different approach to weightlifting. They call it Jeff Sports Performance.
The fully-stocked weight room is equipped with free weights, squat racks, landmines, benches and much more to fit the needs of athletes. “When I first started here, everything in this weight room was broken. It looked like a yard sale. So, what did I do? We literally had a yard sale to get rid of it,” explains Struck. “A lot of other sports and programs have come together to help donate and pay for the equipment that we have here right now.”
Students involved in Jeff Sports Performance lift five days a week for the 180 days of school. The program caters to every sport in various different ways.
Brandon Wellington, a senior who recently signed on to play football at the University of Louisville, first heard about the class when he was in middle school. “I knew that I needed to get bigger to play football and I didn’t have much experience in weightlifting. This class was perfect to get me started and has been really convenient because I don’t have that much time after school.”
Athletes from the class have gone on to not only play sports but can be found in every single branch of the armed forces. “We have had athletes from this class score the highest in the PT (physical training) scores in their basic training classes, as well as athletes come back from big programs and say ‘I was the only freshman able to go straight into weightlifting with the older guys because I already understood and performed all the lifts correctly,’” says Struck. “I’ve had college coaches ask what we do and send them videos on what we are doing, but it’s hard to capture unless you are here.”
As a multi-athlete and wrestling coach, Struck has traveled to 23 different countries, “grabbing ideas” from professionals everywhere. “One of the most widely used methods to increase athleticism at many of the world’s Olympic Training Centers has been gymnastics. So, we copy that. It’s really cool. We’ll start off day one with maybe one or two kids that can do a backflip and end the year with maybe 30 or 40 kids that can do a back flip. It’s a huge confidence builder for them. I have offensive and defensive linemen that can do flips. It’s pretty awesome to watch.”
This unique program also has aided in unifying the school. “It has helped to get all sports on one program keeping their progress year-round instead of switching programs every time they switch sports,” Struck explains. “Typically, we start class celebrating what kids in all sports have done, how the weekend went, spotlighting kids and letting each sport know how other sports are doing.”
“You’re a team here,” says Ethan English, a senior who play baseball for Indiana Wesleyan. “It’s not like baseball team, football team, basketball team – it’s the whole school. When you’re working out with other teammates, it makes you just want to be better. We represent Jeff High. I really look forward to that every day.”
“We’re all working together,” Wellington adds. “When you see one person hit their max, you’re just hyped for them. Even if you didn’t hit your max, it doesn’t matter. This class is helping us all get bigger and better.”
However, unlike most weightlifting classes in high school, Jeff Sports Performance is about far more than just lifting weights.
“One of the things that sets this class apart is how we work on the entire person,” says Struck. “The weightlifting or sport is what we have in common, but we come together to try and create better futures for the kids.”
Every nine weeks, students are required to write three colleges – that makes 12 colleges per year with a total of more than 48 colleges over four years. “Most kids write more, though,” says Struck, “and it works. That’s one of the biggest draws to the class – learning to market yourself to colleges.”
Jaylynn Brown, also a senior who will be on the women’s basketball team at Lincoln Trail College, says writing colleges is her favorite part of the class. “There are millions of athletes who don’t get to play Division I sports after high school, but you get a chance to make it happen for yourself in this class.”
Not every student wants to go to college to play sports, and that’s alright. “But I guarantee they save that college letter,” Struck says. “Just the simple feeling of knowing that they are wanted by someone else outside of here makes a big difference in their life, so we make a really big deal of it when a student hears back from a college. It just really feels good.”
Struck also understands the importance of character development by teaching students how to be coachable, work with others and simply be the best person they can be. In a society where high school students are prone to determine self-worth by the number of likes they get on social media, Jeff Sports Performance has been a big confidence booster to many students.
Struck keeps track of every student’s personal weight-lifting goals. “I work hard to make sure they reach their goals, and I’ll push them. We make a big deal when they get it. It’s really cool to see when a kid reaches their max. Their confidence goes way up.”
To deal with everyday stress and anxiety of teenage life, Struck has worked yoga and meditation into the curriculum as well. “Recent new back pain has really got me into yoga, so I’ve started to do yoga with our athletes here. … Learning to move your body without weight is more important than learning to move big weight with an unathletic body. As for meditation, learning to meditate, to think and be by yourself can really help with what some students deal with each day.”
So, what does Coach Struck hope his students will remember most from their time at Jeff Sports Performance? “More than anything, I want to them to know that you can be good at multiple things.”
At the end of every class period, Struck and his students can be found chanting “Every day!”
“It’s a reminder to them that every day you have to do something to get better,” says Struck.
Follow Jeff Sports Performance – @jeffsportsperfo – on their Instagram page.