This week, the front page of The Progress Review is filled with stories originating from local schools. I hope you take the opportunity to read them. They’re some of the stories we most enjoy sharing. Let me explain.

An article written in 2012 by Grace Chen offers several ways students benefit from participation in high school sports. Included on the list are such noble concepts as community representation, improved academics, teamwork, cooperation and positive mentors.

I’ve always believed that students can learn lessons on the courts and fields upon which they compete that are difficult to simulate in the classroom. The same is true for those who participate in fine arts.

There are very real life lessons to be learned about success, failure, effort and perseverance, as young people experience the highs and lows of making (or not making) the team, earning a spot in the starting lineup (or a spot on the bench), being cast in a lead role (or not being cast at all), as well as ascending to first chair (or falling to the third) in the school band.

Speaking at the Rewards and Recognition event after winning the Class 3A State Championship in 2011, Union Head Football Coach Joe Hadachek said, “You have to know how to lose in life, as well as win in life, because you’re not going to win every battle.”

Participation in extracurricular activities go a long way toward helping students learn these valuable lessons that will serve them well long after they graduate.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with some high school students about their participation in the Academic Decathlon. As I wrote the story that begins on the front page of this edition of The Progress Review, I realized I needed to expand my thinking about how, when and where these important life lessons present themselves to the young people in our schools.

I “get” success on the athletic fields and fine arts stage. Each of these “spectator sports” come with a passionate crowd to cheer on the participants. Other activities, such as Union Schools’ growing robotics program, and the high school’s Academic Decathlon team, typically fly under the radar but are just as valuable.

One of the first questions I asked the Academic Decathlon participants I interviewed was, “Why?” Knowing you are going to be tested over ten academic disciplines, which include seven different multiple-choice exams, a personal interview, giving an impromptu speech and writing an essay with no notes to use for assistance, why would you sign on for something like this? And for those students whose grade point averages hover south of 3.0, why take this class? When it comes time to compete, there will be no cheering crowds, no video highlights posted on Facebook. As someone whose modest high school GPA met “sandbagger” standards, I would not have had the courage to take such a class.

As I listened to their responses, it soon became apparent what a remarkable journey these students and their teacher have taken together over the past seven months. The life skills they’ve learned and the relationships they’ve developed will remain with them long after they’ve graduated from high school.

The same can be said for students involved in the district’s robotics programs. Can you imagine taking a robot you’ve designed into a competition and having your opponent help you make repairs when it breaks down? See “Core Values” on page one. They trump a win-loss record every time.

When I asked the question, “How does the Academic Decathlon team advancing to State compare to the Union football and volleyball teams competing in their respective state championship games?” senior Alek Stone pulled no punches with his response.

“Equally important but not equally publicized,” he said.

I agree with you completely, Alek. Now let me see if I can do something about that…