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Beyond The Huddle: Young Athlete Makes A Positive Social Impact

Leah Zenk (center) with Beyond The Huddle attendees. (Courtesy Photo)

During these trying times facing us all, the positive and thoughtful undertaking of a recent Riverhead High School graduate and top-notch athlete, Leah Zenk, borne from a personal life-altering situation; along with the vision and guidance from Education Specialist and Advisor, Anastasia Gavalas, is earning high marks and a winning score among student-athletes and their families. Launched at a recent lacrosse practice of 11 to 15 year-olds on the North Fork, the program, Beyond The Huddle, teaches "young athletes how to be respectful, understand differences, and develop some empathy both on and off the field."

The program's mission "To inform and educate young athletes in making good decisions both in real life and online by providing skills and strategies in an effort to broaden their perspectives and develop strong foundations in the areas of social consciousness and respect" was developed after months of Gavalas and Zenk working together through a personalized culturally responsive program and deciding the best way to turn what was a huge life lesson for Zenk into something positive.

After bearing witness to the protests and riots happening across the country in the spring, Zenk made an insensitive online post which resulted in her statement triggering "a firestorm of hate" and ultimately caused her to lose both her scholarship and offer to play lacrosse at a prestigious Midwestern university. "Even though she apologized for her post and had to deal with all the consequences, including attacks on her reputation, the college of her choice rescinding their offer, and even physical threats, she wanted to do more," according to Gavalas.

Continuing, Gavalas revealed, "A mutual friend suggested that Leah speak with me as I specialize in advising parents in their child's life-education. My goal as a teacher is to help young people understand the root of their beliefs, recognize our shared humanity and inspire them to create strong foundations from where they can intrinsically become their best selves. The complexities of living in a global world aren't lessening. It's time to come together, listen, learn, share, hope, and act in a more equitable, loving and socially conscious manner. Children nowadays have a global reach which, in itself, creates the urgency to broaden their understanding of others and upholds a responsibility for them to use their words and actions in a positive way."

"Vowing to focus on educating herself, expanding her perspective, becoming more sensitive to others experiences and doing good," Zenk shares her 'real and raw' story during Beyond The Huddle workshops "in order to remind other young athletes to take pause before commenting on issues which they may not fully understand."

Leah Zenk and Anastasia Gavalas. (Courtesy Photo)

According to Zenk, "I wanted to create a program so I can help kids not make the same mistake I've made. It's so important for them to be able to see things from different perspectives, understand and celebrate each other beyond the athletic field."

Gavalas advised, "We believe every young athlete needs to integrate self-awareness into their training, develop social consciousness and strive to be positive global citizens. We just launched the program and there is tremendous interest in hearing Leah's story and having children of all ages participate in this valuable workshop. The program is being offered to schools and groups that qualify and complete the form on the website."

Parents across the Island are urging schools and athletic organizations to hop on this auspicious opportunity as soon as possible Gavalas confirmed.

Presently, Zenk continues her lacrosse training and hopes to be able to play in college in the near future, however, her focus right now is on "continuing to share her story with the goal of helping other young athletes confront their beliefs, be more thoughtful in their lives and ultimately build better relationships with others."

Beyond The Huddle is currently being offered for free to athletic organizations across Long Island that recognize the importance of providing children with strategies of how to expand their awareness and understanding.

To have your school or organization be considered for this program or for more information, go to www.beyondthehuddle.org and follow them @beyond.the.huddle.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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