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SPORTS FEATURE

Serving the surrounding area in academics and athletics

Expanding opportunity through education
By: Jim Linsdau, Sports Editor
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Located just off Sunset Drive in Rocklin not far from Highway 65 is a high school that will hold its first graduation this spring. Although they’re yet to be a force in local sports, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy is putting together the pieces to change that.

The academy is a part of Rocklin Academy Family of Schools that includes Rocklin Academy Turnstone and Rocklin Academy Meyers elementary schools. The elementary schools are chartered under the Rocklin Unified School District and the high school is chartered by the State of California.

The executive director, or superintendent, of the family of schools is Phil Spears. Spears was the first principal of Rocklin High School and has an extensive background in education administration and is also no stranger to athletics.

With Western Sierra Collegiate Academy now in its fourth year, the Wolves, as they are known, brought in another who is no stranger to athletics – Michael Wells. Wells was Rocklin High’s first head football coach and eventually became the Thunder’s athletic director, the same position he now holds at the academy.

“(Sports) brings a lot of value and fun to the kids,” Wells said. “We want to provide that value to the parents and to the kids.”

Parents are not only involved in school activities at the academy, their encouraged to do so.

With not quite 250 students enrolled at this point, the Wolves’ athletic programs are limited – but growing. They added boys and girls basketball this year and are looking to include baseball and softball by next spring. What Western Sierra provides is an opportunity for student/athletes to excel in an academic setting where they might have given up on sports in a larger school.

Although listed as an independent, the academy competes in the Sac-Joaquin Section at the Division VII level. The Wolves are members of the Northern Pacific Athletic Conference.

In the tradition of charter schools, the emphasis is on education at Western Sierra. Charter schools are given more flexibility in curriculum and academics to help students who do not thrive in the public-school setting.

“I make it a point,” Wells said, “academics come first.”

Western Sierra is not only a high school, but includes a middle school (grades 6-8) as well. Even though the two levels are distinctly separate, the younger students learn what is expected of them when entering high school; just as the older ones come out well prepared for college and beyond.

The middle school competes in the Sierra Foothill League.

The flexibility in education also goes both ways. One eighth-grade student approached Wells during break to inform him he would be transferring to Whitney High School next year. His reason was he wanted to play football – an incentive the athletic director was quite familiar with.

Western Sierra does have a gymnasium, but like other charter schools it is limited when it comes to athletic facilities. For that reason, the school works closely with the community and other schools to provide what the academy cannot. That was something Wells embraced.

“I like the community feeling,” he said, while gazing at a vacant lot next to the school and visualizing new athletic fields. “I like working together with other facilities and sharing what we each have to offer.”

And that’s a little of what the charter school offers – sharing and working within the community. That may not seem like an advantage considering what most public high schools can provide. Charter schools tend to use sports as a tool for success and not necessarily a pathway to it, although the opportunity does exist.

“I was looking for a very academic (place) to play soccer,” said freshman Lauren Desmet, who has blossomed in both since coming to Western Sierra. “I really like soccer.”

Her classmate Cody Filbrun expressed similar feelings having finished his first basketball season playing first string for the varsity.

“I got to start on varsity,” Filbrun said. “So I’m happy here.”

Although the academy will graduate less than 30 students this spring, the school is growing. The senior class size will almost double next year and expects to have more than 100 students in 2015. The waiting list is increasing and Western Sierra Collegiate Academy is working to expand in all areas.

After all, it isn’t all about the books and it isn’t about the sports – it’s about the students.

For more on Western Sierra Collegiate Academy visit wscacademy.org.