To Reed Niemi, Delta Charter School’s new dean of athletics and activities, the gymnasium and athletic fields are among school’s most important classrooms.
Niemi figures it’s the duty of every educational program to teach students about teamwork, accountability and the will to persevere through adversity. Athletic competition is where students have to reach deep within themselves to find what they need to succeed and confront their own anxieties.
“No matter who you are, academics, socio-economic, whatever it is, every single teenager has the same thing in common: They just want to make it through the day without being embarrassed,” Niemi said.
“If students are willing to put it out there … they’re putting their ego on the line and they’re only getting tougher and growing as a result.”
He added that athletic competition is where students must confront difficulties on the road to success.
“Oftentimes before we can be gracious victors you have to figure out how to lose and keep your head up,” Niemi said.
“Sometimes it’s that ability to be resilient and get off the floor when you’ve been pushed down. That’s a large element with sports. The conditioning, the practice, the mental toughness, I think is imperative.”
Niemi, 45, takes charge of Dragon athletics after 10 years teaching at the charter school. Delta Charter High School is one of 12 charter schools that fall under the jurisdiction of New Jerusalem School District.
Delta Charter superintendent Jeff Tilton said that Niemi’s philosophy about the connection between athletics and academics mirrors that of Delta Charter schools.
“Our athletic program is really just an extension of the classroom,” Tilton said. “It’s about developing characteristics of a good human and a good citizen.”
Niemi takes over for former athletic director Julia Ulrich, who moves on to a teaching job at Questa School in Mountain House.
He became a history teacher after graduating from San Francisco State University in 1992 with a degree in political science and taught speech and debate at Logan High in Union City before arriving at Delta Charter.
At Delta Charter he has taught contemporary culture, a program that included a couple summer field trips to Paris to satisfy his adventurous streak, and coached the school’s speech and debate team. This year he heads up the student leadership program.
Niemi remembers the lead-up to the spring sports season in 2009, when then-sophomore and debate team member William Hansen, who now attends Arizona State University, drafted a proposal to field Delta Charter’s first baseball team.
Delta charter has since added boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, girls volleyball, and co-ed cross-country and track and field. The school’s gymnasium, the Teranishi Events Center, became the centerpiece of Delta Charter and New Jerusalem campus in 2012.
Dragon teams include three league championship boys basketball teams, but Niemi was most impressed by the success last year’s boys basketball team had in the classroom after the team formed a study group that challenged each player to take on academic tasks with the same enthusiasm they bring to the court.
The result was overall better grades for the entire team.
“The basketball team was actually ahead of all of the other students. That’s what the coaches instilled on them,” Niemi said. “When you see stuff like that you see the value of athletics.”
He adds that the campus as a whole has embraced sports as Delta Charter, which grew as an online and home-school program, puts a new emphasis on its Koster Road campus as it continues to add buildings and classrooms.
He said that Dragon athletics now provide a source of campus pride and identity.
“It’s interesting how sports can do that,” he said. “It’s created a cheer squad and dance team, and all of those extra things are a direct result of athletics to begin with. It helps to create a culture quite a bit.”
Contact Bob Brownne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4227.