IRHS student-athletes reaching heights

Indian River High School students have proved that they can and will continue to be successful in athletics, but it’s their achievements and dedication to academics that sets them apart from other Delaware schools.

Last year, Indian River posted first out of 33 Delaware public schools in science and second in social studies. Indian River continued to demonstrate their academic prowess this year by improving their social studies ranking to first while maintaining their top science scores.

Indian River Principal Mark Steele credited their success to reorganizing the curriculum to suit the Delaware State Testing program, and to his dedicated and willing staff.

“When Paul Kmetz came in his first year, he reorganized the social studies curriculum. The first nine chapters of the book weren’t covered on the DST test, so we started with Chapter Nine to prepare for the test. Then we went back to cover Chapters One through Nine after the test,” said Steele.

A ton of work goes into achieving high academic marks and Indian River’s staff aims to keep it that way at all costs. The school day officially begins at 7:55 every morning, but according to Steele, his teachers’ days start earlier than that.

“By 7 a.m. almost all of our teachers are here. Judy Dixon (English teacher) is here by 6:45 a.m. and then she stays late, tutoring kids that need extra help,” said Steele.

In addition to putting in a long day, Dixon has had the challenge of teaching a wide range of academic courses in recent years.

“She taught all base courses for 11th and 12th graders, 10th grade academic courses in their testing year, and 10th grade honors courses,” said Steele.

“She’s a competitor,” added Kmetz of Dixon. “We treat the DST like a big football game and she pushes.”

Indian River’s students have their teachers by their side as they move toward the future and the ever-approaching demands of the work force. But many of these teachers also serve as coaches.

Indian River’s coaches have had a direct impact on their athletes’ academic success, which in turn has boosted the school’s state academic standing.

“As coaches, it’s important to the see the kids during the day and it’s also good that they see us at a job rather than just as coaches,” said Kmetz, who is expected to become the school’s athletic director in the coming year.

Indian River’s coaching staff has had decades of experience and current Athletic Director Dale Steele said that there isn’t anyone better to handle the students.

“We have top-quality coaches here at Indian River,” boasted Dale Steele. “We have at least eight coaches that total almost 100 years of experience (combined).”

“Academics are always first here at Indian River. Our coaches use weekly progress reports to monitor their athletes’ grades,” said Mark Steele. “We’re able to keep tabs on our athletes due to the size our school.”

Indian River’s school population is only about 750 students, compared to Caesar Rodney’s staggering 1,741 total.

Indian River’s modest student body size would appear to be a disadvantage athletically, since there are fewer students’s to fill each team. But the Indians have prevailed, especially this past spring season.

The Indians’ spring sports program notched three teams (softball, baseball and soccer) to earn state rankings and almost a placed a forth in top ranks. The golf team came within three strokes of defeating No. 2 Sussex Tech for the Henlopen Conference championship.

The IR baseball and soccer teams earned their first state rankings this season, even though soccer is relatively new to the school. Indian River was the first in the conference to bring girls’ soccer and volleyball into the fray eight years ago, to comply with Title IX athletic regulations that were designed to give females an equal opportunity to play sports.

“We have girls’ soccer and volleyball at the middle school, and it has helped us compete here at the high school level,” said Dale Steele.

Steele is retiring this year but said he hoped that Indian River would have an opportunity to add lacrosse and track to an already impressive spring program in the next couple of years.

“Everyone thinks that if you add more sports then you will deplete your other teams. But the more kids you have involved, the better. It keeps them out of trouble,” said Dale Steele.

Sports aren’t the only thing that keeps kids out of trouble — so does Indian River’s Behavior Modification Program, in addition to the slew of teachers, coaches and administrators that keep a watchful eye on them all.

In the 1999-2000 school year, Indian River High School had 1,100 office referrals. Behavior Mod has had a dramatic impact since its inception and has been credited with reducing the number of such referrals to 379 for the 2005 school year.

“We’ve made the consequences more severe for minor infractions, and it seems to have worked,” said Mark Steele.

The Behavior Mod program was cut this past semester but was expected to be re-established next year, when students move to the new school location.

Principal Steele credited his administrators with understanding his students’ needs and helping them along.

“They know how to talk to teenagers. To be effective, you don’t have to get in their face,” said Mark Steele. “At Indian River there is a sense of mutual respect between students and teachers.

In addition to the Behavior Mod program, the ROTC program has also provided some stability for Indian River students.

“A lot of kids have gone the wrong way and then got involved in the ROTC program and have since turned their lives around,” said Dale Steele.

Indian River students have a wide range of athletic, educational and recreational opportunities offered to them. Among the lesser-known but not lesser in value are the school’s marching and concert bands.

“Our performing arts are really big here,” said Kmetz.

The marching and concert bands have quietly flown under the radar compared to Indian River’s successful sports programs, with many athletes participating in both activities.“A lot of our athletes play in the band. There is a connection between band and athletics — kids who stay involved do better,” said Mark Steele.

Of Indian River’s total school population, some 15 percent take part in concert and marching band.

Indian River’s band has flourished over the years, primarily under the instruction of Selbyville Middle School’s band teacher, Neil Beahan.

“They are feeding us a line of strong academic kids and athletes,” said Mark Steele of the middle-school program. “Neil is filling us with a very good dose of band kids.”

Indian River is a very diverse environment that offers a wide variety of activities that prepare the students for the real world.

“There aren’t any splits at Indian River. Everybody gets along,” said Mark Steele.

Success breeds success and Indian River has excelled at every level this year. No longer can anyone say that athletes (especially Indian River athletes) aren’t good at academics, because Indian River has achieved success both on the playing fields and in the classrooms.

“Coach Smack always says ‘A smart ballplayer beats a dumb one every day of the week,’” said Mark Steele.