When Denny Lennon accepted his new role as athletic director at The Archer School for Girls in Brentwood, California, on the west side of Los Angeles, he faced … a culture in need of change. The current athletic program was not competitive. It was a new school, and his job was to create something that would inspire unity and work with the progressive attitude of the school.
“At a school like ours, where it’s a very progressive type of learning environment and we’re trying to break new frontiers,” Lennon said, “Athletics can really serve our girls. Every day you have to pack your bag, have the appropriate gear; bringing your best every day, that’s how you get ahead.”
But to walk into a new environment that’s devoid of athletic success and attempt to build something spectacular, vision is necessary, confidence is key, and inspiration is paramount. Lennon draws his from an old role model, one for athletics and for life — the late John Wooden. Early on, Lennon was simply fascinated at Wooden’s ability to win. Later, after reading Wooden’s books, he realized that “winning” wasn’t necessarily at the heart of winning.
“He was attempting to move toward his definition of success — a self-satisfaction that you did your best,” Lennon said. “Once we target that idea as what we want, the results follow.”
For Archer, results have followed. The school’s 2016-17 highlights include five Liberty League championships won by varsity sports and being named “Champion of Character” by the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section (CIF-SS). In the 2017-18 school year, Archer again won five Liberty League championships but also placed four teams in the CIF-SS finals. For the first time in the school’s history, Archer won a CIF championship, capturing the Division 7 volleyball title.
While Lennon, along with the school and the community, definitely facilitate success, he feels that credit is due mostly to the athletes who comprise Archer’s program.
“It’s the girls who drive motivation,” he said. “They find a way to motivate each other on their own. They don’t want somebody to do poorly so they can get the starting spot. They want everybody to do well, so they create their own kind of motivational methods.”
But how is this possible? How does one create an environment that unifies students? At Archer, every aspect of the school works together to support its counterpart — arts provide creativity, creativity is applied to learning, learning evolves through academics, academics support the brain, athletics support the body. These parts feed each other, and they’re constantly hungry. They’re also willing to give.
Perhaps the success at Archer isn’t just a product of the structure adults have created. It could lie in the student body, girls who are learning to follow broad, ethically-forward themes. A prominent theme for this year: The Force is Female. Just as these student-athletes motivate each other, they also create their own unification. And they might not even realize they’re doing it.
“Really, girls are more driven through a base of love and trust,” Lennon said. “To me, that is a far more effective tool for athletic success than the aspiration toward the trophy. When there’s that kind of love and support, everything is easier. Learning happens faster. And it flows up and down the line.”
Wooden defined success as “Peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” We all succeed when we feel supported in a group. We automatically put forth the best versions of ourselves when we believe that we are surrounded with support and love. Archer has found the perfect cyclical pattern of success with every facet lending support. The young females who make up the body of the school drive the train, and everyone wants to jump aboard.
So what answers that opening question? Lennon arrived at Archer with a solid resume, but a resume means nothing without two important mindsets: learning what will be the core of the program, and learning what will be its heart.
For Archer, the core is being the best that you can be, that classic quote from Wooden. But the core is left unsupported if it lacks the heart. And the heart of Archer’s program?
“Love. Joy, certainly, effort, certainly.” Lennon said. “But at the heart of our program is love.”
PULL QUOTE: “Really, girls are more driven through a base of love and trust. To me, that is a far more effective tool for athletic success than the aspiration toward the trophy."
The Archer School for Girls