April 15, 2024

Game Changers

Last year, Oakwood secondary students Riley ‘24, Zoey ‘24, and Jesse ‘24 embarked on a remarkable journey by launching the @oakwoodathletics Instagram account. Their mission was clear: to boost attendance at games and provide a platform for showcasing athletic excellence. Through this endeavor, Riley, Zoey, and Jesse showed the power of student-led initiatives. As they reflect on their experiences, they offer valuable insights into the impact of their work on Oakwood’s athletic culture and share their aspirations for the future, fueled by the skills and connections forged along the way.

Riley ‘24, Jesse '24, and Zoey ‘24

What inspired you to start the @oakwoodathletics account on Instagram?

Riley: Zoey and I have been managing the basketball teams since we were in 10th grade, and I wanted more people to attend the girls’ basketball games. There was this consensus that the Oakwood community didn’t always know when and where the games were taking place. People expressed an interest in coming but wanted a platform to view game times (in addition to Oakwood Connected). I want to add that we couldn’t do this without Jesse. So much of what attracts people to the account are the designs, especially now that we have started with Media Day ( a day dedicated primarily to creating content through photography or video production).  I love how it makes the athletes feel about themselves when they see themselves on the graphics and see themselves representing our school. It really engages the school community and encourages people to show up for their teams. 

Zoey: It felt like a completely new avenue for the school, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we just take charge and make it our own?’ Steve Smith mentioned Jessie’s name, added that he’s really good at designing things, and suggested that we recruit him. And our trio was complete. We were so excited. The rest is history, as they say.

Jesse: I have a pretty different perspective. When Steve brought up the idea of having me create some designs, I had no experience designing anything. I had Photoshop on my laptop and that was the extent of it. So, I spent a lot of time just playing around with it over that summer after sophomore year. I have some designs that I look back on now and I’m like, ‘Wow, I have come a long way.’  It took a lot of trial and error and a lot of YouTube videos. I also just enjoy making graphics for all the sports, so it was never a chore. It is a lot of fun.

‘Why don’t we just take charge and make it our own?’

Zoey '24

Were there any official Oakwood IG accounts at that time?

Riley: Other than @oakwoodstories, no. In the beginning, we had to navigate the logistics of an official student-run account, since it was new to Oakwood. We did get into the groove pretty quickly, but it was kind of this uncharted territory. In the beginning, it was a lot of asking how would this make sense and what can we do as students. Steve Smith, in particular, was very conscious of not taking away from anything we were doing academically or with Basketball. He wanted this to be fun for us.

What challenges have you faced while running this account?

Zoey: At the beginning, we were always struggling to get pictures. We would be begging photographers to come to games because we just wanted photos to post. It was difficult, but I do think that this led to some more organic content. Now we have Media Day, which has helped so much. We also sometimes struggled with people understanding our place and knowing that we were still students and that we had school and sports, too.  In addition to challenges, I think there are so many moving parts to make sure that everything is always up at the right time and people know what is going on. And what goes along with that is making sure that we always have the time to do everything. 

Riley: This is a student-run account and I think sometimes people don’t realize that. There have been DM’s and comments pointing out mistakes we’re making or things we’re doing wrong, which can be tough, at times. I’ve been on email chains speculating about the implications of forgetting to highlight a game. In the beginning, there was a lot of trial and error on our part because we wanted to figure out how to cover games, where to get the information, and how to get the information to Jesse.

Jesse: It has never really been a burden to sit down and design something for Oakwood Athletics. Initially, it was tough to get great pictures, especially since we were trying to establish a professional look. Riley and Zoey have helped me out so much, though.

How do you balance school, sports, life, and this account?

Riley: We had to learn how to prioritize. It has been so fun and fulfilling and I also feel like it has given us real work experience. There are so many moving parts and a lot of behind-the-scenes work—including a lot of emails back and forth. It has been a great learning experience. We have had to learn how to find a balance, and I’m grateful that we’ve all had the opportunity to have this role in the school. 

Do you think that @OakwoodAthletics has changed athletics at Oakwood?

Riley: I truly believe that the culture around athletics at our school has changed. Last year, every team made the playoffs and I believe that part of that was the energy and the excitement around athletics at the school. Whether that was people going to games or students feeling excited when they’re put in the schedule graphic, it’s all part of it. The Spirit Night poster was all around the school and that inspired people, too. 

Zoey: I think that people play better when they feel supported and backed by their school. We want our athletes and teams to feel like they have a support system around them. We really believe in every one of the Oakwood teams and want people to see that. One of the challenges was trying to highlight this for people and say ‘This is something that we, as a school, want to put more of an emphasis on and put value into and we want our work to reflect that care.’ So, I put a lot of thought into this and I’m really glad that we’ve been able to rack up a following and find people who care.

Can you share some memorable moments or achievements throughout this process?

Riley: Our first media day was so cool. We were set on doing it from the beginning and it was something that we are so proud of accomplishing. It was also really helpful for Jesse because he needs photos to do what he does so well. There was a moment after Media Day when Zoey and I were sitting there and everyone was packing up and there were no athletes and we were like, ‘We did it! I can’t believe we actually pulled that off.’ I remember leaving Media Day feeling like we had something tangible to show for all of our hard work. 

Jesse: I think that the reaction from athletes seeing themselves in a post is really special. There was a moment last year when my friend Simon, who has played soccer his whole life and is so dedicated, saw himself in a game day post and it really touched him. He said he felt like he was on ESPN. That was special. I think it’s so great that the sports program is something that we can be proud of, and when athletes see each other or see themselves on a platform like that, I think it makes them feel special. I have also seen some mugs and sweatshirts with graphics on them and that makes me happy, as well.

Zoey: I  have enjoyed watching the other programs, like STEAM, Performing Arts, and Esports create their accounts. I do believe that at the core of an Oakwood student is a very multifaceted, well-versed person, so, I like that we are increasing engagement for other departments. I also think Spirit Night has been really big for us. Even though It’s a lot of work, it is so gratifying and fulfilling to sit down at the end and feel that we have put on a successful event. 

How will you use the skills you’ve learned going forward and do you plan to do anything in the sports realm?

Riley: I am going to go to college and will major in business with a concentration in sports. After college, I hope to work in sports. There is nothing I love more than watching sports, playing sports, and talking about sports. My first job in sports was scanning tickets. It was 112 degrees and it was three hours away, but I had the best time because it was so fun to be involved and to be a part of a team. I think sports is a unique thing where you all are a part of an actual team that feels so connected.

Jesse: My playing days are coming to an end and I will continue doing whatever will keep me around sports. I’m not sure what I will study, but I do want to be a part of a media team for a professional, collegiate, or high school program. I’ve enjoyed it and there have already been so many opportunities that have been created from the athletics office here. I’m really grateful to have this professional view on media and sports and  I’m excited to see where that takes me.

Zoey: I’m also majoring in business with an emphasis on marketing and media, and I will be working for my college’s basketball program. I’ve learned so many skills, like delegating tasks, working with a team, and writing professional emails—I think it will really serve all of us as we move forward.

Riley/Zoey/Jesse: We don’t want to leave this space without saying a major thank you to Steve Smith and the whole Oakwood Athletics Department for always being our support system and helping us through every step of the way as we built this platform. We are eternally grateful to that group of people and everyone here, as well, for the help and guidance. And a big thanks to the Oakwood community. We played two playoff basketball games that were about three hours away and the crowd was larger than the home crowd, It was so amazing to see the excitement from the parents, families, and friends who attended. We feel so grateful that the Oakwood community has embraced what we are doing.