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September 21, 2017

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Las Vegas charter school uses sports to reach students academically

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L.E. Baskow

Basketball team head coach Darryl Littlefield talks technique as they practice at the new charter school SLAM Nevada geared towards sports management on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.

SLAM Nevada Basketball

Basketball team head coach Darryl Littlefield talks technique as they practice at the new charter school SLAM Nevada geared towards sports management on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Launch slideshow »

As charter schools become more popular, academies specializing in a variety of subjects, including medicine and aviation, have popped up around the country.

Las Vegas’ newest school specializes in sports.

Specifically, SLAM NV Academy specializes in Sports Leadership and Management, with three tracks from which students can choose.

The first-year school just off of Russell Road near Sam Boyd Stadium offers students classes in sports medicine, sports marketing, and entertainment and business management.

SLAM just wrapped up its first semester of classes, with 500 students in grades six through nine. The first senior class will graduate in 2020.

“There is a real positive buzz in the air about SLAM just because there’s nothing like it in town,” said principal Dan Triana, who previously worked at several local high schools as both a sports administrator and principal. “The kids who naturally have a passion for sports tend to want to fall in line with one of these paths.”

Not only is there nothing like SLAM in town, there are only four in the entire country.

The original SLAM opened in Miami three years ago, and two other schools in Florida are in their first school year. There are SLAM academies planned for the near future in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and Texas.

The schools are designed to jump-start students’ careers, and get them internship opportunities at health care centers and national sports franchises.

Like most people, Triana was hesitant the first time he heard the concept.

“I was a little bit suspect because I didn’t understand. The word sports in it was appealing to me, but I was wondering how it was going to work logistically and how we could be successful,” Triana said. “I didn’t want it to be a ‘rah-rah’ school with the word ‘sports’ in front of it. I wanted it to have some academic bite. Then I saw the plan; that’s when the excitement (built with) the belief that this could be something substantial academically.”

The plans for SLAM in Las Vegas began in 2014, with Triana helping recruit teachers while the school was being built. The academy has a plethora of teachers with knowledge from years in various sports professions to pass along to their students.

“Someone mentioned SLAM to me, I think it was a parent, and I got looking into it because it was sports medicine, and I love to teach,” Darryl Littlefield said. “I talked to (Triana) and it was the perfect fit, so then I just had to talk my wife into it.”

Littlefield, a chiropractor with his own practice, has a degree in radiology and lab technology. He taught in Rancho High’s magnet program and Burkholder Middle School, when his children went there.

“We are building the curriculum right now,” Littlefield said. “Hopefully, we can give them an overview of what’s out there in medicine, so they can get a jump or a head start on a career.”

The current building has a capacity of 800 students — a number Triana believes the school will approach in its second year. By 2018, the school will have finished construction of another building of equal size.

SLAM prepares students in three sports-centric paths and tries to integrate sports into the core curriculum classes as well.

“In a seventh-grade physical science class, they may be introducing Newton’s laws of physics by looking up key terms like inertia, momentum and gravity, and they might use an ESPN video of a collision to demonstrate all three of those laws,” Triana said. “The sports world is a stage for learning that we use, and we are still sticking to all of the state standards while using sports to entice the kids and get them engaged.”

“We call those SLAM-ified lessons,” Littlefield said. “The kids love it, and sometimes I’ll give them the topic and have them come up with a sports reference to SLAM-ify it themselves.”

The students said the classes are much easier to digest and keep their attention far better than traditional lesson plans.

“I wasn’t interested at first because I wanted to go to Liberty, because my entire middle school basketball team was going to Liberty,” said freshman Londan Coleman, who wants to follow his mother, a nurse, into the health field with a sports medicine track. “But I was told it would be a better opportunity here and, so far, I really like it.”

And what would a sports academy be without sports teams of its own?

SLAM has nearly every major sport at both middle school and high school levels. The boys’ basketball team, all ninth-graders, has competed well against other schools’ varsity teams.

“We’ve been playing 2A teams ... and I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said Littlefield, who coaches all of the basketball teams at SLAM.

Triana said that while it would be nice to have successful sports teams in the future, education is the main focus.

“I believe in mentorships, and if you can find a coach or teacher who you can really look up to, you can grow in leaps and bounds in your development. So those are the kinds of staff and coaches I tried to hire,” Triana said. “That growth can happen not only on the sports fields but in the classroom as well.”

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