How ‘Sports Change Lives’ at This South LA High School

ARB Sports

“Sports change lives,” said Todd Wright, the long standing physical education teacher and athletic director at ​​Ánimo Ralph Bunche Charter High School. On and off the field of competition, educators like Wright are teaching students valuable lessons and inspiring them to become exceptional in all aspects of their lives. 

Ánimo Ralph Bunche, a high school just south of Downtown Los Angeles, is home to both college-bound and championship-winning students. But the secret behind the school’s success, Wright said, is its triumphant culture that celebrates accomplishment and generates joy. “I was a student athlete, but I was always a student first. With that, I’ve learned that you have to give students a reason to come to school,” he added. “So we’ve built the culture of our sports program around students having enjoyment and wanting to come to school.” 

Today, thanks to a committed troop of teacher and alumni coaches, Ánimo Ralph Bunche is home to varsity level soccer, basketball, cross country, track and field, and volleyball teams—all under the The California Interscholastic Federation Los Angeles (CIF-LA) Freeway Division sports league. But the school’s array of sports are rooted in an academic-first model that supports students in developing academically, physically, and socio-emotionally.

Academics First

Academic excellence is interwoven into the core of the Ánimo Ralph Bunche sports program. Wright, a 14-year physical education teacher at Ánimo Ralph Bunche, directs the athletic program with the assistance of school educators and alumni who serve as volunteer coaches. The coaches are not only leaders, but academic role models who encourage student athletes to maintain high academic marks throughout the school year. 

Additionally, Ánimo Ralph Bunche’s athletic department offers supplemental academic support. “We have a study hall program in place for our students so they'll be successful,” Wright said. This program helps student athletes develop strong study skills while meeting their scholastic obligations with discipline and integrity. “We always emphasize character in our student athletes. We always aim for success, but success is measured in different ways at school and on the court.” 

The athletic programs also teaches students about the importance of resilience and growth. During practice, the teams practice using a growth mindset. “Our focus is about getting better by one percent every day, because that's very manageable and very attainable,” Wright said. Through this process, the athletic coaches teach success as a multi-step process; As students learn to pace their goals, they learn how to achieve their wildest dreams. 

Transferable Lessons

Wright believes that there are several lessons that students can learn on the court or field that can prepare them for challenges and obstacles in life. One of his most critical lessons is on learning how to focus. “In sports, it’s about making that commitment to something and locking in on it,” Wright said. “In life there are distractions—things will go bad, or you might have bad tests—whatever problems are, you’re going to have to learn how to push those things aside to be successful.”

In sports, students learn that they can succeed better together through communication and teamwork. “You have to be able to talk to your teammates, you have to communicate. A quiet gym is a losing gym,” Wright said. For athletes, in order to make plays, or get the help they need to move forward, effective communication skills are crucial. Through communication, students can build stronger teams and even stronger networks. ”Teamwork is really critical. And your ability to get along with other people from different backgrounds is really critical,” Wright added. 

The school spirit at Ánimo Ralph Bunche is an inspiration to all students, on and off the court. It reminds them that they can learn together, build together, and achieve together. The lessons and values learned through athletics align with our longstanding mission to prepare all students with the tools necessary to be successful in college, leadership, and life. All schools across our network leverage extracurricular activities like athletics to help students master life-long skills to achieve success and make their dreams a reality.