MILWAUKEE - The male locker room at Somerset High School in Western Wisconsin might be confused with an Army barracks. The seven Army Values and the Warrior Ethos paint the walls of this facility.
In fact, the school's football stadium flies seven flags, one for each of the values. Coach Bruce Larson said he came to the conclusion that if the Army builds an infantry on the seven values and Warrior Ethos, then surely that's how he should build a football team.
"You start with someone who doesn't have a lot of beliefs or convictions, and when [their Army training] is done, there's a person with conviction, who knows what they believe in and what they stand for," said Larson.
Larson adopted the Army Values and the Warrior Ethos into his coaching upon returning from an educator tour at Fort Benning, Ga., in April. Larson saw presentations from infantry commanders and noncommissioned officers whose responsibility is to make Soldiers out of civilians; he visited the training facilities and witnessed how Soldiers are shaped into warriors with a purpose; and he took notice of how the Army values were posted everywhere.
The Army Values "are all over the walls. They're in the bathroom. You walk around outside; they are outside. Those things, to me, it gets a person's mind right," said Larson. Before he learned of the Army's values from his visit to Fort Benning, Larson said he talked to his players about character development, goals, self-image and responsibility.
But the Army's presentation of the values help communicate and inspire others better, he said.
"These are seven values that have been around forever, but they are seven values that people quit teaching a long time ago," Larson said. "And I don't think those [values] should be a football thing, it should be an all school thing, in my eyes."
Other coaches are taking notice and asking Larson for tips on starting their own values program. The volleyball coach at the same school adopted a similar program by incorporating one value theme each week during its seven-week season.
"She saw the flags on the field and asked me about this. I talk about this stuff quite a bit and she said she wanted to do the same thing," Larson said. Larson said he believes that a team who understands the seven values is a team that is going to win.
"Do you know how many times we've played teams and they turn on each other in the middle of the game' They don't understand loyalty, they don't understand respect, it's all 'me,' and, 'I'm not getting the ball,' or 'I'm not getting this.'... Those guys are done," Larson said.
Shortly after returning from Fort Benning, Larson jumped at the first opportunity to pilot an adaptation of the Army Values. During the summer, Larson and his assistant coach, Jeremy Kerg, a counselor at Somerset High School, coached a team for the state all-star game.
They were determined to make a team out of 45 players using the Army Values as a unifying force.
"We had no question as to whether [the Army values] would work, we just didn't know how fast, I mean we had six days," Kerg said. "They each represented different walks of life and they each had different ideas as to what a team should look like."
Larson said he received many e-mails from parents of the all-star team who noticed a change in their sons.
"Two of those parents coach football teams in their own towns and they both asked me what the seven values were. They wanted to use the values for their own teams because their sons came home and said they had the greatest week of their life," Larson said.
Senior football players who have been on the Somerset "Spartans" team the past four years are seeing a difference with Larson's revamped program. "We are really team-oriented a lot now more than before," said Iaan Hunt, a senior who plays offensive guard and defensive lineman.
"You can run any offense or defense scheme that you want but if you don't trust the people around you, you aren't loyal to them, then you're not going to get anywhere," Hunt said.
All the talk about the Army Values and how Soldiers stake their lives on them had an influence on senior and quarterback Sean Conrad's decision to pursue becoming an Army officer.
"We've always had some of the values but now that we talk about them more often, I think we'd be more disappointed if we don't live up to them," Conrad said.
Conrad represents the senior class on the team who is setting an example for how the values are received. The values posted in the locker room each bear an image of a player in action displaying that value.
"I take pride in [the values program]," he said. "I'm the first senior to see these values posted, we want to set a precedent for the kids that want to come through here. We want them to see how we operate and live by them."
The biggest poster captures the team winning in overtime three years ago, when Conrad was just a freshman. That image is now an icon of the Spartan's Creed, an adaptation of the Warrior Ethos.