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Dana Kern

Educating and Elevating

By Barry Engelhardt

“It’s about raising the bar and expectations.”

Dana Kern understands the positive influence high school athletics can have on teenagers. As a three-sport athlete who played softball, basketball, and tennis for the Vandals, she was inducted into the Vandalia Sports Hall of Fame as a triathlete in 2011. Although tennis may not be a typical high school sport, it was her favorite.

While Dana is likely better remembered for her skills on the basketball court, her accomplishments in tennis were remarkable. During her tenure, the girls tennis team won the conference championship three years in a row. Dana and her doubles partner also represented Vandalia at the IHSA State Tennis Championship. She smiles, admitting that while she picked up tennis on a whim her freshman year, it has since become a lifelong passion.

Excited about the “Forging our Future” initiative and its ability to continue spotlighting Vandalia’s rich athletic history, Dana says, “There’s such a huge part of our community that loves the game of tennis, and I’m hoping that interest grows as we improve our facilities.”

Named after her great-grandfather, Dana grew up surrounded by family members dedicated to Vandalia’s youth. This sense of commitment suggests that when she looks at her family and teaching, she sees connections everywhere.

Dana’s mother, Molly Kirk, is an administrative assistant at the high school, and her brother is involved in the town’s junior football program. It was only fitting that Dana returned to her alma mater after graduating from college with a teaching degree.

Except for one school year, Dana has taught in her hometown throughout her career, spending time in alternative education, elementary and junior high school, and coaching junior high girls basketball and track, as well as the high school girls tennis team. While she loves working with young girls both one-on-one and in a team setting, she is most excited about the Elevate Program.

“It’s a program that we’re starting and currently building,” says Dana. “Doctor Garrison, Coach Clay, Mr. Protz, the high school principal, and I, along with the female athletics coaches here at the high school, have started this program. We named it Elevate because our goal is to raise the standard for female athletics. We want to develop a growth mindset, focusing on hard work, dedication, and improving performance. But it has become so much bigger than that.”

Through Elevate, Dana hopes to transition from a coach to a mentor, focusing on building confidence and teaching the importance of teamwork both on and off the field. She hopes to channel athletics into teaching life skills, including trust, accountability, and personal health and wellness.

As part of the program, female athletes lift weights together during the off-season. Dana is especially looking forward to the summer when all the female athletes come together to use the Elevate Program as an off-season strength and conditioning initiative.

While Dana is competitive and hopes Elevate will increase female sports participation and success, she sees the program’s focus as much more significant. She realizes that the wins will likely follow if she develops strong and healthy young women.

“We’ve had successful teams in the past, but if we want to be at the top of our game, at the top of our conference, and continue a good tradition and legacy of winning teams and strong, mentally tough athletes, my focus is on changing the culture and expectations of female athletics in our district,” says Dana.

She concludes, “I really want to remove weightlifting from the conversation because it’s so much bigger than that. It’s about raising the bar and expectations so that we are more competitive in everything. In turn, they will become more competitive and driven in life.”

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