Motivational speaker Kevin Atlas was looking for an “all-American” Zachary senior to put on the spot, and he hit the jackpot with senior football player and wrestler Kenyon Martin.
Martin’s rugged good looks and athletic talent makes him someone that everyone has probably cheered on, but Atlas turned the tables to determine who gets Martin’s applause and when does the football star cheer for the band or another school organization.
Atlas visited Zachary High on Sept. 3 as part of the Varsity Brand’s Believe in You Challenge, an effort to "explode" love and support in the halls of U.S. schools. The Believe in You Challenge finds students like Martin, who had attended a band concert on the invitation of a friend, and helps them to see how much they can influence their schools and communities with the returned support and attention.
Atlas faced adversity in his early life that could have limited his potential and drive. He was born with a left arm ending just below his elbow, and he grew up in a split custody household until the untimely death of his father.
More “handi-capable” than handicapped, Atlas hushed critics to become one of the top high school basketball players in his state and later earned a full athletic scholarship to become the first disabled player in NCAA history to receive a Division I athletic scholarship.
The documentary "Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story" uses Atlas’ journey to inspire others to overcome personal challenges and obstacles. The Believe in You Challenge activities are sponsored by Varsity Brands that include BSN SPORTS, Varsity Spirit and Herff Jones.
Changing the culture and environment in Zachary is similar to the challenges Atlas sees facing schools around the world. He said he has been where today’s teens are and understands the issues. “I look at the universal issues, and anxiety and depression have skyrocketed,” he said.
Mass shooting on campuses have brought mental health issues to the forefront. “My mentality is that if you have a sporting team, and all the rookies are suicidal and depressed, how’s your team going to look in 10 years?” he asked. “It’s not going to be very good. I’m looking at the youth of this country and trying to make the greatest impact I can with Varsity Brands.”
Atlas said he thinks negative actions spread in schools like viruses until all aspects are affected. Countering this the negativity is the force behind the Believe in You Challenge. “You can create love in the hallways, you can create kindness and make that a habit that, essentially, tips the domino effect here,” he said. “Kids enjoy coming to school and those who are needing the love and support can find it here.”