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updated: 6/18/2013 3:20 PM

Wheaton Academy grad backs leadership training program

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Brandon Ruggles is paying it forward -- and backward.

A member of Wheaton Academy's Class of 2013, Ruggles is also a graduate of the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation's training program.

Based in Villa Grove, Colo., a goal of the 19-year-old foundation is to teach high school sophomore student-athletes, selected by their schools, positive decision-making that they can take home to positively impact their school and community.

Ruggles, a Wheaton resident headed to Notre Dame later this summer, is applying that training right now to benefit Wheaton Academy's current crop of "JKB kids."

He's organized a one-day youth basketball camp on Friday at Wheaton Academy as a fundraising measure. All proceeds will be donated to the JKB Leadership Foundation to help fund its participation with the West Chicago school.

"It's good to have this real-life leadership experience," said Ruggles, whose younger brother, Josh, is at the 160-acre JKB Ranch this week along with classmate Reid Culberson, among Wheaton Academy's second class of attendees.

Female JKB scholars such as Wheaton Academy's Molly Thorson and Annika Pearson will attend during a separate week in July; as co-founder Colleen Malany Braid told the Daily Herald in 2012, "We're crazy but we're not stupid."

The J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation is a positive movement inspired by a tragedy. Living in Florida at the time, Ken and Colleen Braid's only child, 16-year-old Kyle, impulsively took his own life after secretly using steroids on the advice of a football coach.

Instead of retreating into their own despair, three weeks after their son's death in 1994 they established the foundation to create school and community leaders who make positive, considered decisions when facing adversity.

"It was a mission meant to be," Malany Braid told the Daily Herald in 2012.

She and Ken Braid have since divorced, yet together remain devoted to the JKB Foundation. Since its inception, nearly 3,000 high school sophomores have taken the leadership training. There are participants this year from 24 high schools in Illinois, 11 from DuPage County.

Ruggles said the focus is "young leaders who are committed to having an impact on service and the entire community as a whole rather than just the school."

Ruggles, who transferred to Wheaton Academy from Wheaton Warrenville South after his sophomore year, attended in 2011. Aside from big buddy-style excursions to West Chicago's Wegner Elementary School, he said JKB affected him mainly in personal relationships.

"I think my biggest concrete example was just the fact that so many kids came to me with problems. It's not like, 'Oh, dude, I'm really sorry to hear about that.' We actually do something about that," he said.

Ruggles said he handles such issues on a "case-by-case" basis.

"Sometimes talking through it, or being with the person," he said. "Always accepting calls, or just giving reassurance, or connecting them (with other people). People would come to me occasionally before JKB, but I wouldn't know how to handle it."

Ruggles' one-day basketball skills camp is for children in first through 10th grades. Coaches include current Wheaton Academy boys varsity coach Pete Froedden; former Warriors coach Paul Ferguson, now a Wheaton College men's assistant coach; Hinsdale South assistant Erin Dwyer; and Wheaton Academy graduate Tim Rusthoven, recently named William & Mary's most improved player. Times, costs and details are available by reaching Ruggles at (630) 981-7244 or by email at b.ruggles07@gmail.com.

By teaching youngsters dribbling and shooting, Ruggles hopes he'll give others a shot at the training he's found so valuable.

"I know Wheaton Academy has a lot of really good, young leaders, and I want them to be the best they can possibly be," he said.

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