Leadership on High

by Paula Polglase


Students zip line from a high platform on the TEAM Challenge high-ropes course at University Park. There is a definite wow-factor when you walk through the woods at University Park and see the new TEAM Challenge course, University Recreation’s high-ropes course, peeking through the trees.  The platforms are huge, the heights are dizzying ­– but it’s the configuration of planks, ropes and beams that beg the question, “How could anyone get across that?”  The course is aptly named, as it is the team experience that will propel the individual to success on the course.

Senior media arts and design major Zach Carlson is one of the few students who have actually been through the course at this time.  “It is definitely a thrill. It is totally safe and you are harnessed and clipped in to secure wires at all times, but being that high up off the ground just makes everything a little more exciting,” he said.   

According to Guy deBrun, assistant director for adventure and TEAM programs, the challenge course is part of a new generation of high-ropes courses.  “The old generation had the team standing on the ground cheering on the person in the air; now they’ve taken the concept of the low course, working together to achieve the goal and raised it 30 feet in the air,” he said.  The whole team participates in the challenge at the same time, high above the ground.

The TEAM Challenge course is the largest of its type built to date according to deBrun.  The course is configured in an L-shape and there are 10 high challenge elements ranging from 15 to 35 feet.  Combined with the low-ropes course that has been moved to the same property this gives the TEAM facilitators a lot of flexibility to work with groups on more than one occasion.  “The chance of going through every element in one day is almost zero,” said deBrun.  Groups can visit the course several times and have a different experience each time.

The benefits to both the individual and the team will be great. 

Dr. Mark Warner, senior vice president for student affairs and university planning, spoke at the grand opening summing up the real benefit a high-ropes course can offer.  “The physical challenges that will happen here will be minute compared to the mental challenges that will go on.  The challenges to create a team, to create relationships, to create communication – those will be the real challenges,” said Warner.  DeBrun agrees, saying that these challenges translate into skills needed in today’s work force, basic needs for college graduates.   

Fifteen student staff were hired this fall to go through extensive safety and leadership training in order to facilitate groups on the TEAM Challenge course. Carlson, who will serve as student manager, says he’s been impressed with the dedication and skill of his fellow student staff.  “They are all really engaging and really adept at facilitating great team building programs,” he said. 

UREC has currently waived the fee for JMU student groups to participate on the challenge course and so far 69 groups have signed up.  The course will work with nonprofit and corporate groups as well and rates are available on the UREC website. 

Carlson is excited to get started.  “It is an excellent opportunity for groups to develop better communication, teamwork, leadership and unity and it is a really good time,” he said.

For more information on the TEAM Challenge Course
For more information on University Park 

By Paula Polglase (’92, ‘96M)


October 25, 2013

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Published: Friday, October 25, 2013

Last Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2020

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