Just like athletes need to practice their skills and competition to drive them, so do students learning about leadership.

That’s the idea behind the Collegiate Leadership Competition, a national non-profit organization that conducted its first Heartland Regional contest Saturday at Fort Hays State University.

An FHSU team competed against five other teams — the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; Washburn University; Dodge City Community College; Emporia State University; and Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

In the contests, teams of students use problem-solving, leadership and teamwork skills to solve a series of challenges. In each challenge, they receive points for not just the results but also for the process they use.

The Hays Daily News was asked not to photograph or describe details of the challenges, as two regionals contests will be conducted on April 20, and all contests use the same challenges.

“The competitions are an incentive to learn,” said Bela Krizanovic, executive director of CLC. “Why would you practice basketball if you don’t have an opportunity to compete?”

“In a lot of leadership education, people sit in classrooms and they talk about theories, so we wanted to create an experiential program where students could actively practice leadership skills,” Krizanovic said.

The CLC started four years ago at John Carrol University, University Heights, Ohio, and has spread to five regions that include 79 teams of almost 500 students from 55 colleges and universities.

The Heartland Region is based at FHSU, which is the only one of the six schools to offer a major in leadership.

The challenges are all low-tech, involving such things as taped grids on the floors and other simple materials. Kaley Klaus, FHSU instructor of leadership studies and coordinator for the contest, said that fits with FHSU’s leadership program.

“Our university’s definition is about influencing relationships between people,” she said. “Technology has dampened those skills a little bit in today’s world.”

Erin Blowbaum, a leadership instructor from the University of California-Davis, one of the contest judges, said the low-tech challenges offered an opportunity for students to use tools and techniques for problem solving.

“It’s just an opportunity to practice it in maybe a different way than they’re used to or to show that there is a consistent process of leadership that doesn’t change from context to context,” she said.

The kinds of skills the contests use often are in most demand by employers — problem solving, teamwork and communication, Klaus said.

The team from Dodge City Community College is CLC’s first all-athlete team, Krizanovic said.

The members of the women’s basketball team said it did help that they knew how each other worked from the court, but it was also a disadvantage.

“They move so quickly that we don’t demonstrate for the judges we know we’re doing it,” said Marg Yoroslaski, communication instructor at DCCC.

At Friday night’s reception, the members from the women’s basketball team wondered if they belonged, Coach Zach Loll said, as they heard other schools conducted interviews and tests for their teams.

Once they got through their first contest Saturday morning, though, he said he could see they belonged.

Team member Allie Baker agreed.

“At first we were kind of skeptical about it, but then we were like ‘We got this,’ ” she said.