Former Mt. Lebo and Canon-Mac star is CEO of WINGS for Kids

Written by Cara De Carlo on .

The year was 1989 and Canon-McMillan High School was engaged in a tight, tense girls soccer match against rival Upper St. Clair.

The Big Macs were trailing by a goal and 10 seconds remained on the clock. Bridget Durkan, Canon-McMillan’s top scoring threat, had the soccer ball in perfect position to score. She launched a high, hard shot at the Panthers’ goal, but the ball hit the crossbar and sailed out of bounds. The soccer match was over, but Bridget’s game wasn’t.

She went on to set scoring records in soccer and basketball for each of her three years at Canon-McMillan. Then before her senior year, she transferred to Mt. Lebanon. She graduated from Mt. Lebanon after earning All-American honors twice during her scholastic career.

Now flash forward to 2011.

Bridget Durkan Laird
is the chief executive officer of WINGS, where her skills as an athlete are her tools to help kids. Based out of Charleston, S.C., WINGS for Kids is an afterschool program that teaches children how to make good decisions and manage their emotions.

Laird joined WINGS in 1998. Since that time, she has used her sports background to develop WINGS’ curriculum. After all, athletes need the right attitudes to be successful team members. Laird works to instill these attitudes for life.

WINGS teaches kids using a poem-like creed that affirms social and emotional skills.

“My coaches were essentially teaching me the creed daily,” Laird said. “I was expected to use self-management skills in times of frustration and/or glory.”

Laird remembers being in eighth grade and having her first ever 30-point basketball game.

“I was really happy about scoring 30,” she recalled.

But it didn’t taker her long to come down from that emotional high.

“I knew my coach wanted me to focus on teamwork,” Laird said.

That thought quickly “re-grounded” her. The support, trust, and control that Laird learned on the court are things WINGS kids recite in their creed.

Laird even uses athletics to drive home the teaching points. One WINGS activity has kids dribble a soccer ball across a field — but with a bit of a twist added. They have to dribble the ball as if they are happy, sad, mad, or whatever emotion they are learning about.

Sometimes, Laird tailors the sport to the child.

“I found out [one boy] liked to run,” Laird says.

The boy longed to achieve on a track team but his school’s track program had been discontinued. Laird and the boy then trained together for a 5K road race, which incidentally benefitted the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness.

Laird said she will never forget the joy the boy felt when his family came out to meet him at the finish line.

“I realized he needed a moment that made him feel like he was supported,” Laird says. “He was beaming. He had his moment.”

Sometimes, WINGS kids have trouble making the next basket or running the next race. So, Laird tells them of her own struggles with soccer footwork.

“I was not a wonderful dribbler. I didn’t have a great first touch,” she said.

It was Laird’s own self-motivation that allowed her to master the University of North Carolina women’s soccer dribbling regimen before her sophomore year of high school. North Carolina has the most successful women’s collegiate soccer program in the country.

Through this anecdote, Laird lets children know that they can get past their shortcomings. They just need self-esteem and resolve.

Overall, Laird attributes what she learned in athletics at Canon McMillan and Mt. Lebanon to playing a major role in what makes her successful at WINGS.

“I am so thankful for those days and credit my coaches and teammates for creating such great memories for me to build upon,” she said. “It’s what drives me to help kids get the social and emotional education they need.”