Nov. 10, 2010
At the University of Virginia, Athletics has a long and rich engagement with the community in many service events.
Each fall for at least the past 12 years, our Men's and Women's Lacrosse Teams have provided support to the community's annual Special Olympics Pepsi 10K Road Race. Men's Lacrosse gives logistical support and Women's Lacrosse team members run - this includes coaches. But it doesn't just stop there. This year our SAAC President (and ACC SAAC Vice President) Nick Nelson's ACC Champion Wrestling Team and our ACC Champion Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Teams all participated, so that we had a total of over 115 student-athletes involved in an event that raises funds and awareness to support Special Olympics programming. The 2010 race had the largest participation ever and is especially dear to our Lacrosse teams as coaches on both teams have family members who are Special Olympians. As well, it has come to be significant to many of our student-athletes over the years as it has served as a springboard for them into coaching Special Olympians throughout the rest of the year.
Our 2010 National and ACC Champion Women's Rowing Team set aside a different Saturday in September to participate in the Charlottesville Women's Four-Miler to raise awareness about and funds for Breast Cancer Research. The rowers themselves raised $6600. After finishing that run - and resting briefly - they went as a team to the local Camp Holiday Trails, a camp for children with medical challenges (illness and disabilities) and provide the labor to prepare the camp (cleaning, painting and fixing up) for its winter hiatus.
Beginning in late September many SAAC members were among 92 student-athletes who signed up for the fourth annual Athletes Committed to Community Education (ACE) program. In ACE student-athletes commit to visit classrooms in five area elementary and middle schools on a bi-weekly (and in some instances weekly) basis to tutor and mentor students in the classes. The program was created by UVA Athletics Associate Director of Academic Support Natalie Fitzgerald (a former secondary school teacher herself), and it provides an ongoing opportunity for area school children and UVA student-athletes to meet and work together.
Over the course of the year, each UVA team participates as a team in a service activity of its own choosing - e.g., football organized a Bone Marrow Donation Registration program last spring. Many players registered along with many community members, and two players have been identified as matches. One, outside linebacker Trevor Grywatch, has actually already completed a donation. Other activities include: Salvation Army Bell Ringing in December (Baseball); providing set up and clean up support to the UVA student run Pancakes for Parkinson's event (M & W Track and Field and Cross Country teams); Softball players working with participants in the Charlottesville area Senior Center to make backpacks for needy area children. In December the SAAC will collect donations from all student-athletes for the Daily Progress Santa Fund that raises money to provide winter clothing for children in the community who are without; Football players visit the UVA Children's Hospital patients on Thursdays while other student-athletes visit them on Wednesdays.
Each spring, around the end of April, the SAAC's brother/sister program the SAMs (Student Athlete Mentors) organize a fund raiser to support pediatric cancer research called "Shoot Out for Cancer." It was created 18 years ago when Curt Onalfo , then a UVA Soccer player, was diagnosed with lymphoma - from which he has successfully recovered in the past three years "Shoot Out for Cancer" has raised over $10,000. In the spring our National Championship Men's Soccer Team organizes a Blood Drive, and throughout each year the Women's Soccer Team's Girls' Can Club works with area elementary girls; each team player mentors three to five elementary aged girls at such events as formal workshops on topics such as Goal Setting, Healthy Living, Friendship, Being Optimistic , and at less formal opportunities for Mentor and Mentees to hang out such as eating in dining hall, going to another sporting event on campus, touring dorms, post-game socials, pre-game events, soccer clinic.
These activities go on year round and in multiple directions. What student-athletes learn is that they remain part of the real world and discover the power of giving. What a gift for them!