On Tuesday, March 29, the Amherst LEADS program hosted an event to encourage student-athletes to engage in their community. The event, called “Caring Deeply,” is the fifth part of a year-long series of events directed at first-year student-athletes in the First Year Initiative Program.
“Essentially what we were trying to get at in this segment was the idea that we need to expand our idea of leadership from within athletics to outside of that sphere,” Director of Amherst LEADS Gregg DiNardo commented. “This is an effort to go outside the boundaries of athletics and be leaders in the community.”
The hour-long event was broken down into three parts: (1) an exercise with two of the Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement, (2) an interactive exercise using the canned goods that each student-athlete brought with them to the event and (3) a keynote speech from headliner Joey Cheek, Olympian speed skater and activist for the Darfur crisis.
Athletics Liaisons Roshard Bryant ’13 and Irene Hickey ’13 started the night off by introducing themselves and their role on campus, pairing sports teams with community engagement initiatives.
They conducted an exercise about community engagement, asking the student-athletes to rank a list of examples of community engagement projects and analyze those choices.
“It was an activity designed to encourage discussion about how students perceive community engagement and how they can incorporate it into their lives,” Hickey noted.
“One thing that came out of it was a trend in how many of the athletes did their rankings,” Bryant added on the ranking process, which included initiatives ranging from holding a sports clinic for a youth group to helping an elderly woman cross the street. “As they ranked each project, we found athletes wanted to use their skills — team building, one-on-one contact with people, communication and physical activity — to get involved with their community.”
And part of the process of a team getting involved with their community is finding a project that resonates with team members. Bryant and Hickey work to make sustainable matches between teams and a cause that interests those teams.
Next, the student-athletes participated in the more interactive component of the night: designing and playing a mini golf course made out of the canned goods that they had brought in to be donated to the Amherst Survival Center later that week.
After some games, the student-athletes regathered to hear from Joey Cheek.
Cheek won the Olympic gold medal for 500-meter speed skating and the silver for 1000-meter in Turin, Italy in 2006 and the bronze medal for 1000-meter in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. More importantly, he argued, he has used the attention he’s received for his athletic achievements to focus on a philanthropic cause. Cheek has pledged to help raise awareness about the crisis in Darfur, Sudan and most famously used his post-win Olympic press conference in 2006 to talk about the cause and pledge his winnings to it instead of talking about the race.
“Joey basically made the observation that he had worked his whole life, skating in circles, to win the gold. Now what?” DiNardo reflected. “He talked about the need for athletes to gain some perspective and work towards some good outside of their athletic arenas.”
The event challenged first-year student-athletes to reflect on what they wanted their legacy to be after their remaining three years. Amherst LEADS aims to nuance the definition of the student-athlete. Student-athletes, among many things, should be good time managers, role models, teammates and leaders. “Caring Deeply” aimed to focus on the student-athlete as a community engager.
“We’ve prided ourselves on our statistic that 100 percent of teams participate in community engagement. What we did that night was try to engrain that philosophy in our next wave of leaders.” DiNardo noted. “Leadership encompasses so much. Within LEADS, it’s easy to think about athletics — better teammates, better captains — but we want to create better people.”