August 5, 2002

Horizon League Student-Athletes Lend A Helping Hand

Aug. 5, 2002

Like a seed that turns into a flower, the Horizon League Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has an idea it hopes will blossom to even bigger things.

While each school conducts community events on its own campus throughout the year, the idea for an annual Horizon League Community Outreach Project came from former League SAAC groups that wanted to bring everyone together once a year to collectively do something to better the community.

The League's name change from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to the Horizon League in the summer of 2001 combined with a renewed emphasis on its four platforms (which include athletic performance, academic achievement, community outreach and personal responsibility and accountability), blew the doors of opportunity wide open for the League to collaborate with the SAAC and create what has now become an annual event.

In 2001, the two groups went to the Ruth Lilly Social Service Center, a haven for abused and homeless women and children, for the inaugural Horizon League Community Outreach Project. This year's event took place on Tuesday (July 30) at the American Red Cross First Aid Clinic at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The First Aid Center is used by Red Cross volunteers and staff to treat a variety of medical ailments from bee stings to heat exhaustion. The Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis has handled all first response medical care for the state fairgrounds for more than 50 years.

"Coming together to help out in this community because they want to and not because they have to really shows the maturity and quality of the student-athletes we have in this group and throughout our League," said Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Legal Affairs Stephanie Jarvis, the League liaison for the committee.

The timing of this year's project could not have been better.

"Anytime we can get volunteers to help out, it is more than welcome," explained Brad Schleppi, the American Red Cross Manager of Community Services. "This time, however, was a very nice coincidence. It has been 20-25 years since these rooms have been painted and just before Allison (Benner, a Horizon League staff member) called, we had been discussing how we were going to go about getting this taken care of. We definitely appreciate this group taking the time out to help us."

Whereas the usual meetings between these student-athletes have them participating on opposite sides, the Horizon League Community Outreach Project allows the student-athletes a rare opportunity to join forces and work together toward a common goal.

"This project says a lot about the Horizon League and its student-athletes," said Nicole Derouin, an Illinois-Chicago tennis player and the SAAC vice president, who has been a part of both Horizon League Community Outreach Projects. "We get excited about doing this every year. It is a way for us to go out as a group and help those around us."

"Doing activities like helping out at the Red Cross is pretty cool and a lot of fun," said Wright State swimmer Jackie Dexter. "It shows that we can come together as a group."

While the Horizon League Community Outreach Project is only in its second year, for several members of the SAAC this was not their first time reaching out into the community.

Youngstown State cross country runner Tony Orcena took part in Christmas Charity drives for underprivileged children while in high school and has now taken that experience to another level, organizing similar activities, which also included visits to retirement homes, for his fellow SAAC members at YSU.

"To be a student-athlete, particularly one at the Division I level, is quite an honor," said Orcena. "It is very important for us to be able to give back in return for all of the sacrifices others have made that helped get us to where we are."

While some of the SAAC members jokingly debated whether painting faster or more accurately was better, one thing that was agreed upon was the goal of helping others was the main focus.

"For us to be able to do a project like this and get the Horizon League name out there is great," explained Detroit soccer player Aaron Byrd. "The more we can do here means the more we are able to give back to the community and to those that do not have the same opportunities that we have been given."