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By Jack Copeland
Division III Week is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of student-athletes, but it’s no surprise that the student-athletes are turning the celebration into an opportunity to become even more involved in campus and community life.
The inaugural Division III Week is set for April 9-15. Schools and conferences are reporting a variety of activities to celebrate student-athletes’ academic achievements and athletics accomplishments, in addition to their campus leadership and their involvement in community service.
In many cases, student-athletes themselves are planning the activities, led by conference and campus student-athlete advisory committees (SAAC).
“After conference calls with our campus SAAC leaders, it was evident that there was a tremendous amount of interest to participate in the inaugural week of celebration,” said Jeff DeBaldo, Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference sports information director and advisor to the SCAC student-athlete committee.
Wittenberg’s Ali Teopas, the assistant director of athletics at the university and advisor to the Tiger GAME Plan student-athlete mentoring program, said the SAAC there is working with student life, student affairs, alumni relations and media relations to conduct at least six activities during the week.
The result, not only at SCAC-member schools and Wittenberg but on campuses all around the NCAA’s largest membership division, is a celebration that promises to engage students, faculty and communities – and future Division III student-athletes – in a closer look at the division’s unique approach to intercollegiate athletics.
Every member institution and conference has been asked to schedule and publicize at least one activity during the week and acknowledge the event as part of the nationwide Division III Week celebration. The events generally showcase Division III’s philosophy, which equally values academics, athletics, and student-athlete involvement in co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
Schools and conferences are scheduling events from three categories of activities: academic accomplishment, athletics achievement, and community or campus outreach.
Many activities will focus on Division III’s partnership with Special Olympics, including an event at Rhodes.
“We’ve been working with the Lynx Club (a student organization at Rhodes), and (SAAC) had the idea of hosting a play day where we run it like a mini-Olympics, mixing teams of Special Olympics athletes with Rhodes varsity student-athletes from each sport,” said Meg Spangler, SAAC advisor and assistant field hockey coach at the college.
Colorado College got an early jump on celebrating the inaugural NCAA Division III Week when its student-athlete advisory committee teamed with Special Olympics Colorado for a Soccer Fun Day April 1.
The event is one of four celebrations of Division III Week that the SCAC and its conference SAAC decided to support with league funding. Other activities include an ice cream social to honor student-athletes at Austin College (where campus SAAC members also plan to assist with a Special Olympics track meet later in the month); a soccer clinic for Special Olympians hosted by Colorado College; and a student-athlete night honoring conference all-academic honorees at Oglethorpe.
“The activities we have chosen to help fund represent the intended spirit of the Division III celebration,” DeBaldo said. “We are recognizing the academic and athletics achievements of our student-athletes, as well as the passion to serve and the desire to assist in the community that has become a hallmark trait of all SCAC student-athletes.”
Other schools also are scheduling variations of those types of events, and in several cases are scheduling a busy slate of activities for the week.
Ohio Wesleyan, much like North Coast Athletic Conference rival Wittenberg, is planning six days of activities, pegged as “theme days” during the week. The themes include community service, student-athlete academic success (when student-athletes plan to demonstrate how many of the university’s students participate in intercollegiate athletics by wearing gear to class), athletics success, recognition of coaches, and faculty/student-athlete partnerships. The week culminates in an athletics open house in Branch Rickey Arena and the Bishop Champions Games, a track meet for Special Olympics athletes.
Several of Wittenberg’s events are scheduled in conjunction with athletics competition, including inviting Special Olympians to serve as honorary softball team members during a game against Wooster. However, the university’s student-athletes also will be demonstrating their involvement in campus life through such activities as sharing Division III trivia during a campus comedy night, staging a talent show, and handing out “Tiger Up” bracelets in the student center.
“A variety of posters and flyers will be posted around campus to raise awareness,” Teopas said. “We also plan on using our campus radio station to do public service announcements and facts about Division III. As you can tell, our student-athletes are excited for this week-long celebration.”
At the urging of the conference SAAC, student-athletes at NCAC schools are asking student-athletes to invite faculty members to practices or contests during the week or to invite coaches to class. The conference office also is reaching out to professors at member schools, through its faculty athletics representatives.
“We have written a letter of introduction about the conference, and about Division III, which we will have delivered to every faculty member on our campuses,” said NCAC Executive Director Keri Alexander Luchowski. “Part of the letter describes the active role FARs have in conference governance, and we also touch on how hard we work to put together schedule formats to minimize missed class time. To help reinforce our message, we’re asking our FARs to distribute the letter to their campus colleagues during DIII Week.”
Some schools are kicking off the celebration early by scheduling activities on National STUDENT-Athlete Day April 6. One is Frostburg State, which also plans a busy week-long observance, beginning with a barbeque for student-athletes and including a spirit day, a scavenger hunt and an ice cream party.
“Division III Week is a great opportunity for the university to celebrate the ideals and meaning on which the term ‘student-athlete’ is built,” said Troy A. Dell, Frostburg State director of athletics. “Our student-athlete advisory committee has done an excellent job of planning the week and I am sure they will do an excellent job of planning and coordinating the events of the week.”
The Special Olympics partnership has inspired numerous other events around Division III, including in the City University of New York Athletic Conference, which will use the CUNYAC men’s volleyball championship as a stage for an exhibition game involving more than 30 Special Olympics volleyball athletes representing Special Olympics New York.
“CUNYAC is embracing the very first NCAA Division III Week wholeheartedly,” said Zak Ivkovic, the conference’s executive director, who said league schools also will be conducting activities of their own during the week. “We are always grateful to be able to showcase the commendable work of our student-athletes, who are all highly active in the community.”
The NCAA national office also will be focusing attention on the Special Olympics partnership during the week. Division III will donate $1 (up to $5,000) to Special Olympics for every new “Like” April 9-15 on the division’s Facebook page, and also plans events for staff members to celebrate the week in Indianapolis.
Special Olympians won’t be the only beneficiaries of Division III Week activities. Middle school students will be the focus of events at Johns Hopkins (which plans to conduct a mentoring session where student-athletes will answer questions about being in college) and Lycoming, which is conducting its annual field day for a local school’s fifth-graders as part of Division III Week.
“Our relationship with Rommelt Middle School made it ideal to fold into Division III Week, and it gives our athletes an excellent opportunity to see they are looked up to,” said Joe Guistina, Lycoming assistant director of athletics, who added that the school also will honor more than 40 student-athletes who have earned conference all-academic honors during a halftime ceremony at a women’s lacrosse game.
Division III continues to urge conferences and schools to report activities they conduct during the week in support of efforts by the national office to call attention to Division III Week. There are three ways to report activities, including:
Jack Copeland is a consultant to the Division III identity initiative. Questions about Division III Week or any other identity initiative programs may be directed to Copeland at email@example.com.