St. Peter, Minn. - On Thursday, May 22, the Gustavus Adolphus Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will host a root beer float social for its student-athletes, coaches, and other members of the department. The event serves as a celebration for what was a banner year of volunteer work and giving back to the St. Peter and surrounding communities by the entire department. When the final count arrived on the desk of Kari Eckheart, the Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Services, earlier this month, the Gustavus Athletic Department had reached its year-long department goal of 3,200 hours of community service.
“To see community service become an expectation and priority among all of our athletic teams has been great to see. This is a wonderful accomplishment and one that all those who contributed should be proud of,” said Eckheart. “Thursday’s event is a time both celebrate a tremendous year of community service and to thank the entire department for committing to this initiative.”
At the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, the Gustavus Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) wanted to develop a system that would track the athletic department’s community service efforts throughout an entire academic year. Spearheaded by SAAC Executive Board members Beau Bachman (Sr., St. Peter, Minn./Football), Rachelle Blaschko (Sr., Henderson, Minn./Basketball), Carly Klass (Jr., Richfield, Minn./Softball), Pat Tracy (Sr., St. Louis Park, Minn./Track & Field), and Brett Ylonen (Jr., Lake Elmo, Minn./Soccer), SAAC not only came up with a way to monitor efforts but it also challenged the institution’s over 500 student-athletes to achieve 3,200 combined volunteer hours across all of its athletic teams.
In the past, SAAC held a competition to determine which team did the most community service. “This year we decided to do it a little different and work together as a group,” said junior softball player Carly Klass. “We decided on a magic number of five community service hours per athlete and multiplied that by the number of athletes and came to a final number of 3,200 hours.”
“The support was unanimous and athletes were anxious to brainstorm ideas for both their team and the overall group to participate in order to meet our goal,” Klass said about the reception of this new idea by the student-athletes. “The overall experience was a success and has motivated us to set our goals higher for next year. Our goal is to build this into an MIAC-wide program in hopes to further encourage community service among Division III athletes.”
Starting in September, each team’s representatives would report its respective community service efforts on a two-week basis at the bi-monthly SAAC meeting. Community service – as demonstrated by Gustavus’s student-athletes – materializes in a wide array of efforts. Opportunities through organizations and programs such as Special Olympics, Elders, Little Gusties, Relay 4 Life, Jump Rope for Heart, Walk to School, Gustie Buddies, and Big Partner Little Partner, community building through service-learning trips, highway and park cleanup/improvements, clinics and memorial tournaments, and invasive species eradication, and awareness campaigns including YUWA, Play 4 Kay, Hour of Power, Strikeout Cancer, Dig Pink, and Movember.
Thanks to a department-wide effort from baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, gymnastics, men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s nordic skiing, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s swimming & diving, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track & field, and volleyball, the Gustavus Athletic Department reached its goal with 3,435 hours of community service.
“Volunteering has always been an emphasis of SAAC, but we wanted a way to show the rest of the college the great community service we are doing,” continued senior basketball player Rachelle Blaschko. “By making a goal for the entire athletic department to work towards together, everyone was motivated and excited to contribute and play a part. Hopefully this is a concept that we can continue to build on in upcoming years.”
Although Gustavus’s community service efforts have been numerous and widely felt in years past, a greater commitment to excellence across the entire athletic department has been made under Athletic Director Tom Brown. Brown raised the bar, charging coaches and team leaders with the task of becoming even more active and more visible in their efforts both on and off campus. Because of the dedication shown by student-athletes, coaches, and administrators, Gustavus athletics will continue to strive to become a community service role model for Division III institutions.
“I am very proud of our coaches and student-athletes for their dedicated efforts with community service and outreach,” Brown stated. “They have done great work as servant-leaders in the Gustavus and St. Peter communities, and in many cases, have been engaged in outstanding service across state, national, and international communities in need of support.”