How do student-athletes give back?

Indiana State’s culture of community service extends to the university’s student-athletes, who work hard off the field.

Through the years, community service has become as synonymous with Indiana State University’s name as its blue and white colors. It comes as no surprise, then, that culture of giving is apparent among the university’s student-athletes.

For the past eight years, the men’s cross-country and track and field teams have set aside a day to clear trash from the Wabashiki trails.

Members of the Indiana State women's soccer team donate their hair to Locks of Love.

Members of the Indiana State women’s soccer team donate their hair to Locks of Love.

“We probably spend more time there than anybody, so it makes our time more pleasant there if we’re looking at Mother Nature instead of thrown-out tires and whatnot,” said Coach John McNichols, a member of the Wabash Valley Riverscape committee. “We do a lot of things together, so this would be one more example of some team responsibility, and with that it enhances the feeling of the team.”

When the development of the property as a protective wetland began, the trails had to be restored from privately owned land where trash was illegally dumped — and some vehicles, stolen or abandoned, were even disposed of in the wetland and set ablaze — to a more pristine natural area to be enjoyed by the community.

“There’s always been a lot of stuff that’s been found that’s kind of unique. One year when we first started, it was a ski-boat that had been abandoned,” McNichols said. “And we initially found quite a few (remnants of) meth labs. But fortunately each year, there’s less and less.”

McNichols says he hopes more people will explore and appreciate the trails. He remarks that science classes are using the area, as well as birdwatchers observing the beautiful wildlife the wetlands attract.

“It’s just amazing how quick these natural areas come back when they are given back to Mother Nature,” McNichols said. “We’re so close to campus and downtown. It’s a huge resource for the university and community, and I think that’s now beginning to be realized and will be utilized more in the future.”

For the women’s soccer team, it’s all about heart — on and off of the field. The team supports local organizations during home games through fundraising and donation collecting for organizations such as Catholic Charities, Bark in the Park (for local humane societies), Bethany House and Pantene’s Beautiful Locks. They have hosted blood drives and participated in high-five tunnels for the Special Olympics, in addition to coaching children with disabilities.

The team recently received the Sycamore Cup and the Sycamore Team Service Award for achievements, leadership on campus, school and community service effort at the annual Sycamore Scholar-Athlete Banquet.

The soccer team has also played a game to raise awareness about domestic violence and funds for the Council on Domestic Abuse.

“That event is special to the team because a few years ago there were teammates that had been personally affected by domestic violence,” said Kate Sullivan, a sophomore finance major from Overland Park, Kansas. “It is one of the drives that really hits home every year.”

The men's basketball reputation has a reputation of helping anyone who asks.

The men’s basketball reputation has a reputation of helping anyone who asks.

Head Coach Greg Lansing’s men’s basketball team is known to provide a helping hand whenever they are asked.

“We think it’s our obligation,” Lansing said. “We want to be the community’s team, and we place a high priority on developing young men to help them when they are done playing basketball. So anything they ask us to do, we do, if it fits in our schedule.”

So far this year, the student-athletes have had to not only schedule times for practice and games, but also time to help others.

“We tell families when we recruit kids that we’re going to develop them as young men,” Lansing said. “It’s not just about when we’re doing our basketball stuff, it’s about the expectations we have about how we behave and develop as people. We’re going to challenge them in as many ways as possible.”

McNichols says being a coach is not just about teaching strategies and techniques for the sport, but also about teaching citizenship and responsibility to the players.

athletes_basketball“Being an athlete takes a lot of extra time and organization, and I think that’s the coach’s responsibility to help in that process and finding time to do something for other people is a part of that,” McNichols said. “Being an athlete, a lot of the time, is self-centered; so I think it’s good to give a little bit of the time to others.”

The teams regularly receive cards and letters of gratitude, as well as establish long-term relationships with local organizations. This semester, Lansing received an email from a teacher at North High School whose son participated in one of their basketball campus. The young men on the basketball team walked into the MCL cafeteria, greeted everyone and ate as a team. They remembered the teacher’s son — and his name — shook his hand and talked to the boy and his family.

“What a classy group of young men that you have — for them to do that unprompted,” read the email from the teacher. Lansing said it made him feel “really good” as a head coach.

Daniel Swem is a first-year graduate student from Indianapolis, who received his bachelor’s degree in physical education and exercise science. Swem ran cross-country and track since fall 2012.

“Our cross-country and track programs receive a lot of support from the community,” Swem said. “As a student, sometimes I get overwhelmed by tests, papers and other responsibilities. For me, community service is a great way to relieve some stress. I can take a break from academics and also feel productive.”

Indiana State has been among the leaders the past five years for community service, according to Washington Monthly’s rankings of more than 300 universities.

“We want them to represent themselves, our program and our university in a first-class manner, and we work hard at that,” Lansing said. “I get an equal amount of pride in a win as compared to having one of our fans, who saw one of our players somewhere and just talked about how good of a kid he was.”

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