Student-athletes find time between practice, classes, and competition to serve community.
With Penn State Behrend capturing its twelfth straight AMCC President’s Cup championship this year, you already know that our studentathletes are winners. What you may not realize is that they are high achievers in the classroom and in the community, too!
Well over half of our student-athletes — 62 percent, in fact— have grade point averages of 3.0 or higher. And every semester, the majority of our student-athletes participate in several service projects, finding time to give back to others between demanding academic and athletic schedules.
Community service is not required for student-athletes, but is strongly encouraged by Brian Streeter, senior director of athletics.
“Our student-athletes are in a position to be able to give back,” Streeter said. “I want them to appreciate what they are physically capable of doing and to think beyond themselves to help those less fortunate.”
Streeter said the college’s coaches embrace the opportunity to encourage off-field team building and personal growth.
Head baseball coach Paul Benim points out another reason for student-athletes to do community service: They have directly benefitted from it.
“Athletes in any sport would not have achieved what they have without the support of volunteer youth sport coaches and parents and relatives who drove them to all of those practices and games,” Benim said.
Among the many service efforts that members of the college’s twenty-two athletic teams participated in last year were projects for Habitat for Humanity, TOPS basketball and soccer, the Polar Plunge, Special Olympics, Relay for Life, and Trash2Treasure, as well as reading to children at the college’s Early Learning Center, conducting food and clothing drives for local Erie shelters, and more.
Teams choose their own service projects. Many times, student-athletes choose to get involved in projects that are personal to them or one of their teammates.
Benim said the baseball team often focuses on Grady’s Decision, an Eriearea nonprofit that assists parents of premature children. It was started by a former Behrend baseball player, Ryan Smith ’99.
“One of my favorite experiences was shaving my head with some of my teammates to raise money for Grady’s Decision,” said Brian Bohman, a senior History major and member of the baseball team. “It allowed us to have a little fun while helping a charity that has ties to our program. Plus the shaved heads created a visible talking point and gave us a chance to keep spreading the word about the charity.”
Streeter and Benim say student-athletes are often inclined toward participating in community service because they are, by nature, team players.
“They understand the value of working together to accomplish a larger goal and the importance of pulling your weight and helping others get better,” Streeter said.
“It’s not all about winning games,” Benim said. “Being on a team and being a small part of something bigger than yourself is great. Plus, you meet different types of people and go places and experience things you might not have otherwise.”
Some student-athletes find service work to be a welcome break from the high-pressure situations they face on courts or fields and in the classroom.
“I will forever cherish the times I’ve spent volunteering with TOPS soccer, which pairs a Behrend athlete with a child with mental or physical challenges,” said Paige Allen, a Project and Supply Chain Management major and member of the Behrend Lions track and field and cross-country teams. “I work with a girl named Emma who has not had the easiest life, but she always has a smile on her face. She’s an inspiration.”
Allen, who serves as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and in leadership roles in other organizations on campus, said she encourages all students to give back, but believes that student-athletes should be held to a higher standard. “Student-athletes are often leaders among their peers, so they should set a good example for others,” Allen said. “I’m proud to say that I’m a studentathlete at Behrend, not just because of our successful athletic programs, but because of all the community service and outreach we do.”