UGA Student Athletes Giving their all off the field

July 17th, 2013 | By Lindsey Ebert No Comments


Between their demanding class and practice schedules, it would be understandable if student-athletes at the University of Georgia didn’t have much time to dedicate to many other activities during the semester. However, on the contrary, many of these athletes are very passionate about making the time to reach out to the surrounding Athens community.

Making A Difference

While some of these young athletes assist local organizations individually or as a team, many volunteer opportunities are set up through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC. This organization consists of representatives from each team. At the beginning of each year, the representatives and officers meet in order to pinpoint different volunteer opportunities they would like UGA teams to get involved in and discuss how to gain participation from their teammates.

“If you’re on scholarship you have a lot of perks. To give back is a big part of SAAC. The leadership really pushed to do things,” said Heather Labarbera, the Director of Student Services and one of the senior advisors for SAAC.

This past school year, the student athletes reached out to the Athens community through a variety of organizations. Canned food and money were collected for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. During holidays such as Thanksgiving, money and food was also collected to deliver to families in need in the surrounding community.

Another way athletes could donate was through “Gear for Greatness.” This allowed the athletes to collect and donate used equipment, shoes, and workout clothes to organizations in need.

“Safe Routes to School” allowed student athletes to get involved at a local elementary school. This program was set up at Barrow Elementary School and aimed to encourage students who walked or biked to school to do so safely. The athletes greeted the elementary school students at the front doors on the first Friday of every month with smiles, high-fives and reflectors for their bikes.

Athlete in Action

One particular athlete that stands out when it comes to community service is UGA gymnast Noel Couch. At the end of the year student-athlete awards banquet, Couch was awarded the Hornsby Howell Community Service Award. This award is presented to the student-athlete who “unselfishly represents him/herself and the Athletic Association in community service activities.” The gymdog has participated in countless volunteer opportunities over her four years at the University, but her personal favorite is Girl Scout Power Day, where she was given the opportunity to talk to young aspiring gymnasts about not only being a good athlete, but also a good leader and friend.

Couch, who also participated in Home Runs for Home Town Rivals, believes it’s important for student athletes to give back since the community supports them so much and looks up to them.

“I think, as a student athlete at Georgia, you have a platform to inspire others. If you take that opportunity and embrace it, you can reach so many people and impact others in the community and, in turn, you’re helping yourself as well,” said Couch. Couch says that hearing the young girls talk about their dreams to be a Gymdog inspires her to work harder as well.

Home Runs for Home Town Rivals

Most recently, SAAC partnered with an on-campus organization called Special Olympics at UGA to put on one of the biggest community outreach events of the year.

On May 29th, Special Olympics at UGA hosted “Home Runs for Home Town Rivals” at Foley Field. This event partnered up students from the Clarke County special education program with University of Georgia student athletes from all different teams.

The presidents of Special Olympics at UGA, Victoria Brickenden and Victoria Illnick spent the entire semester helping to plan the event and are both very passionate about working with people with special needs. So, when the fourth annual Home Runs for Home Town Rivals turned out to be the biggest one to date with 188 athletes signed up to volunteer, they were very excited.

Elementary and middle school students from within the Athens Clarke County special education program joined together to form the two opposing teams for the game dubbed the “East Side” and the “West Side.” The only rule for the game was that every student got to hit the ball and run the bases. UGA athletes assisted the Special Olympics athletes as they stepped up to home plate or ran the bases. However, there was no pressure of competition during the game. Both Special Olympics and UGA athletes alike could be seen dancing, singing, and running around together on the field throughout the entirety of the game.

“The UGA athletes were very gracious. They were very nice about letting the kids take the forefront, and helping them out, and making them feel really special,” said Brickenden.

Between the baseball game and efforts to raise donations all year, approximately $3,000 was raised for the Special Olympics.

“I love [these kids] and I’ll fight for them. I think that’s why we worked so hard to make this event so big, because these kids deserve it. A lot of our kids don’t have a whole lot, so just for them to have a day where they’re the superstars and the whole day is about them, it’s something we can give back to them,” said Victoria Illnick.

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