(PRESQUE ISLE, ME) -- NOTE: The inaugural NCAA Division III Week is this week (April 9-15). Each day throughout the week, articles will highlight the impact of Division III athletics and the unique Division III student-athlete experience at UMPI, which offers a highly competitive athletics environment, a commitment to academic excellence and leadership/community service/campus involvement. Today in Part 4, Every Owls' athletic program does what it can to give back to the community. Below we highlight some of the efforts of individual teams and talk to the coaches that take part to find out why they do it and what they gain from the experience.
Citizenship and responsibility are Division III attributes. Student-athletes giving back to their local (and sometimes even national and international) communities not only adds to the comprehensive learning component of Division III, but also provides a venue for passion and service. At UMPI, many teams take part in community service projects during their respective seasons.
Recently the Owls' men's basketball team hosted a clinic and scrimmage with the Aroostook County Snow Dogs, a special olympics basketball program in the area. Players went through drills and even tipped it up and played a game against the Snow Dogs at UMPI's Gentile Hall.
"It is important for us to be active members in our community so that they know we care about them and we want to make a difference in their lives," says Owls' head coach Jim Casciano. "We want to give back to those who may be less fortunate because we are blessed. There are many lessons to be learned and many rewards to be received through service to others."
If you are involved in high school or middle school athletics in Presque Isle, chances are you know who Chris Smith is. Smith, UMPI's cross country coach, and his teams have long been active supporters of cross country and Track & Field programs at the lower levels. From setting the course for high school and middle school events, serving as spotters for meets held on the UMPI campus, to going to the middle school to help give tips and pointers to the younger athletes, Coach Smith and his team donate their time to giving a younger generation the tools to succeed and better appreciate their sport. But the young kids are not the only ones experiencing gains in this partnership.
"Our athletes benefit so much from the University community, Presque Isle, and our surrounding towns that we feel it is important to give back a bit," said Smith, who this year was inducted into the UMPI Athletics Hall of Fame. "We get alot of support so we in turn like to show our appreciation. Our programs are all about team and we are a part of 'Team Presque Isle'. Focusing this type of effort in giving back to the community is an extension of the student-athlete learning experience."
UMPI men's soccer team hosts youth basketball tournaments on campus where its players officiated, kept score, and helped organize the over 300 players, parents, and family members that came to take part. They also have annually organized a Special Olympics Soccer tournament on the UMPI campus.
Says Owls' soccer coach Alan Gordon: "I really enjoy seeing our soccer players working with younger players and sharing their knowledge and passion for the game. Over the years the players have established connections with many of the young athletes they have worked with and have even enjoyed going to their games to cheer them on. I am confident that these experiences leave a lasting impression on both the youth players we work with as well as the Owl athletes."
Nordic skiing athletes volunteer at the nearby Nordic Heritage Sport Club as well as have provided support at the Class B State Ski week in February (during the student's break week). Members of the women's basketball team took some time out late in the season to play games after school with kids at the Easton Recreation Department. The baseball and softball teams recently offered youth clinics to area youth looking to improve in their skill and development.
"As coaches much our interaction with our players is that of a 'student/teacher' relationship," observes UMPI women's basketball coach Marc Heidorf. "Through our community service projects, we get to see our players taking on that role of 'leader' or 'teacher'. That is when it really becomes clear to me that they are not only great athletes, but they will be successful well after their careers here are over."
Did You Know...
*Division III student-athletes report greater involvement in volunteering. They also are more likely to report "leadership potential" as an important consideration in choosing a career.
*Division III student-athletes are more likely to report that they see themselves as a part of the campus community.
(Source: 2009-10 CIRP College Senior Survey)