A large part of the Geneseo student-athlete experience is giving back to the community. Throughout the year, teams volunteer in many different ways in order to create a sense of unity within the campus, as well as the surrounding region, in preparation to become civic-minded leaders upon graduation.
The following article, which appeared in the Winter 2013 edition of the SUNY Geneseo alumni magazine, The Scene, illustrates many of the way the Knights are "Champs on and off the field."
by Meredith Drake
Each fall, Geneseo student-athletes fan out across the village to help senior citizens rid their back yards of fallen leaves. It’s a simple tradition that makes a big difference.
Last year, basketball guard Thomas Decker ’14 and 350 other players representing 19 varsity teams raked leaves at 53 homes. Decker also took time to run ball-handling drills at a local Family Fun Night.
“When we look out in the crowd at a game, we see families, alumni, older people,” he says. “They’re out there supporting us, and volunteering is a way we can support them back.”
Decker says volunteering allows him to connect with the community. He recalls a time when he wore his team shirt shopping.
“Someone came up to me and said we raked at his house last year and he really appreciated it,” says Decker. “That meant a lot to me.”
Senior citizen Norma Byar says that help is indispensable. “I’m not sure what I’d do without them.”
Geneseo student-athletes try to stand out in competition and in civic engagement. Those efforts have helped earn Geneseo a place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll every year since it was launched in 2006, twice with distinction. From 2006 to 2009, the athletic department received the National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators/Jostens Community Service Award.
“Our mantra, if you will, is ‘Classroom Champions, Conference Champions, Community Champions,’” says Assistant Athletic Director George Gagnier ’88. “It’s an expectation that our student-athletes will be civic-minded and engaged.”
One of the ways may athletes do so is to raise money for charitable causes each year – including more than $6,600 raised in September at the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Rochester. Also, 50 student-athletes participated in the Comfort Care Walk to benefit Teresa House, a hospice in Livingston County.
Another popular tradition: The Teddy Bear Toss. During a designated game, Ice Knights hockey fans throw stuffed animals onto the rink to celebrate Geneseo’s first goal. Hundreds are tossed and distributed by local charities to kids. (Click here to watch the inaugural Teddy Bear Toss in 2011).
Last fall, student-athletes also worked with community members who are saving the stone wall at the historic Wadsworth homestead.
The philosophy is ingrained from the very experiences students have with athletics at Geneseo. Swimming and diving coach Paul Dotterweich makes that commitment to volunteering clear when he recruits new swimmers.
“I’m trying to help them develop as people, not just athletes,” he says, “and it helps me find the right type of athlete for our program. When I hear alums are still doing breast-cancer walks, it is really rewarding.”
Swimming alumnus Phil Szrama ’07 took the lessons to heart. He has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, with his wife, Sadie Mueller ’06, to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
A regular at relay events, he says athletes’ competitive nature makes them particularly good volunteers.
Doing so means organizing schoolwork, teamwork and community service, but it’s worth it, says Karlee McCorry ’15, a varsity soccer player who volunteers for the Teddy Bear Toss and the Colleges Against Cancer Club and participates in Relay for Life.
Making a difference for other makes her time at Geneseo more valuable. “It makes going to school a happier experience.”