By Mina Johnson
Undeniably one of the most rewarding aspects of the holiday season is being able to take the time to give back to the community and those in need. A SUNY Geneseo organization that prides itself on doing just that is the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which is comprised of student-athletes from each of the athletic department's 20 intercollegiate teams.
The organization allows student-athletes to have a voice in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) through advisory committees at the campus, conference and national level. Members of SAAC meet to address changes in rules and regulations, organize community service events and focus on building a positive image of student-athletes while providing an avenue for individuals to bring forth any issues their respective teams are facing.
The committee serves as a channel of communication between student-athletes, coaches and athletic administrators with aims at promoting growth and education through participation in intercollegiate athletics.
Carly Ritchlin, women's lacrosse head coach and SAAC supervisor for three years, has enjoyed all that the organization has to offer, not only to the community, but to the student-athlete representatives as well.
"Working with SAAC has been a great opportunity for me because, not only do I work with the community but I get to spend time with more student-athletes," said Ritchlin. "I enjoy getting to know them better and doing all I can to help them have the best experience possible while they're here at Geneseo."
The committee is led by an executive board voted on by the members each year. The 2015-16 board includes co-presidents, seniors Brad Campion (men's soccer) and Brad Willows (men's lacrosse), vice president, junior Liz Doherty (field hockey), and secretary, senior Bridgit Lincoln (women's lacrosse).
Ritchlin stresses that SAAC is all about the student-athletes and ensuring each member is heard.
"Giving the student-athletes a voice and making sure they represent not only their peers but have opportunities to meet with administrators, faculty and staff have always been my goals with this group. The committee has done a terrific job of expressing their concerns and have made the most of their time as a student-athlete."
This year, Ritchlin decided to take a slightly different approach with the committee. She allowed the executive board and members to take the reigns on the group's special events and provided them with more responsibilities.
"This year I charged the president, vice president and secretary to develop the agenda for each meeting that includes key topics of discussion," said Ritchlin. "I advise them along the way but ultimately SAAC is their own committee. Each year I ask the student-athletes, 'What's important to us this year? What events do we want to participate in? What concerns would you like to address?' It's a student-run committee, allowing them to work off each other."
Being such a large organization, Ritchlin emphasizes the impact the representatives can have on others and brings attention to the significance of making a difference during their time as student-athletes.
"I've told them on several occasions that, regardless of their individual circumstances, they are all so fortunate to be at a college like Geneseo. It is our job to reach out to others in need to show them what athletics is all about and help them in any way we can."
For Lincoln, SAAC is an organization she knew she wanted to be a part of because of her community involvement prior to attending Geneseo. A group that revolves around community service efforts and enhancing the student-athlete experience was right up her alley.
"The first time I heard of the SAAC, I knew it was something I would really like to be involved with. I have always been active in community service and, in high schoo, l I was a member of the student government and SAAC is a mixture of the two."
From the moment she joined SAAC as a sophomore, Lincoln knew the group's impact on the community and her fellow student-athletes was something really special.
"Being a member of SAAC has definitely enhanced my experience as a student-athlete. Not only are we actively involved with the community, but we also provide support for other teams by attending their games. It has shown me that being a Knight is much more than just playing lacrosse."
Campion was drawn to the committee because of his desire to shape the landscape of intercollegiate athletics. Fully aware that his time as a student-athlete was limited, he wanted to make the most of it and encourage others to do so as well.
"I wanted to maximize the moments within intercollegiate athletics by working closely with administration, organizing a tight-knit athletic community and improving day-to-day operations. SAAC offered an opportunity to voice our opinions as student-athletes and in turn, influence positive departmental changes."
Campion's involvement in SAAC also stems from his understanding of how important it is to give back to a community that's continually been supportive of the Knights. There is so much to gain from participating in these events and a little bit can go a long way.
"It is important to give back by any means to the Geneseo people for all of their warmth and support over the years. Through events like the Teresa House Walk and leaf raking, we've been making efforts to help a community that means a great deal to the College."
Throughout the academic year, SAAC hosts a number of special events to give back to the college as well as members of the Geneseo community. Below are just a few of the examples that the committee has taken the time to lend a hand and make a difference.
Theresa House Walk
Geneseo SAAC's first event of the year is traditionally the Teresa House Comfort Care Walk. This year's walk was held on Saturday, September 20th, and featured nearly 250 student-athletes walking the streets of Geneseo to show their support for the Teresa House, which offers a home-like setting for persons with a terminal illness and their families.
All of the proceeds from the event went towards ensuring the Teresa House staff and volunteers have the resources necessary to continue providing the highest quality of comfort care to surrounding counties.
"Our participation in the Teresa House Walk shows that we've tried to take on a larger role than just being college student-athletes. We strive to be community leaders and continue to ask ourselves, 'Is there more we can be doing?' I'm proud of the steps we've taken this year to give back and promote a positive student-athlete image," said Campion.
Certainly the largest event organized by SAAC is its annual leaf raking day. On Sunday, November 15th, over 350 members of the athletic department were armed with rakes, tarps and the spirit of giving back to the community.
"Leaf raking has been our longest running event. It's a long day for the SAAC reps, especially our executive board. We have a lot of people to organize, but I can rely on the SAAC reps to get information out to the individual teams and ensure everything is running smoothly the day of the raking," said Ritchlin.
Teams of student-athletes ventured out to over 40 homes in the town of Geneseo and spent the day raking leaves and cleaning up yards in preparation for the winter season.
"I can't comment enough about how much SAAC and student-athletes effort to give back means to the local Geneseo community. Leaf raking, which is also a SUNYAC-wide event, is a really fun day and all those we help out are always really appreciative," added Lincoln.
Teddy Bear Toss
On Friday, December 4th, SAAC along with the men's ice hockey team, held the Fifth-Annual Teddy Bear Toss during the Knights' game versus SUNYAC-foe Potsdam.
All fans were welcomed to throw a new or gently-used stuffed animal on the ice following Geneseo's first goal of the evening, which came when senior forward David Ripple scored with 16:18 on the clock in the first period. The Junior Ice Knights youth hockey group assisted SAAC representatives in gathering the bears and cleaning the ice once the goal was scored.
Over 470 bears and $350 in donations were collected at the event that were donated to Catholic Charities of Livingston County and Focus on the Children. Geneseo capped the night off with a 6-2 victory over the visiting Bears.
"The Teddy Bear Toss is a complete SAAC effort that we were all incredibly excited to host. We hope SAAC can continue to provide more opportunities for Geneseo student-athletes to show their generosity, care and leadership," said Campion.
Following winter break and the students are back on campus, SAAC will host the department's Fourth-Annual Veteran's Night on Tuesday, January 19, in conjunction with a women's and men's basketball double-header versus Cortland. It's a night to honor and thank those who have served or are currently serving in our country's armed forces.
Being a SAAC respresentative or contrbuting to the group's events reminds student-athletes how rewarding it can be when you take the time to give back to members of the community.
"All of these events show how much of an impact we have as athletes. Just a few hours raking leaves or tossing a teddy bear goes a really long way," said Lincoln.
Overall, SAAC has positively impacted its members and the people around them, opening their eyes to the importance of giving back, especially during the holiday season. For Lincoln, this time of year is just a reminder of how grateful she is for the opportunities SAAC has afforded her.
"Going home for the holidays always makes me even more thankful for the opportunities I have been provided during my experience here at Geneseo. Being a student-athlete is an amazing experience and SAAC has contributed to that immensely. It is so rewarding to spend time participating in activities and events that benefit my fellow athletes and the local community."
Campion's involvement with the committee has led him to hold each Geneseo intercollegiate athletic program in high regard. He gains valuable time with members of other teams, some very different from his, that he wouldn't get elsewhere.
"Being involved in SAAC has made me appreciate each team at Geneseo, their accomplishments and their challenges. I have come to understand the unique dynamics of sports such as equestrian or the amount of dedication the cross country teams put into their workouts. SAAC is essential for broadening each athlete's perspective and building support for every sport at Geneseo."
Ritchlin is grateful to be supervising such a hard-working and enthusiastic organization. She knows their efforts have truly made a difference in the Geneseo community and looks forward to watching their leadership skills unfold at each event.
"The most rewarding thing for me when we put on these events is watching the committee come together to organize, volunteer and make sure all the details are accounted for. Everything we do is truly driven by the student-athletes. Their commitment has been outstanding and they have gone above and beyond to make a positive impact in others' lives."
Lincoln is especially eager to see what the next few months have in store and plans to make giving back a part of her life following her final semester at Geneseo. SAAC has been such a positive influence on others and that's a tradition she's looking forward to continuing.
Lincoln said, "When I graduate in the spring, I hope to continue my involvement in community service activities at home. Geneseo SAAC has accomplished so much in the past few years and I am excited to see what new things the group can achieve following the New Year."
Mina Johnson is the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications and Media Relations at SUNY Geneseo