Team Players: Athletes Get Their Game On With Community Service

On a drizzly Saturday morning in May, the men’s soccer team faced unusual competitors: Forty children from around the world who grabbed the players’ legs and swung from their arms, ignored calls of “out of bounds” and collapsed in giggles on Westcott Field.

The scrimmage concluded a three-hour soccer clinic held for children from the Vickery Meadow neighborhood in Dallas, where refugees from Africa, Iraq and Eastern Europe have been resettled by international aid groups.

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Diogo de Almeida (left) and Brian Farkas (right), along with other members of the men’s soccer team, form a bridge for children to run drills during a soccer clinic hosted by the men’s soccer team.

Sophomore forward Joe Cooper organized the clinic as part of SMU Catholic Campus Ministry’s year-round outreach in Vickery Meadow. “We originally planned to recruit just a few SMU players to help,” says the business major, “but when Coach [Tim McClements] and I presented the idea, the whole team wanted to participate.”

The team hopes to make the clinic an annual event, Cooper says. “The kids learned from our drills, but it was more about having fun and interacting with us. They seem to look up to us as big, official soccer players.”

The Extraordinary Ones

Today’s SMU student-athletes represent an interest in community service that characterizes their generation. Surveys show that people born between 1982 and 2000 are the most civic minded since the generation of the 1930s and ’40s.

This year the Mustang volleyball team collected items for Dallas’ Interfaith Housing Coalition while swimmers swam laps to raise money for cancer research in memory of Richard Quick ’65, ’77, the late SMU women’s swim coach. Football Coach June Jones led a team of coaches, NFL players and medical personnel to American Samoa for the second American Samoa Football Academy and Medical Mission. Other athletes volunteer individually, speaking to high school groups, serving as missionaries and sharing their skills at sports camps.

“A student-athlete already has two jobs – as a full-time student and Division I athlete,” says Broadus Whiteside, assistant director of compliance and student services in the Athletics Department.

Under NCAA regulations, student-athletes practice 20 hours a week, carry 12 semester hours that are counted toward a degree and must maintain grade eligibility.

“The athletes who can do anything beyond that are the extraordinary ones,” Whiteside says.

Not Just ‘Here And There’

Equestrian team member Lauren Lieberman can be considered one of the “extraordinary ones.” She recently was matched with 12-year-old Lily as her little sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters youth mentoring program. She and Lily enjoyed ice cream on their first outing while they planned an in-line skating excursion to White Rock Lake and a trip to The Science Place.

“I’ve volunteered at soup kitchens and a nursing home, but I wanted to find a way to regularly volunteer instead of doing little things here and there,” says the junior business major.

She is adding weekly contact with Lily to a schedule that includes strength and conditioning or hunter jumper workouts at 6:30 a.m. each weekday, class in the afternoon and weekend rides on her own.

“Being a student-athlete and on scholarship is a privilege,” Lieberman says. “It’s important to perform well for your school and to be a good role model for younger students.”

Pink Shoelaces

For the past 10 years, the women’s basketball team has devoted the Thanksgiving holiday to preparing for the basketball season and raising money for breast cancer research. Proceeds from the two-day Hoops for the Cure tournament go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Players switch out their white shoelaces for pink ones, and coaches wear pink ribbons on their lapels as they host three teams for the weekend. Debra Burris, a 17-year breast cancer survivor and mother to Mustang assistant coach Deneen Parker, sings “The Star Spangled Banner” each year to open the tournament.

“Most of our players have not yet been affected by breast cancer,” says Lisa Dark, associate head coach. “But they understand that it’s an important cause.”

Director of athletics Steve Orsini believes that “through athletics we have unique opportunities to represent SMU by helping others.”

– Nancy Lowell George ’79

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