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Student-athletes and Community Service: A Win-Win Strategy

By Treva Dayton on November 21, 2014 hst Print

Community service by athletic teams is a proud tradition at Salem High School in New Hampshire – one that benefits community individuals and causes as well as the student-athletes themselves.

Recently retired Athletic Director David Rozumek, who served six years as athletic director and more than 20 years within the Salem school district, said, “We like to consider our relationship with the community as family, and we take care of each other. If we can bring a smile to someone’s face, make someone realize they are cared for, or help someone attain a dream, then as student-athletes we have already won prior to stepping on the game fields, courts or ice rinks.”

Each athletic team selects a service project close to their program or individual players, and those are submitted to the athletic director for approval. Some projects are short term, while others continue throughout the school year. Among the numerous student efforts are:

• Collecting food for the local food pantry and clothing for the needy
• Singing Christmas carols at the local nursing home
• Assisting senior citizens at the Salem Haven, and raising money through the Salem Caregivers Walk-a-Thon to provide financing for transportation and home visits for the elderly
• Raising funds for cancer and other disease research through Coaches vs. Cancer and other activities
• Supporting youth in sports through a variety of projects
• Raising funds for Special Olympics
• Assisting special-needs students in the Unified Sports Day and offering clinics for special-needs athletes
• Participating in the Make-a-Wish program for young cancer patients

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The 2014 Salem High School boys and girls freshman basketball teams donated can goods to the Good Shepherd Food Pantry at the Lazarus house. Above is the freshman boys basketball team.

Weekly basketball clinics provided by the girls and boys basketball players for local youth are long-term and continuing service projects. Clinics are hosted each Saturday morning from early January through late February for second-grade students. Both varsity teams participate, and many sub-varsity basketball players also assist. Individual athletes also volunteer as coaches for local youth teams in their respective sports, including softball and lacrosse. Other student-athletes volunteer to help with setting up, providing course guidance and cleaning up for community fund-raising running events.

Rachel Denning, a 2014 Salem High School graduate and captain of the field hockey and softball varsity teams, said that coaching 10U softball was the most fun of all the projects in which she participated. “It was very rewarding to share the passion I have for sport, and to serve as a role model for young athletes,” she said.

Graduate Mikaela Gauvain played four sports and served as captain in various years for both indoor and outdoor track and field and also for field hockey. For her, the most rewarding community service project was the Unified Sports Day, something like a small Special Olympics in which special-needs athletes compete with students from other schools in track and field.

“I was paired with a special-needs athlete, and we got to run events against other pairs and take part in other activities like dancing,” Gauvain said. “ I got to see the look on my partner’s face when he finished the race and he seemed so proud of himself and filled with confidence.

“Community service is valuable because it shows us what we should be grateful for and what we should not take for granted. We may think that we jump through obstacles to get to where we are, but community service shows how much harder some people may have it and how much harder they have to work. It gives a person perspective,” she said.

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Salem High School student-athletes participated in the 2014 Special Olympics' Penguin Plunge at Hampton Beach.

A very special project in recent years has been participating in the Make-a-Wish program for young people battling cancer. One year the varsity football team dedicated a game to a young patient, making him an honorary member of the team, and presenting him with a signed helmet and football. He assisted with the coin toss, and students sold “Make Evan’s Wish” bracelets at the admission gates to raise additional funds for his dream of going to Disney World.

Another year a young girl was “adopted” by the varsity boys basketball team. Coach Rob McLaughlin said, “We ran a “pink out” during that home game, the child led our team onto the court for warm-ups, and sang the national anthem. We presented her with a pink basketball signed by the team and a separate signed ball for her parents. Although we lost the game, I will honestly say, it was without a doubt the best game of the year. Being able to help the little girl get to Disney and hear her sing brought tears to many eyes and chills up our spines.”

A tremendously successful and popular project, perhaps unique to the community and locale, is the Penguin Plunge. Students representing the school participate as a team, soliciting donations from family, friends, businesses and community members for Special Olympics. Athletes also attend sports events with Jerry the Penguin, a money container created by a student to collect donations.

At the culminating event in February, participants race into the freezing Atlantic Ocean at Hampton Beach, dressed to match the selected theme for the year. In 2014, Salem High School students raised more than $8,500 for Special Olympics – more than ever before.

Student-athletes participating in community service is a win-win strategy because everyone involved benefits, and such service helps achieve the long-term goals and mission of the school system.
According to McLaughlin, “We are trying to build quality, successful individuals for life. As coaches, we try to instill in our student-athletes that there is more to life than just ‘ourselves.’ Others made sacrifices and gave their time to help us become the people we are, and we want them to realize that some individuals may not be as fortunate as they are. The impact they can make in other people’s lives can be tremendous by giving a little time and effort.

“In developing well-rounded citizens who will be successful in their future, community service is a key element. If we can help them see the impact they can make on others and the result those efforts can have, not only on themselves, but others and the community, then we have been successful. The lifelong success of our student-athletes is our long-range goal, and that is the true measure of ‘winning.’”

*You can find more information and photos at the Salem High School athletic department’s community here.