More than 30 student-athletes gathered to listen to one of their former peers, enhance their leadership skills and discuss the importance of getting a good education with local children.
The student-athletes, 11 athletics administrators and 80 youth with the Indianapolis Dream Keepers Camp were at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis for NCAA Membership & Student-Athlete Affairs (MSAA) Day as part of National Student-Athlete Day. The day is a celebration that recognizes the accomplishments of student-athletes’ academic and athletic achievements and centers on community service initiatives. The NCAA Leadership Development Group coordinates the national office’s National Student-Athlete Day celebration each year. Staff spent the day interacting with the student-athletes and youth and performing community service with the group.
“National Student-Athlete Day presents another opportunity to interact directly with NCAA student-athletes who are leaders on their campuses, and it provides the opportunity to give them additional education on how to develop as individuals and enhance their career preparation,” said Curtis Hollomon, director of NCAA leadership development and a former football student-athlete at Georgia Tech. “We look forward to National Student-Athlete Day each year because of the outreach to the student-athletes, membership, national office staff and Indianapolis community. People have the opportunity to share their story and have a positive impact with everyone in attendance on this special day.”
National Student-Athlete Day falls on April 6 each year, but is generally celebrated throughout the month of April with various outreach efforts, which may include hosting student-athlete speaking engagements, youth clinics and award programs, working on restoration projects, and participating in other local activities. The day also allows student-athletes the opportunity to say thank you to the communities that support them while they’re in school.
“I think that it is so special to be a student-athlete and we really want to be involved in the whole community and the whole NCAA organization,” said Stephanie Armstrong, a senior swimmer at Indiana University. “We want to give back to the community in some sort of way. And if this [national office project] is done next year, I would highly recommend that student-athletes come out and participate because it gives us that sort of opportunity to give back.”
The day began with a welcome from NCAA vice president of administration and chief financial officer Kathleen McNeely. She congratulated the student-athletes on their academic and athletic accomplishments and thanked them for coming to the national office for National Student-Athlete Day. The student-athletes enjoyed a morning of leadership development where they learned about how best to utilize social media. They also received training on how to transfer their athletic accomplishments to professional qualities they could utilize on a resume to attract the attention of employers after graduation. NCAA staff members, some who were former student-athletes themselves, and NCAA postgraduate interns conducted the professional education sessions.
One of the highlights of the day came following lunch when the student-athletes, athletic administrators and youth heard words of encouragement and the life journey of former University of Tennessee and current WNBA Indiana Fever guard Tamika Catchings. Catchings, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Tennessee, led the Lady Volunteers to an NCAA national title in women’s basketball in 1998. The three-time Olympic gold medalist also led the Fever to a championship title in 2012.
“It’s important for college student-athletes to have the experience working within their communities,” Catchings said when referencing National Student-Athlete Day. “I’m sure they do community service with their own schools, but being able to bring the student-athletes together and have one day where they can focus on community service is huge.”
Catchings shared her story of having to overcome a hearing impairment and how it helped her become more cognizant of her surroundings, forcing her to sit closer to the front in class and to pay more attention in school. Known in Indianapolis and nationally for her foundation, Catch the Stars, Catchings took the Dream Keepers youth campers through exercises to help them stay focused on performing well in school and to increase their self-esteem. The NCAA student-athletes and athletics administrators also were in attendance for Catchings’ presentation.
“Just from the standpoint of being able to learn all of the things from today, and not just with the kids, but outside of the time spent with the kids, a day like today will help further everyone in their education and with whatever they’re trying to do after school is over,” Catchings added. She also shared messages about her experience being a student-athlete and how it helped her in her career and in looking at what she wants to do after basketball. Additionally, she talked about life lessons she learned at Tennessee and from legendary Tennessee Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt.
The day closed with the student-athletes and youth completing a community service project where they made no-sew blankets and get-well cards that will be donated to The Cheer Guild of Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Kimberly Ford, NCAA director of minority inclusion and a former track & field student-athlete at Baylor, provided closing remarks.
Sam Embry, a senior soccer player from Earlham College, added his thoughts on National Student-Athlete Day and the unity. “Today’s kind of a reminder that even though we go to our own schools in our own states or cities, that we’re all still connected. Things like March Madness® and these bigger NCAA tournaments are kind of a larger scale representation of that – so then being able to participate today as a student-athlete with other student-athletes from different schools, and also kind of on a national level, just ties everyone together I think.”