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Student-athletes prepare for 2019 leadership forum

Annual conference April 11-14 will bring 220 college athletes to Orlando

A total of 220 student-athletes representing a broad array of NCAA-sponsored athletics and possessing an immense range of experiences and perspectives will meet Thursday, April 11, through Sunday, April 14, in Orlando, Florida, for the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum. The leadership forum represents a collaboration between the leadership development and Division I, II and III governance groups at the NCAA national office.

In addition to the student-athlete participants, over 80 conference and institutional representatives, holding roles as administrators, coaches and more, will descend on Orlando to engage in the program alongside their athlete nominees. These administrators can develop and grow as participants, absorbing the lessons and building their leadership toolkits with the student-athlete attendees.

Playing a vital role in the forum will be 20 administrators and coaches, selected through a rigorous application process, who will serve as facilitators for the four-day immersive educational experience. These facilitators gathered in February in Indianapolis to engage in a training session to hone the central curriculum they will impart on the participants at the forum and to evaluate and develop their effective facilitation strategies.

“It is my hope that student-athletes walk away from the Student-Athlete Leadership Forum with a clear vision of themselves as a leader, with strategies on how to extend that leadership into their current academic and athletic endeavors, and an ability to translate these experiences into a blueprint of leadership for life after college,” said DeeDee Merritt, NCAA acting director of leadership development.

During the forum, participants will be separated into small “color teams” for in-depth discussions on relevant leadership topics that student-athletes and administrators will be able to apply on campus. The facilitators will lead several sessions daily to explore aspects of leadership to spur conversations that will help the student-athletes think critically and transfer these newly formed perspectives to issues they will face within their teams and institutions.

Attendees will be afforded the opportunity to hear two profound keynote speakers. Featured at the April event will be Chris Norton, a motivational speaker and former Division III football player at Luther. After suffering a traumatic injury during a game, Norton was told he would never be able to walk again, but with a mindset of perseverance and the support of his loved ones, Norton proved the doctors wrong by walking across the stage at his graduation. Norton’s story of resilience was the subject of the documentary “Seven Yards,” as well as the book “The Seven Longest Yards: Our Love Story of Pushing the Limits While Leaning on Each Other,” set for a July 9 release.

Also speaking to the leadership forum audience will be Daron K. Roberts, a speaker, author and transition coach whose story of transition from his time at Harvard Law School to an NFL coaching position served as the foundation for “Call an Audible,” which received critical acclaim from Sports Illustrated as one of 2017’s best sports business books.

This year’s forum will feature a refined focus on mental health and its connection to intercollegiate athletics. For the first time since the forum’s inception, there will be a mental health professional on-site throughout the program. Jessica Mohler, clinical sports psychologist and assistant director of the Midshipmen Development Center at Navy, will speak with visiting athletics administrators and coaches about important tips on navigating the mental health space in athletics. The NCAA Sport Science Institute also will be featured at the forum, highlighting the resources available to athletes and exploring common trends with student-athlete mental health.

During the forum, the student-athletes will learn about NCAA governance structures and how committees function to make informed decisions impacting the membership. They also will learn more about the role and structure of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and how impactful these organizations can be at the national, campus and conference levels.

Additionally, the student-athletes will participate in a community service project to benefit the One Love Foundation, a prominent nonprofit organization aiming to educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships and developing leaders of change in this area. Participants will assemble care packages to be distributed at domestic violence shelters in Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.

NCAA leadership development, located in Indianapolis, coordinates and facilitates education and training for student-athletes, coaches and athletics administrators. The staff annually hosts programs, at little or no cost to members, using expert curriculum designed to enhance the well-being and personal development of college athletes. The staff also provides ongoing education and topical training to athletics professionals who identify and serve student-athlete needs. For more information, visit

NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum facilitators – Orlando 2019:

Davonte Anderson Associate Director, Student-Athlete Welfare and Development University of Central Florida
LaTrese Barker Athletics Academic Coordinator/Student-Athlete Development Coordinator Norfolk State University
Spencer Bonahoom Academic and Life Skills Counselor for Student-Athletes American University
Tyler Burmeister Coordinator, Student-Athlete Development University of North Dakota
Jennifer Cole Assistant Volleyball Coach University of Alabama in Huntsville
Alicia English Assistant Director of Athletics for External Operations Abilene Christian University
Casey Finnell Assistant Athletics Director for Academic Services Lindenwood University
Mary Frahm Assistant Volleyball Coach Illinois Wesleyan University
Amanda Knight Associate Director of Athletics/Senior Woman Administrator Barry University
Sara Miraglia Assistant Athletic Trainer Immaculata University
Tori Niemann Assistant Director of Student-Athlete Development/Community Outreach Clemson University
Asaundra Pickett Assistant Athletics Director for Internal Operations DePauw University
Cori Pinkett Assistant Athletics Director, Character Formation Baylor University
Lamarr Pottinger Assistant Athletics Director Texas Tech University
Amanda Pulido Life Skills Coordinator University of the Incarnate Word
Tiffani-Dawn Sykes Assistant Athletics Director for Compliance Grambling State University
Michael Woo Assistant Director of Academic Services Indiana University, Bloomington
Daniel Zewde Coordinator, Championships and Alliances —Ticketing and Marketing NCAA
Evelyn Gross (Alternate) Assistant Coordinator, Committee on Infractions NCAA
Brynn Seidenstricker (Alternate) Assistant Athletics Director, Student Services University of North Georgia