Nikki Lockhart knew the drug and alcohol education was resonating with Chestnut Hill College student-athletes when a men’s lacrosse player walked into her office and asked for advice on his drinking habits.
“Can I talk to you about a party I went to this weekend?” the player asked Lockhart, the school’s associate athletics director for academic success and community engagement. The player explained that he had counted his alcoholic drinks and thought he should cut back. With Lockhart’s guidance, he set a healthier goal.
Those candid discussions between administrators and athletes have become more commonplace in recent years, which Chestnut Hill credits in part to programs spurred on by the national APPLE Conference. Run by the University of Virginia and sponsored by the NCAA, the conference assists schools in developing their action plan to address alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
In April, at the request of the Division II leadership, an APPLE Conference was held specifically for Division II. It was the first time for a division-specific APPLE Conference in the program’s 24-year history. Groups of four to six athletes and administrators from 39 schools gathered in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to assess their athletics departments and develop tools for improvement based on seven “slices” of the APPLE model: drug testing, educational programming, policies, recruitment, expectations and attitudes, sanctioning, and referral and counseling.
“We all wear a lot of hats here in Division II,” Lockhart said. “Not only could we talk to other administrators at small institutions that really understand what we work with, but also our student-athletes could talk to their peers at the same level.”
As alumni of the conference, Lockhart and Chestnut Hill Dean of Students Krista Murphy presented on the drug and alcohol programs they have implemented. One they started in 2014, called “heart-to-heart sessions,” brings together teams for a conversation on healthy decision-making and the impacts it can have on athletic goals. “It’s not to say alcohol is evil and bad, don’t even look at it, but to say, as an athlete, you need to have awareness of what’s going into your body,” Murphy said.
During the heart-to-heart sessions, athletes volunteer to pour water into a cup to the level they pour an alcoholic drink. Often, the amount an athlete believes to be one “standard” drink is actually two or three. “It’s really eye-opening,” Lockhart said.
Schools learn from each other at the conference by sharing those ideas and outcomes. APPLE Conference coordinator Holly Deering noticed at the conference that the networking and camaraderie between schools was the most she’s seen. “We were able to figure out what were the specific needs of their membership,” Deering said. “And we were able to tailor resources and speakers just for their schools.”
First-time attendee Eric Schoh, athletics director at Winona State University, said his APPLE team of two Winona State administrators and four athletes is incorporating messages shared in APPLE presentations into a campus project. The four athletes are creating a presentation this summer on the effects of alcohol on athletic performance that they will share with fellow athletes during the first week of classes. The group hopes to expand its educational programming later in the year.
Chestnut Hill is also looking to grow its services this fall with a mentoring program that will pair teams and athletes and dole out points for attending certain events – such as one another’s games, a heart-to-heart session or a campus theater event.
“We hope they recognize there are other activities on campus they can go to and that they don’t always need to go to a party,” Murphy said. “There are great alcohol-free alternatives. Maybe they go once or twice because we nudge them, then they realize, ‘Oh, this is great.’”