Across the country, Division II schools are amplifying their focus on the military. New initiatives are gaining steam thanks in part to a military pilot program the division established at the start of 2014. Now, Division II leaders have released a guide with ideas and tips for schools starting or enhancing military engagement events – all in an effort to strengthen the partnership between Division II athletics and the armed forces.
Armstrong State University
With Hunter Army Airfield practically in their backyard, administrators at Armstrong State University are in a prime spot for forging military connections. This fall, the men’s and women’s basketball teams held a free clinic at the airfield for children of service members. The families also received tickets to a military appreciation event in January during a basketball doubleheader.
Their take: “We want them to know they’re welcome on our campus anytime, and we appreciate everything they do for us. I think we can really learn a lot from one another.” – Jennifer Rushton, Armstrong State associate athletics director for compliance and student-athlete services
Their advice: Use your school’s resources to launch a military partnership. Contact someone on your campus who is involved with the military and can help navigate the possibilities.
University of North Georgia
The University of North Georgia has a longstanding tradition as one of only six senior military colleges in the United States. Still, this year the athletics department has ramped up military appreciation efforts in hopes of strengthening those ties even more. The department created Operation Nighthawks of Honor, a yearlong initiative in which each team pays tribute to a North Georgia service member. When the university hosted the Peach Belt Conference Cross Country Championship in October, participants took time before the race to honor a wounded veteran. In November, the men’s basketball team traveled to Fort Benning to meet with servicemen and servicewomen, tour the base and play an exhibition game.
Their take: “I think we have to be diligent in teaching our student-athletes the meaning behind military appreciation.” – Lindsay Reeves, North Georgia athletics director
Their advice: Think beyond camouflage warm-ups and incorporate an educational component into your military appreciation event. Pursue an initiative from which student-athletes will learn.
Missouri University of Science and Technology
Fort Leonard Wood Appreciation Day has become a tradition at Missouri University of Science and Technology, which sits 25 minutes from a U.S. Army installation. The athletics department, along with city officials, the local chamber of commerce and others, hosts a military-inspired event at one football and one basketball game each year. Troops enjoy a tailgate and, at halftime, VIPs are honored. This year, a band from Fort Leonard Wood teamed up with the school marching band for the pregame national anthem.
Their take: “I see athletics and the military to be similar in many ways – the leadership, the teamwork that is demanded … there are many lessons that are very similar.” – Mark Mullin, Missouri S&T athletics director
Their advice: Remember that communication is key. Once you get in touch with the right people, offer up ideas while keeping an open mind.