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Off Their Backs

College gear finds new home through initiative led by student-athletes

Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members pass out T-shirts to San Antonio kids at a One Shirt One Body event. The program distributes unneeded athletic gear to children. SUSAN PEAL PHOTO

A year ago, as the spring semester wrapped up at the University of Notre Dame, finance major Andrew Helmin headed home to Illinois with more than a dorm room’s worth of belongings. A hurdler on the track and field team, he also took along several pairs of shoes.

They had been issued by the football team, and his roommate, a Notre Dame football player, no longer needed them.

“He just had a bunch of extra shoes that he didn’t need and didn’t know what to do with,” Helmin says. “I said, ‘Hey, some of the kids in my neighborhood probably wear that size,’ so I took them home.”

Back home in Frankfort, Illinois, Helmin saw kids’ faces brighten when they tried on the shoes. And in that moment, Helmin realized the potential for Notre Dame’s teams to connect with their surrounding community.

That fall, Helmin and another friend, Notre Dame wide receiver and liberal studies major Corey Robinson, tweaked the approach – shirts are more one-size-fits-all than shoes – and formalized it. The campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee placed collection bins outside locker rooms so teammates could pass along shirts and gear.

The program took on a name, One Shirt One Body, and a new momentum when Helmin and Robinson presented their idea to the national Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. They were then invited to attend the NCAA Convention in January, where SAAC collected more than 1,000 T-shirts from Division I schools throughout the country and distributed them to children at San Antonio’s public schools.

SAAC, Helmin and Robinson got some help with distribution from Corey’s father, San Antonio Spurs Hall of Fame center David Robinson.

Using the Convention as a catapult, the One Shirt One Body program now has six participating Division I conferences: the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Atlantic Sun, Patriot League, Western Athletic and Conference USA. Altogether, 3,500 T-shirts have been donated and distributed, with additional collections coming this spring.

The students note the program is especially helpful for campuses that feel detached from the surrounding community. The shirts are an act of goodwill and a simple way to build bridges.

“Notre Dame has a very interesting relationship with South Bend,” Robinson says. “Right now, as a school, we don’t have to pay taxes to the city. That has caused a lot of strain, almost like a division between South Bend and Notre Dame as a whole. We want South Bend and Notre Dame to be synonymous and be able to build each other up.”

Another benefit, of course: helping the kids who receive the shirts think more about a future college education.

“How can we get these kids excited about college?” Robinson asks. “One easy way to do that is to go out, look them in the eye, give them a shirt and say, ‘I think you have the potential
to be successful.’”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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