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Division II names 2021 Award of Excellence finalists

Winner will be announced at virtual 2021 NCAA Convention

Twenty-eight schools and one conference have been named finalists for the 2021 Division II Award of Excellence, an accolade recognizing initiatives in the past year that exemplify the Division II philosophy, community engagement and student-athlete leadership. One finalist was chosen from each of the division’s 23 conferences. The last time there was a nomination from each conference was in 2015. Six additional finalists were picked as at-large honorees for submitting a strong nomination that was not chosen as the finalist for their conference.

Division II honors its members each year for conducting events that promote student-athletes giving back and serving as leaders within their communities or on their campuses. A committee of athletics administrators determined this year’s finalists, and the national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee selects the winner, who will be announced at the Division II business session Jan. 15 at the virtual 2021 NCAA Convention.

Each finalist will receive $500. The winner will receive an additional $2,500, while the runner-up will receive $1,250 and third place will receive $1,000. All prize money is intended for future SAAC initiatives or community engagement events.

The following are the 2021 finalists, alphabetized by conference:

School: Humboldt State University

Conference: California Collegiate Athletic Association

Event: Race for Change. Contributing to civic engagement, the Humboldt State women’s soccer and women’s basketball teams held events and donated $2,000 of proceeds to the university’s African American Center for Academic Excellence. Student-athletes created bracelets and organized a virtual 5K.

Conference: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association

Event: “Mac Attack” Show. Created by CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams, the “Mac Attack” show encourages dialogue among the CIAA membership. “Mac Attack” airs via the CIAA Sports Network and discusses current events and issues with a variety of guests.  

School: Wilmington University (Delaware)

Conference: Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference

Event: Lead Her Forward. In conjunction with the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Wildcats athletics department celebrated National Girls & Women in Sports Day. Young women in the community were paired with game workers from the Wilmington women’s sports teams to successfully manage a Division II women’s basketball game.

School: Belmont Abbey College

Conference: Conference Carolinas

Event: Mr. Crusader Pageant. Belmont Abbey Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members planned, organized and produced the annual Mr. Crusader Pageant. The pageant is Belmont Abbey’s largest fundraiser and community engagement event. The student-athletes in the pageant participate in a multitude of events, and the audience votes for their favorite student-athlete by donating money to Make-A-Wish. Avery Wilson, a Make-A-Wish recipient who participates each year as a judge, was celebrated for beating cancer. The pageant broke the event’s previous fundraising record for Make-A-Wish donations. 

School: Roberts Wesleyan College

Conference: East Coast Conference

Event: Golisano Children’s Hospital Fundraiser. Student-athletes engaged in various monthlong fundraising efforts to raise money for the Golisano Children’s Hospital. The effort concluded with a basketball doubleheader where student-athletes connected with the community by interacting with the critically ill children and patients of the children’s hospital. 

School: Arkansas Tech University

Conference: Great American Conference

Event: Connected Through COVID. Student-athletes began a virtual read aloud program to connect with the local community in a safe way. Student-athletes recorded themselves reading their favorite childhood book and uploaded the recording to YouTube for all viewers to enjoy. On several occasions, student-athletes also communicated with elementary students through a pen pal program.

School: Wayne State University (Michigan)

Conference: Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

Event: LINK Program. Men’s basketball student-athletes partnered with the Local Intervention Network for Kids for the 13th year in a row. This program allows the men’s basketball program to visit an area middle school to tutor, mentor and be present in the lives of the youth.

School: Truman State University

Conference: Great Lakes Valley Conference

Event: Top Dog Challenge. Competing against its conference rival, UIndy, Truman took part in a virtual homecoming competition. Truman’s SAAC hosted a cornhole tournament and raised donations for a charity of its choosing by hosting a pie-in-the-face contest in which coaches and administrators participated.

School: Walsh University

Conference: Great Midwest Athletic Conference

Event: Community Freedom Walk. The Walsh athletics department partnered with Not for Sale: One Step at a Time to prevent human trafficking, educate people about the topic and bring awareness to it. Student-athletes also organized and participated in a Walk for Freedom to abolish human trafficking on campus.

School: Simon Fraser University

Conference: Great Northwest Athletic Conference

Event: Building Inclusive Communities. Simon Fraser’s SAAC initiated a relationship with the local Special Olympics and hosted weekly fitness classes. Student-athletes led and coached the individuals in each class and brought together the community.

School: Auburn University at Montgomery

Conference: Gulf South Conference

Event: Special Olympics Basketball State Championship. Auburn Montgomery’s athletics department hosted a half-day championship event where Special Olympic athletes had the opportunity to compete against one another. Auburn Montgomery student-athletes assisted in running the championship and cheering for the basketball athletes.

School: Texas A&M University-Commerce

Conference: Lone Star Conference

Event: #MakeItImportant. Led by the football team’s Leadership Council and the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, #MakeItImportant highlights six key actions that initiate positive change and influence on campus. The key actions are fostering 100% voter registration, getting involved in local and school elections, knowing the candidates, continuing dialogue, engaging with the campus and local police department, respecting others within the athletics department and being all inclusive.

School: Missouri Western State University

Conference: Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association

Event: Griffs Giving Gifts. For the 15th year in a row, Missouri Western raised donations to support families for Christmas. This past year, the student-athletes raised the most money in the event’s 15-year history and adopted families for Thanksgiving, as well. The student-athletes provided food, health care items and gifts to 50 individuals.

School: Notre Dame College (Ohio)

Conference: Mountain East Conference

Event: Make-A-Wish Walk. Notre Dame student-athletes participated in a 1-mile walk to raise donations for Make-A-Wish. The walk was also dedicated to Notre Dame golfer, Sean Kukoleck, who was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier last fall. Student-athletes rallied together to support a cause and a Falcon student-athlete.

School: American International College

Conference: Northeast-10 Conference

Event: Homerun for the Hungry. In conjunction with Rex’s Pantry, the American International baseball team collected over 2,500 pounds of food. The campaign encouraged attendees to donate canned goods throughout the semester and on a dedicated baseball game night. Members of the team and coaches personally delivered the donations to the facilities receiving the canned goods.

School: University of Minnesota Duluth

Conference: Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference

Event: Vote Challenge. Minnesota Duluth’s head men’s basketball coach Justin Wieck challenged all student-athletes to register to vote. To inspire others to vote, he created a video of himself participating in each sport. His initiative resulted in 90% of student-athletes being registered to vote.

School: Concordia University Irvine

Conference: Pacific West Conference

Event: Eagles Adopt Liam. Six-year-old Liam Katz is a huge baseball fan and currently battling cancer. The Concordia (California) baseball team officially signed Liam as the youngest Eagle on its roster. Concordia held a signing day for Liam and have formed a strong bond with him and his family.

School: University of North Georgia

Conference: Peach Belt Conference

Event: Nighthawk’s Walk With Superheroes. Determined to raise funds for its Make-A-Wish partnership, North Georgia offered a virtual 5K. The event provided a sense of normalcy and resulted in the university surpassing its wish goal of $10,000. This is the ninth year in a row North Georgia has raised enough money to grant a wish.

School: Gannon University

Conference: Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference

Event: SERVE. Gannon women’s basketball student-athletes and six local schools teamed up with local organizations to raise awareness about poverty among the youth of the community. The student-athletes worked together to help those affected and hosted a SERVE game with celebrity guests. The game raised nearly $5,000 to donate directly to the two beneficiaries of the game.

School: Metropolitan State University of Denver

Conference: Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference

Event: Food for Thought. Student-athletes from all MSU Denver teams have participated in Food for Thought activities, an organization dedicated to eliminating weekend hunger for children in the area. Student-athletes packed PowerSacks, which include enough to feed a family of four two meals. Food for Thought served 53 elementary schools and more than 10,000 children.

School: Wingate University

Conference: South Atlantic Conference

Event: Bulldog Pen Pals. To connect with their community, Wingate student-athletes participated in a pen pal initiative that began new friendships at the local assisted living facility. Basketball and golf student-athletes also visited their pen pals in person to further the connection.

School: Albany State University (Georgia)

Conference: Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

Event: Be the Match. When a current student-athlete discovered an illness that required numerous blood transfusions, the Albany State athletics department was inspired to find a way to help. Albany State connected with Be the Match and hosted a bone marrow donor registration drive on campus. This drive led to 75 new donors in the national donor registry.

School: Eckerd College

Conference: Sunshine State Conference

Event: Christmas for Kids. The men’s and women’s basketball teams helped with the annual Christmas for Kids event by choosing and wrapping children’s gifts, serving food to families and interacting with the children and families in attendance.

At-Large School: Cedarville University

Event: Yellow Jacket Virtual Reading Program. Accustomed to connecting via technology, Cedarville student-athletes recorded themselves reading their favorite children’s book and shared the video with local elementary students. The student-athletes also donated Magic Tree House books to a few teachers who were then able to give each student a book.

At-Large School: Central Washington University

Event: Vote for Change. With a desire to fight against racism, student-athletes organized a department-wide social justice march and focused their efforts on anti-racism, voter education and voter registration. In response to the march, the local mayor and city council invited several student-athletes to take part in a focus group to create a more welcoming, safe and inclusive community. Student-athletes also created a web-based voter education site for individuals to learn and prepare for upcoming elections.

At-Large School: Converse College

Event: Virtual Nursing Home Visit Video. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals in nursing homes were unable to have visitors. In response to this, Converse student-athletes, coaches and administrators created a video to connect with residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The videos were shared with 25 nursing homes and impacted the lives of many residents.

At-Large School: University of Hawaii at Hilo

Event: Corn Harvest. Through a partnership with the California and Hawaii Foliage Growers, student-athletes and coaches picked and harvested over 15,000 ears of corn. Through their involvement, student-athletes learned more about agriculture and the hard work behind harvesting corn.

At-Large School: Queens University of Charlotte

Event: Walk the Walk. The Royals Racial Reconciliation Coalition, a committee known as R3C that emphasizes the great responsibility and eagerness to push back against racial prejudice, sponsored a 2-mile walk. The women’s basketball team and R3C participated in the walk, uniting Queens and the surrounding Charlotte community. Student-athletes shared photos and videos on social media to bring awareness to the racial climate.

At-Large School: St. Cloud State University

Event: Youth Soccer Clinic. Inspired by an internship with the Community OutPost House, a St. Cloud State women’s soccer student-athlete created a soccer program for the local community. This program connected student-athletes with the community and taught the children the fundamentals of soccer and a love for sports.