A record-setting event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15...

Notre Dame student-athletes participated in 11,422 community service hours last year.

Sept. 21, 2015

Consider just a few of the ways University of Notre Dame student-athletes made headlines in 2014-15 for what they did away from their fields, courts and diamonds:

  • Irish student-athletes representing all 26 varsity sports helped build a home for a local family throughout the year as Notre Dame's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) partnered with Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County.
  • Members of the Notre Dame men's lacrosse team were recognized with the Atlantic Coast Conference/United Way "Game Changers" award for 2014-15--based on the team's mentoring program at the South Bend Community School Corporation's Dickinson Fine Arts Academy (DFAA).
  • Sixteen Irish squads took part in the Fighting Irish Fight for Life program pairing Notre Dame teams with patients in the pediatric hematology/oncology unit of South Bend's Memorial Hospital. Those relationships included Katherine McManus and her women's lacrosse teammates embracing of Bobby Russell who was fighting non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma.

That trio of projects amounted to three of the more visible opportunities for Irish student-athletes to give back and give their time. In reality, they were part of a much longer list of contributions that represented a combination of team and athletic department-wide programs.

The end result? During the 2014-15 academic year Notre Dame student-athletes recorded a record number 11,422 community service hours. It marked the third consecutive year Irish athletes combined to establish a record-high total.

"We had an incredible year last year with community service, and I really think that is because of each individual athlete's commitment to their part in the Notre Dame community and the community beyond," said McManus, a senior from Sharon, Massachusetts. 

"Personally, what motivates me to be involved with the community may sound selfish, but there is something really powerful in sharing joy and creating relationships with people. So, for me, community service is all about balance, perspective and giving back to those in need."

Other projects the office of student welfare and development implemented in 2014-15 included the Pediatric Christmas Party at which children and families from Memorial Hospital's hematology/oncology pediatric unit and the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center celebrate the holidays with student-athletes during festivities in the fieldhouse of the Joyce Center.

The This Counts program, part of a health initiative that encourages physical activity, saw several Irish student-athletes participate in a field day with 88 third- and fourth-grade students at Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy. The event was in partnership with St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.

"We understand what opportunities a degree brings, or success that comes from winning in a collegiate sport, but there's nothing more priceless than witnessing our student athletes empower, embrace and impact lives out in the community," said Johnathan Franklin, community service coordinator for student welfare and development. "It's an incredible testament to our student-athletes that they are dedicated to bringing out the best in individuals within organizations in the community."

Notre Dame athletics annually presents its Community Champion Award, established to recognize the contributions of Irish student-athletes to the University community and the community at large--and recognize student-athletes who study for the sake of learning, give for the sake of giving and understand that personal accomplishment is never achieved alone. This year's four recipients were current softball senior Casey Africano, football junior Corey Robinson, graduated hockey senior Eric Johnson and McManus.

The Trophy Award, sponsored by the Notre Dame Monogram Club and the Notre Dame Alumni Association, was established in 2006 to recognize the team that demonstrated a commitment to community through its unparalleled service to Notre Dame and South Bend. For the second consecutive year and the fourth time since the award's establishment in 2006, the softball team in 2015 earned The Trophy Award for its yearlong community service work both on the local and national levels. The softball team totaled more than 2,000 hours of community service for an average of over 100 hours per student-athlete.

"I think the coaches do a great job of supporting the athletes and their passion for service. It varies per team whether the service is driven by the athletes or coaches, but regardless of the driving force it's incredible to see the athlete turnout and how positive of an impact they have on the community," said McManus, winner of the 2015 Yeardley Reynolds Love Award that is in part community based.

"Also, we are extremely lucky to have the student welfare and development office at Notre Dame to help all student-athletes pursue service opportunities that suit them best."

"Our student-athletes have embraced the opportunity they have to use athletics to serve others and impact lives in a transformational way," said Mike Harrity, senior associate athletics director/student-athlete services. "And the transformational growth is not only experienced by those we serve, but by those student-athletes serving. They often describe how their perspective, empathy and compassion for others grow through the relationships they build through connecting with the community."

Notre Dame student-athletes take part in various community service initiatives, both individual and on a team basis, all year around.

Football safety Avery Sebastian recently visited a girl in the hospital who had been injured and couldn't come to the Texas football game. Last week members of Brian Kelly's squad read to students at Perley Elementary School.

"We were at about 1,400 hours in the summer through some big team events--with the Juvenile Justice Center, the Boys & Girls Club, Football 101 and others like that," said Ron Powlus, director of player development for the Irish football program and the individual who coordinates community involvement for that sport.

"We had more than 30 of our players spend the day in Chicago as part of WeishFest. It's an amazing event put on by the family of our tight end Nic Weishar, who lost a brother to cancer in 2012.

"When you come to Notre Dame, it's more than just football. It's important to Coach (Brian) Kelly, it gets focus off the players a little bit and our guys love it. Many times guys will come to me and say, `When can we do something else?'"

Irish teams are involved with dozens of other causes (these are just a few examples):

  • Notre Dame men's basketball players spent time with detainees at the Juvenile Justice Center, worked with members of the Boys & Girls Club, interacted with residents at Holy Cross Village and served meals to residents at the Center for the Homeless.
  • Men's soccer has been involved with Grassroot Soccer for more than 12 years, helping to raise money toward HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Bobby Clark's son, Tommy, is the organization's founder and CEO. A member of its board of directors, 1980 graduate Tom Crotty, is one of the two main benefactors
  • Softball just completed its fifth Strikeout Cancer weekend to benefit pediatric cancer patients at Memorial Children's Hospital in April. The team has raised over $135,000 for the cause since the initial Strikeout Cancer weekend and games in 2011.
  • The Irish baseball squad raises ALS awareness through its commitment to the Pete Frates #3 Fund. Mik Aoki's team also works with a boy named Daniel Alexander, who overcame a brain tumor--with the connection made through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.
  • The Notre Dame men's lacrosse program works with OWLS Lacrosse in Chicago to produce an annual clinic and practice each fall.
  • The hockey team took part in the No Shave November movement for a third straight year. Each year, the team partners with the Movember Foundation, which has the goal of raising awareness and money for research on men's health issues especially prostate cancer. Over the past three seasons, the Irish have combined to raise just over $12,500 for the cause.
  • The Notre Dame women's basketball program will hold its eighth annual Pink Zone/Play4Kay breast cancer awareness game on Valentine's Day 2016, when the Irish welcome Miami to Purcell Pavilion. In the past seven years, Notre Dame has raised more than $850,000 for breast cancer awareness through several events including 24-hour Spin-A-Thons at the Knollwood Country Club in Granger, sales of Pink Zone merchandise at all home games--plus individual monetary pledges for every three-point field goal made by Notre Dame during the season. These donations have been divided among numerous cancer charities including the locally-based Foundation of Saint Joseph Health System and Riverbend Cancer Services, and the national Kay Yow Cancer Fund. 
  • Notre Dame's 26 varsity teams, coaches and athletic department staff members once again helped children and families in need through the annual holiday adopt-a-family program. Those efforts culminated in a December celebration at the Compton Family Ice Arena. The festivities included skating, a visit with Santa and a party in O'Brien's in the upper level of the arena. The children who participated in the event attend a school in the South Bend School Corporation.
  • Rowing has an annual Erg-A-Thon that raises money for Notre Dame's own Harper Cancer Research Institute (HCRI) and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (This year's event is scheduled for Oct. 9-10).
  • Volleyball's yearly Block Out Cancer match raises money for the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center's Foundation and the Women's Task Force (This year's event is slated for Oct. 18 against Wake Forest).
  • Irish student-athletes held a food drive as part of a Hungry Games event the week before Thanksgiving and donated the food to Food Bank of Northern Indiana.
  • On Sept. 15, Irish softball coach Deanne Gumpf served as one of the hosts for an evening with Sam Grewe, the Middlebury, Indiana, teenager who lost a portion of his right leg due to bone cancer but has come back to compete in basketball and possibly lacrosse. The Notre Dame football team has been supporting Grewe since 2012 via the campus chapter of Uplifting Athletes.

Other Notre Dame coaches support their additional causes:

  • Men's basketball coach Mike Brey, who has won awards for his work with the Coaches vs. Cancer program benefitting the American Cancer Society, has helped raise more than $2.4 million since 2002.
  • The Kelly Cares Foundation, originated by Kelly and his wife Paqui, supports breast cancer awareness and prevention and a variety of other causes, including the Robinson Community Learning Center.

The ongoing commitment to give back represents far more than simply an every-once-in-a-while thought for Notre Dame student-athletes, coaches and staff.

"It's funny though, the more I give back, the more I think I gain the most out of all the time I've given," says McManus.

"Being here at Notre Dame and being involved in the community has made me better on and off the field."

-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director

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