12.11 The Giving Tree: Student Athletes at Worcester Colleges Give Back

By Kim Dunbar

The holidays are a time for generosity, but for many local student-athletes, giving is something they do year round.

Take the women’s basketball team at Assumption College. When they aren’t selling t-shirts for breast cancer or packing presents for Toys for Tots, the team is mentoring kids at Chandler Elementary Community School or at a Special Olympics clinic.

“I think it’s important to give back and help the players understand and appreciate what they have,” said Head Coach Kerry Phayre.

On most Worcester campuses, volunteerism is a university-wide initiative adopted by athletic departments. Holy Cross Athletic Director Dick Regan expects all teams to volunteer because it’s tied to the school’s mission of helping people who have less.

“We’ve been blessed in a lot of ways,” Regan said. “Within athletics it’s easier for us to mobilize people to do something.”

The Holy Cross football and men’s lacrosse teams are shining examples. In 2009, then football co-captains Dominic Randolph and Daryl Brown recruited more than 50 teammates and snuffed out the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central MA/ Metrowest’s two-year waiting list. Since 2000, the lacrosse team has volunteered with Big Brothers as the collective “John’s Brothers,” a program honoring John Price, a lacrosse stand-out who was killed in a train accident in 2000.

WPI’s athletic department is also involved in BBBS. For nearly a decade, men’s basketball Coach Chris Bartley’s teams have volunteered at Elm Park Community School with the School Based Mentor program.

“I wanted the guys to experience meaning through community service,” he said. “This has helped us achieve our goal.”

Since Bartley’s 15 basketball players began the initiative, it has grown to more than 200 strong campus-wide. “Our program did a good job of setting an example of what to do,” he said.

But sometimes this good work goes unnoticed. Bartley and Regan agree that while nationally many student-athletes are surrounded by negativity, theirs deserve recognition for “…making a difference in something that’s good,” said Regan.

Bartley said his players don’t receive athletic scholarships and are playing for the love of the sport and giving back in a volunteer capacity. “They give a lot of themselves academically, athletically and this is just another thing they’ve committed to and deserve a lot of credit for doing it,” he said. “They’re great kids and great role models.”

Phayre, whose teams have always been involved in community service, knows her players are busy. “They don’t have a lot of time, they’re literally squeezing it in,” she said. “But they’re more than ready and willing.”

All three noted that community service is an investment with benefits. Phayre has witnessed her team bond and players’ personalities change through these experiences, as has Regan.

“The point isn’t team bonding,” Regan said. “But it can have that effect.”

Bartley also insisted it’s more than helping with schoolwork and playing games. “It’s about making connections with the kids and developing friendships,” he said.  “They really become big brothers to the kids.”

It’s the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.

Photo: Assumption College’s women’s basketball players at Chandler Elementary School for community service