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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 26 · Number 2 · Winter 2009


Andrea Phillips photo

Aggie tennis player Andrea Phillips volunteers her time in a variety of ways, including assisting a feline rescue organization.

Champions of Service

Athletes may be some of the busiest students on campus, but they still find time to volunteer.

By John McMahon

Last May, Andrea Phillips got the call.

A man had contacted her at the Cats About Town Society (CATS for short) and told her there was a newborn litter of kittens in his driveway. Phillips sprang to action, met the man and took the kittens back to the feline rescue organization. She treated the kittens, gave them food and ultimately found a home for one and adopted another. It’s just a small part of the busy schedule Phillips keeps. She also volunteers in the pediatric ward at the UC Davis Medical Center and holds down a part-time job. That’s all in addition to the 18 credit hours the senior is taking this quarter and the countless hours she spends as a member of the UC Davis women’s tennis team.

It’s easy to think of student-athletes in terms of the games they win or the championship spots they earn. What many don’t realize, though, is that, in addition to fulfilling a rigorous class schedule and taking part in organized team practices, many student-athletes are dedicated to community service. They find it provides the most meaningful experience of their collegiate years, while improving the lives of others.

“It really puts things into perspective, especially working at the medical center,” said Phillips. “It really shows what’s important in life.”

Community service projects involving UC Davis student-athletes are organized in a variety of ways. In addition to athletes like Philips taking part in individual activities, each intercollegiate team sets its own service goals for a particular year.

For example, in October, just two days before beginning its first official practice of the 2008–09 season, the Aggie men’s basketball team visited the Northern California Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento. A total of nine student-athletes and the entire coaching staff took part in the visit.

“It was truly one of the most uplifting and inspirational times I’ve ever been associated with as part of a collegiate team,” said head coach Gary Stewart. “We went with the attitude that we wanted to support [the children] any way we could and left inspired by them.”
It’s not the first such visit for Stewart’s team. Two years ago, a similar Aggie contingent visited the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and assisted the Davis Police and Fire departments in a mass casualty drill. The team was honored with a 2006 UC Davis Community Service Award. His 2005 team received similar honors.

Stewart feels it’s important to expose student-athletes to volunteer opportunities and that those activities are a significant part of the men’s basketball program.

“One of the slogans we constantly talk about is ‘having a life of significance,’ and the only real way you do that is to have an impact on others,” said Stewart. “We’ve done a variety of things and, invariably, the student-athletes have come away feeling much, much better than they did when they went into the service.”

Volunteer activities for student-athletes are also organized by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a leadership group consisting of representatives of each of the 26 intercollegiate teams.

During the 2007–08 academic year, SAAC coordinated a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless and a sports equipment/toy drive benefiting the Yolo Crisis Nursery and Progress Ranch, a group home for emotionally troubled children. Additional efforts included the International Education Week shoe collection, the Big West Conference Coin Drive and the second annual “Aggie Idol.” The coin drive alone netted more than $5,000 (the most raised by any Big West school), which was donated to Sacramento Loaves & Fishes. The first two “Aggie Idol” competitions generated thousands of dollars for various nonprofit organizations.

“We hope our community service will reinforce the message that those of us fortunate enough to be in a position to give have the obligation to give back, even if it means one person at a time,” said Michelle Roppeau, director of athletic academic advising at UC Davis.
SAAC’s extraordinary efforts led to its selection as one of 14 student groups to receive the 2008 UC Davis Community Service Award and one of five groups to be designated “gold” for the highest level of community service.

From coin drives, shoe collections and visits to children’s hospitals to finding permanent homes for pets and cooking dinners for the homeless, UC Davis student-athletes continue to prove they are much more than students and athletes.

John McMahon is assistant director for athletics media relations.