How do you get a football player to don vestments? A clue can be found in Catholic University’s new marketing tagline: Reason. Faith. Service.
Beginning in fall 2006, all CUA athletic teams complete at least one community service project each semester. Many complete more than one. This past fall, members of CUA’s football team participated in the Worldwide Children’s Holy Hour at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Although the sight of offensive linemen as altar boys might seem unusual to some, members of CUA’s athletic community welcome such opportunities to serve.
It was clear to Mike Allen when he became athletic director in 2005 that service and outreach were central aspects of the mission at CUA. Many CUA athletes and coaches were already involved or eager to get involved in team-related service activities.
“The idea of combining these good intentions into a formalized program seemed to make sense and has worked out very well so far,” Allen says. “I think our coaches and students embrace the mission of Catholic University. They understand the idea of getting involved. We really want to encourage them to give back and do something positive.”
Since CUA initiated the service requirement, students have taken on a variety of projects. For example, the women’s basketball team took part in a walk around the National Mall to raise money for autism research. Other athletes have gone to talk and play games with military veterans at the nearby U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home.
Although CUA women’s lacrosse coach Meghan McDonogh has coached at other universities where service is a requirement, she feels that the requirement resonates more with students at CUA. When she recruits, she says that many high school students inquire about the type of community service they can become involved in at CUA.
Her team participates in the Washington Inner City Lacrosse Foundation, a program that aims to teach D.C. youths the game of lacrosse and instill values that will help them succeed in life.
McDonogh says the experience teaches her athletes what it’s like to be a coach. “The players will come up with drills for the kids and then individually coach one or two youngsters,” she explains. “They’re always amazed this is our community service because it’s fun.”
Many of the lacrosse players walk away having learned something about how others live. The service activity enables the athletes to see how privileged they are to be able to obtain a college education, McDonogh says. “It’s definitely a reality check.”
Kevin Milsted, a mechanical engineering major who graduated in May, says that community service wasn’t something he expected to be doing as an NCAA student athlete. Last fall, he and fellow members of the men’s cross country team went to the Ronald McDonald House in the Brookland neighborhood. The house serves as a temporary residence for families with a child whose serious illness or injury is being treated at a Washington, D.C., hospital. He and his teammates spent hours doing tasks such as washing, drying and folding sheets, stocking drink machines and taking out the trash.
Milsted thinks such projects not only benefit the community, but also benefit players by building team chemistry. “We talked and worked together so that when we left [Ronald McDonald House], we knew a bit more about each other as well as about the house and neighborhood,” he says.
And while athletic teams each do their part to connect with and improve the community, the athletic department aims to bring more area residents to the campus.
“We want to demystify the university. It’s a big part of the D.C. community and we want people to know that,” Allen says.
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