NCAA News: Dowling student-athletes set standard for Make-A-Wish
|May 20, 2009 8:50:42 AM|
Dowling Vice President of Athletics and Institutional Advancement Rick Cole Jr. must contain himself when asked about how his student-athletes have contributed to the Make-A-Wish Foundation this year. But then it was hard for the student-athletes to contain themselves while they were contributing, too.
In both cases, their cups ranneth over.
Every Dowling athletics team sold stars, packed the gym, held raffles, baked cakes, hawked concessions, wore denim and staged penny wars to the tune of $17,164.26, the most raised by a Division II institution in the history of the division's six-year affiliation with Make-A-Wish.
While that's impressive, consider that Dowling was coming off a year in which student-athletes raised slightly more than $1,000.
"Now I'm a competitive guy," Cole said, "but when I heard that our student-athletes had set a goal of raising enough to fund three wishes (each requires about $5,000) this year, I was floored. Who goes from $1,000 one year to three wishes the next?
"Now they have raised almost $18,000. I'm more proud of what they've done with this initiative than with anything I've seen from them athletically, academically or philanthropically since I've been at Dowling. It has been truly inspiring."
The year got off to a good start with the school's inaugural Wishmakers Men's Lacrosse Fall Classic, which raised almost $4,000 alone. Teams from Dowling, Manhattan, Sacred Heart and C.W. Post entertained a crowd of about 400 fans. Dowling sponsored a tailgating area outside the stadium, and student-athletes from all Dowling teams helped with tickets sales, raffles and concessions.
"Once we almost funded one wish that early, we never wanted to look back," said junior soccer and lacrosse student-athlete Vanessa Moreira, who's also a member of the Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which established the national Make-A-Wish campaign for Division II in 2004. "We thought of even greater ideas and kept pushing to make the most. We found a way to include all faculty and staff members and all teams. Our teams were more involved this year than ever before."
Things really started rolling when the school brought in a 7-year-old boy named Raphael to address a packed gym between games of a men's and women's basketball doubleheader. Raphael, who lives nearby and was the recipient of a "wish" a couple of years ago, has recovered from his illness, but he told everyone in the stands to keep up their good work (see the video here).
"He was as articulate as I've ever seen from a young person," Cole said. "He had you feeling every emotion. He made you cry, laugh, cheer. There wasn't a person in that gym that wasn't reached, touched and motivated.
"May we all be as articulate and mature some day as this little guy. I went up to him afterwards and thanked him and his family, and I told him he has a terrific future. He put his hand on my side and said, ‘If you ever need my services again, I'm just a phone call away.' And I thought to myself, ‘You've got to be kidding me - this kid's 7 going on 40!' "
That day the Dowling men's and women's basketball teams revealed that they had raised more than $5,000, mostly by selling "stars" (cardboard stars donors can buy for $5) that were then displayed in the locker room hallways.
But basketball and lacrosse weren't the only success stories for Dowling in 2008-09.
"Many athletes know what's it's like to do a good thing, but when you really feel it and see it, that moves you to even greater competitive action," Cole said. "The success of lacrosse got everyone going, and it became fun - not so much of a chore but a positive initiative that became fun and competitive."
Chris Green, senior soccer student-athlete and president of the Dowling SAAC, said it wasn't just the grand total that impressed him but the number of people on campus who came up with ideas. But he said those ideas are easier to come by once student-athletes understand the cause.
"It's often easy to forget how lucky we really are. Doing something like this brings us back down to earth and makes us realize a lot of people aren't as lucky as we are," Green said. "We get to do what we love doing every day. We get to run around playing sports with our teammates. And to think of young kids who are ill or suffering in their lives and unable to do the things they want to do - we have to make sure we support them and don't forget that fact."
Cole said one reason the student-athletes' commitment to Make-A-Wish was so successful is because the athletics department encourages them to focus on doing a limited number of outreach efforts well. The three initiatives are the Make-A-Wish effort, a blood drive and a community clean-up.
He said while the Make-A-Wish total this year certainly is impressive, he doesn't want to downplay efforts other institutions devote toward different outreach initiatives.
"There are so many Division II schools doing amazing and wonderful things for their communities," Cole said. "Some may not raise as much for Make-A-Wish as others, but they are contributing to other very valuable initiatives that they have identified as needs in their own communities. I don't want us to be viewed as boasting about our Make-A-Wish total. We humbly raised a lot of money, knowing that it was what the students wanted to do.
"It's our job as athletics directors to put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in position for success, and not just athletically. Our student-athletes got so much out of this. They contributed more than $17,000, but they got more back than they gave.
"Isn't that what it's supposed to be about?"