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Wildcats Give Back Big in 2013-14

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K-State student-athletes spend time hosting the annual K-State Special Olympics clinic on April 6, 2014

July 9, 2014
By Kelly McHugh

Despite juggling busy schedules between class and sport, K-State student-athletes spent time outside of their playing venues this past year helping out in the Manhattan community. Among the 16 athletic programs at K-State, more than 2,500 hours were volunteered from the student-athletes during the 2013-14 academic year.

"It's awesome," said women's basketball redshirt sophomore Kelly Thomson. "The fact that we, as a whole group of K-State athletes, put that much time back to the community on top of workouts, school, classes and all that stuff, that's pretty incredible."

From collecting cans before football games for the Flint Hills Breadbasket to hosting an annual sports clinic for the Special Olympics, K-State student-athletes volunteered and came together last year for a purpose bigger than themselves. 

"It's good to give back to the community, and it's rewarding at the same time," said football senior Curry Sexton. "Through events like Special Olympics, Cats in the Classroom and all those other opportunities, they allow us to get out and into the community, meet people who we might not get to meet otherwise and show them that we're normal people just like them; we just happen to play a sport here. It's definitely a good way to keep things in perspective for us."

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K-State's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a group made up of representatives from each team, is the team responsible for deciding on and setting up each volunteer opportunity. Each community event is student-ran and on a complete volunteer basis.

"We really do it because we enjoy it, not because somebody's telling us to," continued Sexton, one of K-State football's SAAC representatives. "We don't get forced to do it, I think people choose to do it."

Each year, the Wildcat student-athletes kick off the fall with their biggest event, Cats for Cans. At last year's Cats for Cans event K-State student-athletes volunteered a total of 207 hours collecting cans before a K-State football home game. Cats for Cans reaches nearly 50,000 people in need in Manhattan and its surrounding communities and, since its inception in 2010, K-State student-athletes have collected just under 22,000 pounds of food and $32,000 in cash donations. 

K-State student-athletes can also be found visiting local elementary schools year round as they participate in Cats in the Classroom. The Wildcats spent more than 150 hours in the fall and spring assisting teachers and tutoring and interacting with students in their elementary school classrooms. From helping with math problems to playing games at recess, the 150 student-athletes who volunteered left a lasting impression on some of their biggest little fans. 

"My favorite event is always Cats in the Classroom because those kids, they come to our camps, the show support at our games, so it's good to give back to them," said men's basketball junior D.J. Johnson. "I know it means a lot to them to have us be in the classroom. It lights up their faces when we walk in. It's just really special."

At Christmas time, each team participates in Adopt-a-Family providing families in need an extra surprise for the holiday season. This year, K-State student-athletes volunteered 35 hours and reached 25 individuals through their Adopt-a-Family program.

Similar to Cats for Cans, during the spring, K-State student-athletes participate in Tipoff for TP where, at both a men's and women's basketball games, the teams collect paper products and monetary donations for the Manhattan Emergency Shelter. This year, the Wildcats totaled 27 hours before and after the two basketball games collecting more than $3,500.

A favorite event of many student-athletes, on April 6, 2014, nearly 100 student-athletes gathered at K-State football's indoor facility to host 100 Special Olympians for the annual K-State Special Olympics clinic. Olympians rotate from station to station and participate in drills representing each team at K-State. The Olympians rode stick horses with the equestrian team and did relay races with the track and field team while also putting with golf and running in touchdowns with football.

"I'd say Special Olympics was probably my favorite event just because it's so much more hands on," said Thomson who, as a SAAC representative, played a big role in organizing this year's Special Olympics event. "You see what your work is doing more. With Cats for Cans or Tipoff for TP, we raise all the items, but we don't actually see the people we are giving back to. So Special Olympics is very rewarding when you see the kids and how much fun they have throughout the day."

Along with the numerous department-wide events K-State student-athletes participate in annually, each team spends time in the community on their own as well with the K-State equestrian team leading the way with a total of 1,700 hours volunteered. 

"It's a good feeling," said Johnson about giving back. "Most of the volunteer hours are done right here in the community. It's always good to give back, especially to the fans who show us a lot of support at the games."