Originally published: 1/27/13:
January 15-19, I attended the NCAA Convention in Grapevine (Dallas), Texas as the Northeast-10 Conference Representative to the National Student-Athlete Committee. The following is a look at my experiences at the NCAA Convention.
There was something on my mind but I couldn't figure it out. Here I was at the NCAA Convention stuck inside my own mind. It was when Lou Anna Simon, President of Michigan State University began speaking at the Opening Business Session that I began to realize what "it" was. When I was a little kid, my grandfather had a basketball; It never went outside but rather served as a tangible object of the game while my grandfather cheered on the Michigan State University Spartans. Game after game, I watched the NCAA logo, the same one that appeared on the basketball, flash across the screen. I asked the million-dollar question, what was is NCAA? I have never forgotten my grandfather's answer which is impressive considering the tough words for such a young kid. That basketball would later serve as the ball I used to teach soccer to my grandfather as soccer became my passion over basketball. As I sat listening to Ms. Simon, her Spartan necklace glistened in the light, and I came to the realization that I was playing in the NCAA. I smiled just a bit, knowing that at that moment and throughout my college soccer career my grandfather has been and is my guardian angel. My first exposure to the NCAA had come full circle.
The experience at the NCAA Convention was unbelievable. Student-Athletes are the reason the NCAA exists and the reason that 3600 people from Divisions I, II, and III gathered in Texas, something that was very evident as the three student-athlete advisory committees (SAAC) were treated to the highest standard. At all the luncheons, meetings, and award ceremony, we had some of the best seats and were called upon frequently to voice our opinions. During our Division II SAAC meetings, we discussed updates from our respective conferences, the various association and Division II committees, the business sessions of convention and the legislation that is to be voted on. The Convention featured educational sessions on topics ranging from inclusion, sports wagering, compliance, championships, faculty athletics representatives and their roles, social media, security and crisis preparedness and response to concussions, health and safety, and academic standards for eligibility.
Shaquille O'Neal was the guest speaker at the first association luncheon and spoke about finishing his degree while playing in the NBA. Division I, II, and III shared tables at the front of the room while Shaq spoke about the importance of finishing college and continuing to learn. Did you know that Shaq has his doctorate? After receiving his bachelor degree in 2000 from LSU, Shaq went on to complete his MBA in 2005 and in 2012 graduated from Barry University with an Ed.D. in Human Resource Development. Learning from his own experiences, Shaq believes in the power and value of education for life after athletics. He encourages all of us to pursue our educations not only for a good job but also to be a better person.
The second luncheon featured Bonnie St. John, the first African-American to win ski racing Winter Paralympian medals. Bonnie won two bronze medals and a silver medal at the 1984 Paralympic Games in Austria and spoke a message of courage, inclusion, determination, and getting back up. Bonnie shared her humor, good spirits, and wits with the audience while reminding us to extend an open hand to those who might be different than us because we all have something to learn from each other.
The NCAA Honors Celebration was an incredible night. Awards were given to the following: Silver Anniversary Honorees, NCAA Top 10, Act of Valor, Inspiration Award, the top honor: the Theodore Roosevelt Award. Tony Dungy received the Theodore Roosevelt Award for "the character and positive influence he nurtured through his professional accomplishments." Tony Dungy was an amazing public speaker whose message resonated beyond his Super Bowl wins to a point of motivation and determination. "If you want to be successful, you have to be prepared to give uncommon effort."
Jackson is a very special 14-year old young man that Division II SAAC had the honor of meeting on our final day in Dallas. We shared breakfast with Jackson and his family and heard his story at the Business Session. Jackson met Peyton Manning and the other members of the Indianapolis Colts and was at the Colts first home win of the season in December 2012. What's even better though is that Jackson kicked cancer's butt. He shared his story of Make-A-Wish, serving as an inspiration for Division II to continue our grassroots partnership with Make-A-Wish. When Jackson was in Indianapolis on his Wish trip- to meet Peyton Manning- he met Joey, a young kid about five years old who was fighting brain cancer for the second time. For the little time that Joey and Jackson shared, they became great friends. The disappointing news came to Jackson late last year that Joey had lost his fight. Immediately Jackson felt compelled to do something. In Joey's memory, he gave out wristbands that read "Miracle in Progress" and raised over $400. Jackson donated the money to Make-A-Wish. It was amazing to see a Make-A-Wish child turn a negative into something even better.
Aside from the business and glamour of the NCAA Convention, what is SAAC? DII SAAC shares the same bond you share with your family or your team. We meet in-person for only about twelve days a year but it is what we do that brings us close together. After the meetings and the day's business, we do what all other college students do, hang-out. Whether it's keeping up with ESPN Sports Center, going out for dinner or ice cream, or checking-out what downtown has to offer, we spend our time with each other sharing stories from our teams, our campuses, our conferences, and our lives back home.
My Experience, My Life, and this is why I Chose Division II.