Student-athletes build unity through service

The teammates stood shoulder to shoulder in a house decimated by floodwaters. They knocked down walls, ripped apart wiring, and made plans for what to tackle next. There was a steely determination in every movement and a constant race against the quickly fading daylight.

Head cross country coach Ryan Scheckel’s estimation of his team grew immensely on the day when they gathered to gut a home that was nearly destroyed in the June 2008 floods in Cedar Rapids. “Not once did I hear a complaint, only plans on what to do next and who wanted to do what,” says Scheckel ’01. “The emotional and learning high point of the day came when the home owner stopped in and expressed thankfulness for what we were doing.”

“It really touched our hearts to know we were directly impacting a family in need,” says junior Kara Danielson, an elementary education major from Eldridge, Iowa. “It helped our team bond because we had to work side-by-side and we relied on our teammates for help…It was the hardest work I have ever done and it was hard to see the victims of the flood, but it brought the cross country team together and made us very proud to represent Mount Mercy with our contributions to the community.”

The men’s and women’s cross country teams were recognized nationally in 2009 by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as “Champions of Character” for demonstrating exemplary character values in and out of competition. They were the second Mount Mercy team of student-athletes to be recognized with the prestigious Buffalo Funds Five Star Award, with the volleyball team being honored for its service work in 2008.

The cross country and volleyball teams’ commitment to service is indicative of all Mount Mercy student-athletes. In the last year, Mount Mercy’s athletic teams contributed more than 800 hours of community service through 17 individual projects or events.

“Our coaches and student-athletes participate in these projects because they enjoy giving back to the community and we take great pride in the help that we can provide,” says Athletic Director Scot Reisinger. “More importantly, we use these projects as an additional teaching moment in the educational mission of the Athletic Department and the University as a whole.”

Head volleyball coach Rick Blackwell, who actively encourages and organizes service outings among his players, feels that team-based service projects can lead to increased team unity and harmony, in addition to setting a positive example. “It is important to have players that buy in to the importance of service projects,” he says. “Their leadership makes it so much easier to get the entire team involved.”

For Scheckel, the end results and the message that service projects instill in his student-athletes are irreplaceable. “They learn that no matter how tough you have it and how important it is to perform well at [cross country] meets, there are more important things in life,” he says. “Service work promotes teamwork and compassion for things and people outside of normal, everyday life.”