An evening tailgate where students and community members mingle amid the smoky smell of barbecue; an athlete formal that brings all varsity teams together to dance and de-stress; a community that values the athlete’s academic rigor as much as it does their on-field performance — these are but a few of the visions that Walker Marks and Tiareh Cruz, seniors and co-chairs of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C.), hope to see in the coming year.
S.A.A.C. seeks to support and celebrate the varsity athlete as much as possible. Part of their drive to do so stems from the fact that Division III collegiate athletes often struggle to find balance between the burden of athletics and academic rigor.
“There’s no academic support in terms of priority registration, [no] extra tutoring services that you might find in Division I schools … there are huge time commitments,” Marks said.
6 a.m. weight-lifting sessions and long hours spent traveling to away games illustrate the varsity athlete’s burden at a Division III school. While Division I schools furnish specialized academic programs that include tutoring and specialized scheduling, Division III programs receive (per NCAA bylaw) no such amenities.
“Students need to manage their time with practices, film sessions, lifts and games on top of our daily school work and personal lives,” Cruz said.
Dr. Melinda Houston, kinesiology professor, sports psychologist and former head conditioning coach at Occidental, added to these sentiments.
“Athletes continuously struggle to find the balance between classes, an internship … applying to grad school,” Houston said.
Cruz spoke to the difficulties of life as a student-athlete but also asserted that there are inherent rewards with competing at such a high level.
“[The reason] athletes play sports is to feel and understand that mutual struggle with another while at the same time competing and playing… There’s really nothing sweeter than understanding how hard work truly pays off,” Cruz said.
S.A.A.C. hopes to foster a environment for all students to support the athletic achievements of their peers. The group will be holding its first tailgate this Saturday, Oct. 1. The organization hopes that this tailgate — the first of many, according to the group’s leadership — will boost fans’ spirits and create excitement for the evening’s women’s soccer game against Cal Lutheran. According to Marks, Cruz and other leaders within the organization, each varsity team will hold one tailgate for the other varsity teams.
S.A.A.C. is also working to host black-out games throughout the year— they are still determining dates. Marks and Cruz said they believe a sea of fans dressed in black will inspire fan solidarity and support for athletics. The group is also designing a speaker series in which Occidental alumni will return to campus to answer questions regarding their transition out of Occidental sports and into their respective careers. Though the exact dates are still under consideration, S.A.A.C. wants this event to in inspire current student-athletes and offer insight on how to make the most of their athletic experience.
Beyond hosting guest speakers, S.A.A.C leadership expressed their hope of holding an athlete formal — a night to celebrate varsity athletes and their guests. They hope that the event will occur sometime in November, and will create a stronger sense of community for the greater student-athlete community.