Last week when I came back from Florida, Michigan welcomed me with open arms, and the Polar Vortex.
I was in Orlando for the Annual NCAA Convention. Not only was I was able to represent Hope at a national level, but I represented Hope with fellow MIAA student-athletes. As Division III student-athletes, we had a special opportunity to attend the convention, an opportunity that not each division extends to their student-athletes.
I first heard about the convention through SAAC, an organization in which I take part at Hope. SAAC stands for Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and is a way for student-athletes to provide insight on their experience and offer input on the rules, regulations and policies that affect them. The convention was a special chance to provide my input on the national level as well as see a little of how the NCAA works from “behind the scenes.”
The first session I attended was a Self and Team Awareness Workshop put on by Equilibria in Sports. During the workshop, we found out our “E-color” based on a test we took prior to the event. This gave us the tools to assess our leadership styles by learning about our strengths and our potential limiters. It was an insightful way to learn about ourselves and improve our leadership, both athletically and relationally.
After the workshop, I attended a Special Olympics Event with all the other Division III student-athletes. We played soccer with Special Olympic athletes from Orlando and Miami. It was rewarding to compete against fellow athletes while having fun with Special Olympic athletes.
This year was a special convention to attend because I was able to witness history. Over 1,000 NCAA members voted to add leaders from outside of higher education to the NCAA Board of Governors, a first. These five, new independent members will join 16 college and university presidents on the board starting in 2020.
Prior to that historic vote, we heard from NCAA President Mark Emmert about “The State of College Sports.” He spoke about the NCAA’s past, present, and future directions. This talk and the vote were powerful because I got a glimpse into the administrative side of the NCAA. You see one thing in the media about the governance of the NCAA, but to actually experience these changes was an amazing opportunity.
Not only was I able to watch changes in the operations of the NCAA overall, but I witnessed how Division III legislation changes. During a Division III Issues Forum, the Division III board put forth six amendments to legislature. These changes included football preseason timing, coach and recruit relationships on social media, and field hockey and soccer preseason. Being a soccer player, I was intrigued by the soccer amendment to expand preseason by three days. Although this amendment did not pass this year, it was compelling to observe tangible changes that could impact my teammates in future.
A moment from the convention that I will remember for the rest of my life is meeting my role model, Mia Hamm. Not only is she the greatest women’s soccer player of all time, but she is also considered one of the best female athletes ever. Mia was a recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, given each year to a distinguished former athlete on their 25th anniversary as college graduates. The night she received the award, I was able to meet Mia. This was a dream come true.
I was also lucky enough to meet University of Central Florida alumnus and current NFL linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Shaquem, who had one of his hands amputated at a young age due to a congenital condition, gained recognition during his successful career at UCF. He received the NCAA Inspiration Award.
The NCAA is much more than its appearance on the surface. For four days at the Annual NCAA Convention, I was able to get a glimpse behind the scenes and be in the presence of many amazing individuals not the least of whom was a women from George Fox University in Oregon who was very excited to hear that I was from Hope College. She said she loves Hope because she won the 2009 NCAA basketball national championship hosted at DeVos Fieldhouse. This was just another reminder, out of many at the NCAA Convention, that sports can create friends out of competitors. The NCAA Convention, in many ways, affirmed that important message.