PALATINE HILL - At Lewis & Clark College, students “represent the next generation of global thinkers and leaders, unafraid to discard conventional thinking, civic complacency, and outmoded preconceptions.” So when the college made the decision to transition varsity athletics from the NAIA to NCAA Division III in 1998 it was a perfect fit.
Division III athletics embodies the philosophy that student-athletes are first and foremost – students. The Division III experience is meant to provide passionate participation in a competitive athletic environment, where student-athletes have high standards in their athletic and academic pursuits and look to enhance their experience through various leadership opportunities both on campus and beyond.
On Palatine Hill one needs to look no further than the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to find students who personify both the Lewis & Clark and the Division III philosophies. As a group, L&C SAAC has been pioneering the way for other Northwest Conference institutions, often setting the standard to which their peers aspire. Currently, the committee commits to at least 12 outreach events per year with the goal of better connecting student-athletes with the campus and surrounding community. In addition, Lewis & Clark SAAC was one of the first Division III institutions in the country to form a substantial relationship with Special Olympics. SAAC has hosted a number of events that bring local Special Olympians to campus to work closely with student-athletes. Over the last three years SAAC has raised and donated nearly $12,000 in direct support of this amazing partnership, earning Northwest Conference Fundraiser of the year honors in two out of the last three years.
The role of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee varies from campus to campus, but the common theme is that SAAC exists to give the students-athletes a voice within the institution, the conference, and at the national level.
Recently two members of the group had the opportunity to have that voice heard at the national level, with current co-chairs Drew LeDonne and Glenna Andrews attending the 2014 NCAA National Convention held in San Diego, California.
Attending the convention is just one of the many expectations for LeDonne who is a senior cross country/track & field athlete and economics major at Lewis & Clark. LeDonne was selected to the National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee during the summer of 2013 and currently serves as the West Region representative.
“I first became interested in joining National SAAC after learning about it at the NCAA Leadership forum held in Dallas during the fall of 2012,” said LeDonne. “After discussing it with our advisor, Associate Director of Athletics, and my mentor Sharon Sexton, she nominated me for the national committee and ultimately I was selected to be the new regional representative. This has been one of the most wonderful opportunities I’ve had in my life. Had Sharon not given me the opportunity to go the Leadership Forum, I’m not sure I would be as involved as I am now.”
In his role, LeDonne represents the NWC and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), where he sits on the Division III Interpretations and Legislation Committee. As part of the committee he is responsible for reviewing and issuing official interpretations on Division III legislation, while helping to maintain the integrity of the division.
As part of his responsibilities, LeDonne travels back and forth to Indianapolis several times a year for national meetings. He also meets with his regional delegation throughout the year. LeDonne will maintain these responsibilities after his graduation, serving as the West Regional Representative through 2015.
LeDonne has also been appointed to the NCAA Mental Health Task Force, led by Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer.
“With Dr. Hainline, we are currently working on a best practices publication for the membership dealing with a number of mental health issues like eating disorders, suicide, depression and so on.”
I n San Diego, LeDonne took to the floor during the Division III Business Session in front of roughly 2,000 NCAA Division III members, discussing the student-athlete perspective regarding one of the 10 separate pieces of legislation to be voted on. After hearing LeDonne’s presentation of the student-athlete perspective, and listening to those voicing an opposite stance, the membership voted consistently with the student-athlete position.
“Getting to stand up in front of everyone and talk about these things is great. We’re the only division that allows student-athletes to speak on the floor at the Business Session where legislation is voted on. We’re also the only division where student-athletes get a vote in the Management Council, which is one of the top two councils voting on and proposing legislation. So we truly represent the student-athlete voice and vision for Division III and we’ve been known to sway votes. People on the Division III level really take what we say and put out seriously and to heart.”
Leading up to his presentation, LeDonne met with National SAAC to work on their position papers and SAAC initiatives. LeDonne, as well as his cohorts, met with the President of the NCAA [Mark Emmert], the Vice President in charge of Division III [Dan Dutcher] and the Director of Division III [Louise McCleary] discussing legislation, initiatives and what is happening in the NCAA as it connects to the student-athlete perspective.
“The opportunities he has had and the individuals that Drew has been able to meet during his short tenure is amazing. He has a connection to the policymakers within the NCAA that most college administrators will never have,” said Sexton. “The work he is doing not only impacts current student-athletes but future student-athletes and all Division III athletic programs. Watching him get up at the Business Session during the convention to present on behalf of the National SAAC was inspiring. He was well versed on the legislation and was incredibly well spoken in front of such a large audience. He represented Lewis & Clark incredibly in this instance and throughout the entire convention.
Attending the convention with LeDonne was Andrews, a junior track & field student-athlete. At the beginning of the academic year, the Northwest Conference Commissioner set aside funds from Tier Two of the Division III Strategic Initiatives Grant Program to send one student-athlete from each of the NWC’s nine institutions to the convention in order to experience the legislative process first hand. Andrews’ was selected by Sexton to serve as L&C’s representative.
Sexton notes, “When NWC Commissioner, Kim Wenger approached me requesting the nomination of a student-athlete for this amazing opportunity, I knew immediately Glenna would be perfect. She epitomizes the term “student-athlete.” She is a leader within our campus SAAC and I had no doubt she would use the opportunity to learn as much as she could about the NCAA and Division III and would bring that knowledge back with the intent to better our campus.”
“It was such an honor being selected to go to the convention for Lewis & Clark. Being a part of SAAC has been a great addition to my college experience and the convention solidified the Division III mission for me,” said Andrews. “Throughout the convention I was never referred to as just an athlete. Conversations were all centered around being a student-athlete or scholar-athlete. The academic role was always put first.”
Andrews chose to come to Lewis & Clark because of its academic foundation, while also being able to participate as a student-athlete. Her experience as a student-athlete and a member of SAAC have all played a role in broadening her perspective.
“Thanks to athletics, the education I will graduate with will be a Bachelor of the Arts but will also include much more. Participating in and leading conversations about legislation and the business of athletics has exposed me to a dialect I will take with me down the road. SAAC has opened my eyes to athletics far beyond the competition field and has helped me to becoming a better leader.”
The junior attended several educational sessions on a wide range of topics while at the convention, but made sure she could relate each of them back to Lewis & Clark.
LeDonne agrees with Andrews when it comes to the correlation between their work with SAAC and their Lewis & Clark education.
“It’s unique that we have a voice at the highest levels. I think that this very clearly represents the Division III message and what we learn at Lewis & Clark. We’re taught to be active in the process and cultivate well-rounded individuals. Going to these meetings I not only bring experience as an athlete, but I also bring experience that Lewis & Clark has taught me about thinking outside the box and thinking about multiple perspectives. I represent two athletic conferences made up of a very diverse group – ethnically, by gender, and by individual values. Had I not come to Lewis & Clark and been given the opportunities to discover who I am, voice my opinions and be who I want to be I would have never gotten to this point and had this amazing opportunity.”
LeDonne and Andrews are a mere representation of the nearly 350 student-athletes that embrace the values of both Lewis & Clark and Division III athletics. The Lewis & Clark campus is full of student-athletes who embody the concepts of global thinking and leadership, all while maintaining high standards both academically and athletically. As time goes by and the two philosophies further come together the future of athletics at Lewis & Clark looks brighter, with Pioneer athletes proving that they exemplify the best of both worlds.