Oct. 15, 2013
By Maura Jones (’14)
As the school year gets into full swing, the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) gears up for what undoubtedly will be another exciting and busy year. The 2013-14 SAAC leaders include president Jessie Christian, a senior on the women’s track and field team, and vice president Kayla McBride, a senior on the women’s basketball team. The two student-athletes certainly will be busy because of their established leadership positions. As leaders of SAAC, they will work with the committee to create relationships between student-athletes and the administration, Notre Dame community, and community at large.
“SAAC to me is just a group of student-athletes getting to know each other trying to make a difference on campus and in the community and just trying to have a voice,” says McBride. “I think sometimes we can get so individualized with our sports, but as a community we just want to make a difference around here.”
Notre Dame SAAC is associated with the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. SAAC exists in some form at every school, and together the schools have opportunities to weigh in on NCAA legislation and initiatives. Every Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is unique and supports different goals.
Senior Associated Athletics Director Mike Harrity sees the goal of SAAC at Notre Dame to be the motivation and mobilization of student-athletes to create positive change in their communities. This goal is manifested in the wide variety of initiatives and events sponsored by SAAC, ranging from career counseling and community service to student-athlete engagement and inclusion. He also has observed that over time, student-athletes have become more invested in SAAC and camaraderie amongst them has grown.
As the pulse and collective voice of the student-athletes, SAAC is comprised of approximately 50 student-athletes that represent every varsity sport and a board of officers who are in charge of the day-to-day operations of the council. Student-athletes are generally nominated by their coaches and teammates and are then interviewed by members of Student Welfare and Development. At the end of each school year, the current SAAC representatives elect the following year’s officers. This year, additional SAAC officers include chief of staff Frank Dyer, a senior on the men’s swimming team, and secretary JoHanna Manningham, a senior on the women’s tennis team.
“I wanted to take on a leadership position and I told myself that this was the year that I was going to make things happen,” Christian says. “You have to set those goals for yourself and take them on. I have pushed myself to do that in a way even though there were some hesitations in my mind. It is scary to go up there and say, ‘I want to lead an entire group of student-athletes,’ but you just have to jump in headfirst. I am good at organizing, I like student-athletes, and I like helping them.”
Christian and McBride do not currently plan to change many of the former SAAC events and opportunities, but they are looking forward to expanding the existing events, as well as adding new opportunities.
“We will be searching for more community service activities,” says Christian. “I know one of my teammates has worked a lot with Special Olympics. He has been doing that for years, and there has never been a connection between SAAC and that organization, so I want to bring that in.”
McBride also emphasized the importance of investing in the community and creating unity between the student-athlete groups. She is looking forward to increased participation from student-athletes that previously were not engaged in SAAC.
“We just want to get our voices and ideas out there and let people know that we aren’t just student-athletes, but we have other things to offer,” McBride explains. “We want to do things as a community. It’s not just about basketball doing this or cross-country doing that, but it’s about a collective voice.”
In order to increase awareness and interest in SAAC, Christian plans to email student- athletes who she does not know personally and getting together with them to discuss their individual, team and career goals and what they would like to see in SAAC this year.
“One of my main pitches when I ran for president was that I believed that I knew many of them, and I could speak for them if a job opportunity or something like that came up,” Christian recalls. “I don’t know all of them, so I wanted to reach out to them as a whole and say, ‘Look if there is something that you really want to do and you want to expose yourself to, come tell me about it,’ so that I can connect people to job opportunities or community service opportunities.”
Christian and McBride are also looking forward to reworking and expanding upon existing programs such as Fighting Irish Fight for Life and the Signature Series. Fighting Irish Fight for Life is a program through which each athletic team “adopts” a child who is sick or suffering from an illness, and the team invites the youngster to games and visits them throughout the year. The Signature Series reflects the initiatives of the Leprechaun Legion to boost attendance at sporting events that have traditionally not been as well attended.
Christian and McBride will be tabling programs such as these at SAAC meetings to receive feedback and improve these programs even more. By increasing the availability of career services and awareness regarding community service and fundraisers that are important to various teams, SAAC officers hope to create a stronger community and increase student-athlete engagement across all sports.
McBride’s goal for the year is to encourage more of her teammates to become involved with SAAC. McBride first became interested in SAAC when then-teammate and SAAC President Frederica Miller (’11) asked her if she would like to participate. McBride has been involved since then, and she has successfully recruited teammate junior Whitney Holloway to join her.
“My goal is to get more of my teammates involved,” McBride says. “I think sometimes we just focus on the representatives, but we have SAAC forums to which everyone can come, and I want to get everyone involved because everybody’s voice counts, even if you aren’t a part of SAAC. If you come to the forum and have ideas we will definitely take that into consideration. As student-athletes, we are a community, and we want to try to make a difference.”
SAAC has already hosted their first forum of the year, which was called the SAAC Tailgate. They hosted a barbeque for the student-athletes and organized a Corn Hole Tournament between varsity teams. McBride said that the event was a huge success because it allowed people to get to know one another.
Christian noted that she is most excited for the end of year celebration known as the O.S.C.A.R.S. (Outstanding Student Celebrating Achievements and Recognitions Showcase). Student-athletes are recognized for a variety of achievements, present awards and even perform at the event. Christian said that the event has continued to get better and better each year, and she is looking forward to creating an even more elaborate celebration in 2014.
“I think Jes, Kayla and Frank have a clear focus and sense of purpose around what this group could be. Jes has really embraced the role of president fully. She moved into the role that Andrew Carreon helped to define last year that created a more inclusive, open community,” Harrity says. “Kayla has an incredible ability to bring joy and a positive attitude, and people gravitate to her. Frank’s energy and enthusiasm to improve the world around him is also pretty remarkable. They all compliment each other, and they all have an incredible heart for Notre Dame.”
Program coordinator Ally Stanton adds, “If the goal of SAAC is to be the voice of the student-athlete community, then there is not a better crew of student-athletes to take on that challenge.”
Christian and McBride are excited about their plans thus far and look forward to working with the student-athletes to create a difference in the community and promote their interests. Although the year will be busy, the SAAC leaders are confident that they will be able to build upon the council’s foundations and increase the organization’s presence on campus and in the community.
SAAC Officers, 2013-2014
Jessie Christian, Senior, Women’s Track & Field
Kayla McBride, Senior, Women’s Basketball
JoHanna Manningham, Senior, Women’s Tennis
Through Irish Eyes, Editor in Chief
Barbara Sullivan, Junior, Women’s Lacrosse
Monogram Board Liaison
Logan Renwick, Senior, Men’s Track & Field
Tom Knight, Graduate Student, Men’s Basketball
Career Center Liaison
Bridget Casey, Junior, Women’s Swimming & Diving
Community Service Liaison
David Lowe, Junior, Men’s Golf
Molly Shawhan, Senior, Women’s Lacrosse
Leprechaun Legion Liaison
Johnny Romano, Senior, Cheerleading
Katie Naughton, Sophomore, Women’s Soccer
Jes Christian, Senior, Women’s Track & Field
Kiersten DeHaven, Senior, Rowing
Max Lachowecki, Junior, Men’s Soccer
Tom Knight, Graduate Student, Men’s Basketball
Chief of Staff
Frank Dyer, Senior, Men’s Swimming & Diving
Andrew Carreon, Senior, Men’s Golf