CORTLAND N.Y. - Student-athletes within the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) are dedicated to raising awareness of mental health, and eliminating the stigma across all conference campuses and beyond.
SAAC is a group that every conference and member institution is mandated to have by NCAA legislation. The committees consist of student-athlete representatives nominated by their team. On the institutional level they are able to work with their advisor, usually someone in the athletic department, or a coach to provide insight and concerns on the student-athlete experience at their respective schools. In addition, on the conference level for the SUNYAC, the SAAC offers representatives from each school direct communication with the conference office giving them the ability to address any issues they might be facing on campus as student-athletes as well as getting to have an input on the rules, regulations and polices that affect student-athletes' lives on NCAA member institution campuses.
The SAAC is also the committee that is primarily responsible for maintaining and coordinating the division's nationwide partnership with Special Olympics, which was a major part of the retreat. On Sunday, SAAC representatives from the SUNYAC hosted a "Special Olympics Day of Play" where the athletes and a group of Special Olympians met at Skytop Field on the campus of Syracuse University. The event started out with some introductions and stretching before they ran some soccer drills including passing and shooting as well as teaching the rules and playing games of bocce ball.
New Paltz junior Kristen Lasker, Vice President of Community Engagement said, "This was by far the most special Special Olympics Event I've been a part of. The SUNYAC SAAC cabinet worked very hard to reach out to as many Special Olympic Athletes as we could, and ensure an efficient, competitive, and most importantly, fun event!"
The Special Olympians who participated and the SUNYAC SAAC members had a great experience and it will be something they will never forget and are looking forward to doing again in the future.
Monday morning was the business portion of the SUNYAC SAAC retreat. Monday's main focus was the push for mental health awareness across all SUNYAC campuses. Many student-athletes find it difficult to address issues they may be facing, like anxiety or depression, that can take a toll on their mental well-being. During the meeting, each school presented their plan of action of how they are going to tackle mental health on their campuses. SAAC executive board members hope to have 'green out games', where fans wear green at designated games to raise awareness about mental health. Other ideas include forming groups where student-athletes can feel more comfortable talking about mental health among their peers, and making student-athletes more aware of resources available on their campuses.
"We got to hear firsthand from these students and other schools on how we're all trying to #ShatterTheStigma of mental health in athletes," stated Brockport senior Reilly Workman, who serves as the SAAC Executive Board's Vice President of Communications. "We all have a plan in place, whether that be with green out games, t-shirts, or educating our coaches on this topic."
In addition to the institution presentations, Dr. Jerimy Blowers and Mark Potter came in to speak to the group about their own personal battles with mental health.
"We were incredibly fortunate to have two guest speakers come in to help further our cause, so a huge thank you to Jerimy Blowers, Mark Potter, and anyone else who shared their stories with us," added SAAC Executive Board President, Connor Lewis, a Cortland senior. Click here to listen to the interview with Lewis on ESPN Ithaca's Between the Lines radio.
SAAC members aim to take the different ideas shared at the conference meeting and bring them back to their individual campuses to #ShattertheStigma.
"We have such an amazing group of student-athletes that are all so dedicated and passionate about this cause," Reilly stated.
"The most important thing for everyone to take home is that whether you have experienced it or not, no one is immune to mental health issues and there is absolutely no shame in reaching out for help." Lewis added.
Lewis concluded the fall retreat saying, "The SUNYAC SAAC is not going away any time soon, and I genuinely cannot wait to see what this group can put together come spring time!"