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USM scholar athletes win national NCAA honors for community work

University of Southern Maine's student-athletes received national honors for their ongoing efforts in the community, including working with athletes from the Maine Special Olympics.

The National Association of Division III Athletic Directors (NADIIIAA) presented its Community Service Award to the USM Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on Jan. 26 at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 2019 Convention in Orlando. It was the first time USM student-athletes have been awarded this national top honor from the Division. USM Athletic Director Al Bean received the award on behalf of the student group.

"It’s awesome,” said student Kimberly Howrigan, the president of the advisory committee and the captain of the women’s basketball team. “The work with the Special Olympics athletes has been building and we’ve worked to put an emphasis on creating the social aspect of the collaboration.”

The USM students also received an Award of Merit from the organization for their ongoing work in a variety of community causes as varied as homelessness and mental illness to helping children receive holiday presents.

"This honor is reflective of the hard work of many at USM and in our community, including student-athletes and of our many mentors, past and present," said Samantha Allen, the committee advisor and head women's basketball coach. "We have enjoyed every moment of planning and executing these events as well as building lasting relationships with community members."

The Huskies began their Unified Sports Program in the 2016-17 academic year, promoting social inclusion by offering weekly "drills and skills" sessions and social activities with both Maine Special Olympics athletes and USM student athletes. Participation has grown steadily. During the 2017-2018 academic year, 165 student-athletes participated in the program and volunteered more than 2000 combined hours while forging relationships with community athletes.

“It really gives you a greater appreciation for the life that you’re given,” Howrigan said. As a student, she has pressures that ease when she walks into a room with the Special Olympics athletes, whether it’s the skills and drills work or they’re decorating cookies or watching a football game.

“You walk in and they give you a high five or a hug,” Howrigan said.  “They know your name. All of my other stuff seems miniscule at that point.”

USM's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee began in 1996 with the simple idea of making a difference in the USM community and beyond. Comprised of student-athletes from all 22 of the Huskies' intercollegiate athletic teams, the committee focuses on improving the quality of the athletic experience for all participants, involving student-athletes in educational programming and leadership opportunities, and implementing outreach programs that support and nurture the growth and development of children in the surrounding communities.

"Community service is an important part of our Athetics program, and we couldn't be prouder of these students," said Director Al Bean. USM Athletics has five key developmental areas: Academic Achievement, Athletic Performance, Personal Development, Career Development and Service to Community. 

For more information on the awards and the programs led by the USM Student Advisory Committee, read the release by USM Athletics.