Published April 29, 2019
Bright and early on a recent April morning, young students raced inside the gymnasium of the Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School in Buffalo, excitement gleaming on their faces. Following them, albeit at a slightly slower pace, were none other than members of UB’s women’s basketball team, who recently played in their third NCAA Tournament in four years.
The UB players and the younger students were at the school for Saturday Academies, a Buffalo Public Schools program that offers activities for its students at select schools every week. On this day, one of those activities involved playing against some of the best basketball players the Buffalo area has to offer.
This kind of interaction between UB student-athletes and Buffalo community members has become commonplace, thanks to the UB Student Athletic Advisory Committee’s (SAAC) Bulls in the Community program. The mission of UB SAAC, as well as every other NCAA-sponsored campus SAAC, is to give student-athletes a voice in creating athletic department policies and procedures. SAACs also act as a sort of community center that brings together all of the athletes within an institution’s athletic department.
But UB’s SAAC wanted to do more with its platform, and over the years has built a community engagement program. Organizers of community service projects and events throughout the Buffalo area can now request that UB student-athletes and coaches make an appearance or roll up their sleeves and help out with volunteer work.
The program has led numerous UB student-athletes to use their platform to give back to the community. In the past, they’ve helped at health and wellness nights, and cooked dinners at UB’s Newman Center, and they are always an integral part of WNY Girls in Sports Day.
“The goal of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee is to allow the students to have a voice in policies, procedures and legislation, but a secondary component to that has become service,” said Kellie Peiper, assistant athletic director for student-athlete excellence. “This program has been a pillar and foundation of the overall development of our student-athletes. It’s just as important as the physical training and the academic piece.
“I think our student-athletes do a really great job of connecting,” Peiper said. “It’s a very grassroots, kind of organic experience that when we’re out there, people have a good experience and the word spreads. It allows them to be real people.”
After everyone poured into the gym at Futures Prep, the UB basketball players quickly went on defense to show the young students what they were up against. In almost no time, shots were blocked left and right, coupled with some playful showboating. But, when a Futures student was able to get off a good shot, it was met with utterances like, “Oh, you’re pretty good.”
The students in the gym had a ton of fun with the challenge and even added an extra person on the court, forcing the UB players to take somebody out and setting up a disadvantageous four-on-six matchup. The UB squad rolled with the rules changes, though, and not a lot changed in terms of outcome.
After spending some time on the court, the UB student-athletes sat down in separate classrooms and read story books to the Futures students, accompanied by a person in costume who represented the hero or main character of the story being read. It was just another way for the student-athletes to interact and talk with the younger students.
“It’s fun for us to see the kids and interact with them,” said Marissa Hamilton, a sophomore forward on the women’s basketball team. “I like showing them all the things that sports can do for you and show them a part of our lives. It also gives us a little bit of a break. We love basketball and play it all the time, but sometimes it does feel like a job.”
Like Hamilton, freshman center Zena Elias said the community service work is one of her favorite parts of being a student-athlete.
“I think it’s great to be around the community because you get to know who you’re around and you get to learn more about yourself, while the students get to have fun and experience what their future could be,” Elias said.
When they’re out in the community, the student-athletes say, they are conscious of the platform they have and how they can share their experiences and make an impact.
“It’s just something I can’t explain really,” Hamilton said. “Being able to put smiles on people’s faces just by your presence is something not a lot of people get to experience at our age. I don’t even view it as being a role model, but just as being someone older that can help out or tell them that they’re going to make it. It’s just all about being there for the community.”
“We all come from different places and backgrounds,” added sophomore point guard Hanna Hall. “If we can help kids just get into the gym and have fun like this while sharing our experiences, it’s really helpful for our team and in building our community.”
But the life of a UB student-athlete is an arduous one, requiring exceptional time-management skills to juggle the challenges of going to college full time, spending hours honing in on a sport and somehow maintaining a social life. That daunting workload can make anyone wonder how they even have the time to get involved in events like the one at Futures Prep.
“You just have to make the time,” said freshman forward Alexis Adams. “There’s always going to be something else you could be doing. For us, it’s really easy to do this because we love it. We just love getting out into this community and playing and meeting with the kids.”
Max Glazowski, a member of UB’s track and field and cross country teams, as well as UB’s SAAC community outreach coordinator, agrees that it’s just about making the time to get out into the community, no matter how busy life can be. He believes it’s the duty of UB’s student-athletes to give back because of the blessing they have received in the form of a college scholarship.
“I think we’re blessed with beautiful facilities and an amazing community supporting us,” Glazowski said. “It’s almost out of necessity that we show how grateful we are because a very important aspect of community is that it’s a two-way street.
“We as athletes have a beautiful school, great professors, great programs and great athletics. I think to not be compelled to give back would be crazy.”
As he and the other student-athletes at UB continue to get involved, Glazowski has been thinking about the future of the SAAC community engagement program. With the continued success of UB’s athletic programs, the number of requests from the community is quickly increasing. He wants to find a way to fulfill as many as possible.
“If we keep getting so many appearance requests, I want to set up a system where we can do as many of them as possible,” he said. “I know that there’s a limit to what we can physically do, but I think whatever it takes to do as much as we can would be ideal.”
He also said he was inspired when he went on a service trip to Nashville, Tennessee, and hopes that he can get more student-athletes to experience something like that.
“I want to give athletes that same experience,” he said. “Getting people together to serve the community somewhere beyond Buffalo would be awesome. I would be ecstatic if we could get that rolling.”