By Anthony DePinho, Contributor
Casey Silvestri is a senior midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team. The midfielder is an important position in the game of lacrosse, in the center of the action, but there is another position Casey holds that is just as vital to the Manhattan College athletic program: President of Manhattan’s chapter of the SAAC, or the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
“The idea is that the Student Athletic Advisory Committee is supposed to bridge the gap between the athletes and the administration,” Silvestri says. “I have conversations with the athletic directors, and the coaches. There are concerns that student athletes have that they voice to us during our SAAC meetings, and we try to address those issues and take preventative measures.”
Dennis Eriksson is a junior jumper and hurdler for the men’s track and field team, and is his team’s representative in SAAC. Like Silvestri, he has a similar view of what SAAC does for the athletes on campus.
“It’s an organization that we work with to help us perform at our best,” Eriksson says. “Last month we did a survey about time efficiency, how much time we spent in the gym or on the track versus academically, and how we can combine them together to make the best out of it.”
Allie Yamashiro is a junior on the women’s volleyball team and the SAAC vice president at Manhattan. In addition to discussing the interests and concerns of the athletes, she says an important part of SAAC is how athletes can get involved in making an impact in the local community.
“SAAC is also about community service, making sure the athletes are involved in the community,” Yamashiro says.
The concern for Yamashiro and the SAAC board is to get as many student athletes involved in serving the community as possible, which is why the SAAC executive board receives help from team representatives from each of Manhattan’s 17 Division I teams.
“As team representative, our task is to inform our teammates with what’s going on at school, with community service and things like that,” Eriksson says.
Manhattan’s chapter of SAAC has involved its athletes in a range of activities to make an impact that goes beyond the athletic field. Among these events include Wounded Warrior games, participation in the breast cancer walk in Central Park, Safe Halloween, Dr. Seuss Day, and a volleyball tournament fundraiser for the local Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.
A personal favorite of Yamashiro’s was the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser.
“That was a big one because basically all the athletes were there,” Yamashiro says of the event. “They did a thing where the athletes got money donated to them to shave their head, and a lot of them got involved in that.”
With all of these service events taking place—not to mention alongside their athletic schedule—the SAAC has relied on a great deal of organization for its success.
And as with many things these days, there’s an app for that.
According to Eriksson, the mobile app Helper Helper is downloaded by all Manhattan College athletes and is used as a forum to post information about service events and other athletic events to keep the athletes informed.
“An event will come up on the app, you click on it to commit to it, then you validate your hours later on,” Eriksson says. “…Our task as representatives to the SAAC is to make sure our teammates sign up for this app, sign in and say, ‘Okay, I committed to this task.’ ”
“The app has been a big help to our organization as a whole,” Silvestri says. “It’s definitely our most helpful asset.”
And in the spirit of collegiate athletics, there is some competition involved.
“We have two internal kinds of competitions, one is for the team that has validated the most service hours,” Eriksson says, conceding that the women’s lacrosse team, led by Silvestri, was superior in this category.
The Jaspers’ collective hard work has not gone unnoticed. In the fall of 2015, Manhattan College placed second nationally in the number of validated service hours logged among all participating NCAA schools, second only to the George Washington University. This position also placed them well above any other school in the MAAC Conference.
“We enjoy doing service, but as athletes we are very competitive, so this is a great way for us to put both those things together,” Silvestri says.
The second competition among the teams went by the name of “Go Green,” where each team picked a game all athletes had to go to.
Many of the athletes see plenty of positives in this challenge.
“We think it’s really important for you to get interested in these other sports and realize that they are also student athletes going through the same rigorous training and routine as you, so you might as well get to know them and their sports,” Silvestri says. “We have gotten so much positive feedback about it.”
“It’s fun because you get to see sports that you may not normally go watch,” Yamashiro says.
Eriksson has experienced this support firsthand.
“For example, our MAAC [track and field] championship that was two weeks ago, we had a lot of students from other teams come in to watch us, which was great because we had a really good meet with a lot of strong performances,” Eriksson says.
While many within the organization acknowledge that 2015-2016 has been “a breakthrough year” for Manhattan College’s SAAC chapter, its leaders know that there are still improvements to be made.
“The issue now is not only to reach out to the athletes but to everyone on campus,” Eriksson says. “Our goal is to get more recognition for more teams here on campus. Between this year and next year, we want to make SAAC bigger.”
With all the growth SAAC has undergone, its leaders plan to let the work they have done this past year provide them with motivation moving forward.
“You need to be able to have confidence in knowing that you can not only better the opportunities for yourself, but also that you can better the situation for people in your community,” Yamashiro says.
Follow SAAC on Twitter: @JasperSAAC