In the 163-year existence of Manhattan College, very few times have the school’s 17 Division 1 athletic programs reached the pinnacle of the NCAA.
You’d have to go all the way back to 1973, when the Jaspers won the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, to find the last time a Manhattan team won a national event.
Forty-three years later, Manhattan has achieved NCAA success once again, only this time, it hasn’t been on the field, but off it.
For the NCAA Team Works Fall 2015 Helper Helper Community Service Competition, Manhattan’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which organizes community service events, helped rank Manhattan in second place out of more than 120 schools to participate in the competition.
“It’s a great honor to be able to represent our school, Manhattan College, in a way that some people might not look at us,” Frank Merrill, social media coordinator for SAAC and one of the men’s lacrosse team representatives said. “Going out and helping the community means a lot to us and it really gives us a good look for not just being athletes or not just being students, but also going out and helping others that can use the help.”
Manhattan was led by the women’s lacrosse team, which finished as the best women’s team with over 2,600 community service hours.
At the head of the lacrosse team’s impressive feat was Casey Silvestri, president of SAAC. Silvestri was recognized by the NCAA as the top female student-athlete, after attending 18 service events and completing more than 80 hours in the fall semester of 2015.
“It is what I love to do,” Silvestri said about community service. “But you have to start somewhere and if your SAAC president isn’t doing the hours and is telling everyone else to do them, what kind of example is that.”
Through the Helper Helper app, Silvestri and SAAC were able to track their progress throughout the fall and see where they ranked. Most of the events they planned were organized in September, but with the motivation to finish among the best in the NCAA, the teams were determined to do more hours.
“For me it is really high up in terms of when I do evaluate it, I’m doing something for somebody else and not for myself,” Silvestri said about where being named the top female student-athlete, as well as the school finishing in second ranks for her. “When it comes to sports and athletics, we’re all very driven as athletes. We’re very competitive in nature, so to win something always feels good.”
Despite the intention to complete many hours, SAAC still didn’t expect to reach such a high level in the standings
“No, we really didn’t and it was amazing because we did go up against some very big schools that have a lot more student-athletes than we do,” Bobby Gebhard, SAAC representative for the men’s track and field team said about not expecting to rank second in the NCAA. “It was just really great that we had such high turnout from different athletes.”
Aside from Silvestri, Manhattan had Meredith Bryant of the softball team and Nikki Prestiano of the women’s lacrosse team place in the top 10 most outstanding student-athletes.
The women’s track and field team completed the most hours among all women track and field programs in the competition. The softball team finished third among softball teams, and women’s soccer was second for all women soccer programs.
The men’s teams enjoyed their bit of success as well, as the track and field squad was first among all track and field teams, and the lacrosse and soccer teams finished second in their respective programs.
“I think it’s great just seeing how far SAAC has come that the student athletes especially are way more involved in the community than we have been in the past,” Allie Yamashiro, vice president of SAAC and representative for the volleyball team said.
The high turnout for community service has been thanks in part to the concerted effort Silvestri has made over the last year to increase student-athlete participation at SAAC events.
With more student-athletes attending events and completing community service hours, SAAC will now look to continue to grow. And it will be doing so with the addition of a new position on its board that will focus on the professional development of students. SAAC will work with career services to develop interview skills as well as help write cover letters and resumes.
“We want to develop the full student athlete,” Silvestri said. “Since we have all the community service now, we’re just going to try to add this along with it. A lot of professional development, which will be fun.”
While the recognition by the NCAA as the school with the second most community service hours is an accomplishment outside of the playing the field, it is still a significant accomplishment for SAAC and its members.
“It’s definitely up there,” Gebhard said about where he ranks this achievement. “It really is great that we as a school were able to come together. For all of the different teams to come together it was really impressive.”