SAAC unites community through athletic leadership

Pamela London

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SAAC meets to discuss fall visitors day this friday. Photo Credit: Ethan Parrish

If you’ve ever come out to the Whitman Athletic Complex for a women’s soccer game and seen a group of guys in nice clothes hanging out on the sidelines, don’t be alarmed: they’re not all dressed up with no place to go. These are the Whitman men’s basketball players coming out to support their “buddy team,” women’s soccer, as part of the varsity athlete community created by Whitman’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

SAAC is a leadership group made up of Whitman varsity athletes with two representatives from each team. Led by advisor and women’s basketball coach Michelle Ferenz, SAAC fulfills the NCAA Division III requirement of having a leadership group on campus to facilitate enthusiasm and support for Whitman athletics.

“SAAC gives student-athletes a voice in the issues that directly affect their experience,” said Ferenz. “The organization is student-driven, but I am there to help support and guide the group especially when they are taking on a new project or working on issues that affect the conference or national SAAC.”

At Whitman, SAAC is led by co-presidents senior Jenele Peterson and junior Jennifer Keyes.

“[We are] very involved with planning and making sure our events run smoothly,” said Peterson, who has been involved with SAAC since her freshman year.

This year, SAAC is focusing on trying to “reach out to the rest of [the Whitman] campus in a positive way,” said Ferenz. SAAC members are working on ways to involve not only Whitman students, but also the city of Walla Walla in Whitman athletics. The goal is an increased fan base for all athletic events, as well as greater outreach to the communities of Walla Walla and Whitman together as a whole.

This year on Halloween, SAAC is putting together an Athletic Service Day.

“It’s a day where we’re encouraging all of the athletic teams to volunteer with one of three service organizations,” said senior and four-year SAAC member Kate Newman. “[It’s] a way to reach out to the Walla Walla community as an athletic community at Whitman, [as well as] a way for us to give back to them for their support for coming out to our games.”

In addition to the Athletic Service Day, SAAC is taking part in supporting Samaritan’s Feet, which is a non-profit organization that works toward putting shoes on ten million impoverished people over the next ten years. Last year, Ferenz and men’s basketball coach Eric Bridgeland supported Samaritan’s Feet at basketball games by going barefoot and encouraging fans and students to follow in their footsteps, so to speak.

Another focus of SAAC is on breast cancer awareness. SAAC will be sponsoring special events for breast cancer awareness at Whitman home games.

“SAAC makes it a point to reach out to the campus community and invite them to support [breast cancer awareness] in some way,” said Ferenz.

While only varsity athletes can be members of SAAC, students from anywhere in the Whitman community have the opportunity to get involved and have their ideas heard.

“Our leadership has met with WEB and with ASWC to generate ideas to create excitement for varsity sporting events,” said Ferenz. She also noted that students, faculty and staff from athletics and other student services can come to meetings to ask for input or assistance in certain projects.

SAAC has already hosted a rummage sale, is planning on putting on pizza nights, and continues to create events that will increase their fan base. You don’t have to be a member of SAAC to have your voice heard and participate in making Whitman athletics something that the entire campus can get immersed in.

SAAC is more than just representation of Whitman within the Northwest Conference and the NCAA. It brings communities together for the common purpose of supporting Whitman athletics.

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