Just a couple of weeks into the busy fall athletics season, Pirate competition ground to a halt as Hurricane Florence barreled in. Every East Carolina team participates in planned community service hours every season, but this was something else entirely.
As soon as the storm had passed, baseball and basketball players were boarding buses for New Bern, where they got their hands dirty cleaning out flooded homes.
Soccer and volleyball players collected canned foods at their home games to contribute to a massive university-led drive for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
Other Pirate student-athletes collected and distributed food, clothing and supplies at American Red Cross shelters and walked displaced animals and cleaned pens at the Humane Society. In those early days as the floodwaters receded, ECU athletes seemed to be mobilizing wherever a need could be identified.
As recovery efforts continue today in the hardest-hit counties, ECU student-athletes are being recognized on a national scale for proving that community service is far more than just a photo op, especially when the community around the university is in crisis. Pirate athletes didn’t reach out and serve to get applauded, but colleges across the country will nonetheless take notice because of ECU’s inclusion as one of three finalists for the 2019 Community Service Award.
The award, which is sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and the Fiesta Bowl, will award $10,000, a trophy, and a special on-campus event to the winning school.
The other two finalists are Boston College, whose athletes are connected with 167 underprivileged children through its Adopt-A-Child Program, and the University of Texas at Arlington, which sent student-athlete teams to meet needs globally in five different nations.
Fiesta Bowl senior director of communications Scott Leightman said that the award, which was established three years ago, is meant to honor the spirit of service that the Fiesta Bowl seeks to uphold throughout the year. Best known as a host of one of the college football playoff games, the Fiesta Bowl seeks to be one of the most engaged community partners in the state of Arizona through a host of outreach efforts.
“Everyone knows us for our football game,”Leightman said. “But we do year-round community service. Community service is in our mission and it’s who we are. So that’s why we aligned with NACDA to recognize a university that really walks the walk.”
The winner of the award will be announced in July, and if ECU is selected the sponsors will organize a special event on campus in the fall to recognize the student-athletes’ achievement.
Because the situation with Hurricane Florence was unique, ECU’s wide-ranging efforts made an impression on those who sorted through the award nominees to settle on the top three, Leightman said.
“Whenever you have such a crazy event like that, it’s an all-hands-on-deck exercise to return the community as quickly as possible to, quote unquote, normal life,” he said.
It was the wide breadth and commitment of Hurricane Florence service that drew that attention of NACDA and the Fiesta Bowl, but the award recognized only a portion of the community efforts that were undertaken by ECU student-athletes last school year. The Hurricane Florence work constituted approximately 1,400 hours of a total of 6,000 service hours that were tallied by members of the 19 Pirate teams throughout the course of the year, according to a release distributed last week.
In response to the announcement of ECU’s 6,000 cumulative hours, Director of Athletics Jon Gilbert said, “We have a special group who is leaving a lasting legacy at East Carolina University, performing at a high level academically and athletically while understanding the importance of engaging with our community and those in need.”