Kalamazoo College’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) developed an idea last fall that is supporting local charities and foundations with the help of students, faculty, staff, parents and the community.
SAAC representatives, including co-presidents Savera Rajendra-Nicolucci ’24 and Ty Horky ’24, created Compete for a Cause, which allows K athletic teams that play in a specific season to select a beneficiary to back and a cause to amplify during a chosen Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) game on their schedule. Starting last term, student-athletes collaborated with local nonprofits, donning custom warm-up shirts on game day to raise community awareness. These custom shirts were available for sale, with all proceeds benefitting their partner organizations.
“Savera and I have been on the SAAC board since we were sophomores and we’ve moved up the committee together along the way,” Horky said. “Doing this was about how we can make something for the SAAC organization that lasts longer than us being here and how we can implement a plan to give back to the communities around us.”
SAAC’s first steps toward such efforts involved meeting with MIAA Commissioner Chris Brown and K athletics administrative representatives with the hope of getting the entire conference involved and initiate introductions with local charities. Their support proved to be inspiring.
“I think the support from administration, from the MIAA Commissioner all the way down, was nothing but positive,” Horky said. “Right off the bat, they just asked, ‘How can we help you? What can we do to get the ball rolling?’ Everybody being behind us has been a huge help.”
Then, despite weathering some in-game storms, the first season of Compete for a Cause was successful. Rajendra-Nicolucci’s women’s soccer squad, for example, chose breast cancer awareness as its cause, selected a game that coincided with a football contest, and conducted a united breast-cancer awareness day between the teams to benefit the West Michigan Cancer Center (WMCC).
Compete for a Cause Games
- Kalamazoo College’s volleyball team raised women’s health awareness by supporting the YWCA of Kalamazoo with red t-shirt sales last fall.
- In October, the football and women’s soccer teams raised breast cancer awareness by supporting the West Michigan Cancer Center with pink t-shirts.
- The men’s soccer team raised food insecurity awareness by supporting Loaves and Fishes in Kalamazoo with orange t-shirt sales in October.
- K’s men’s and women’s basketball squads are teaming up to support the houseless and the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission in their games on February 3.
- K’s swimming and diving teams will raise mental health awareness and support Gryphon Place during their home meets on February 3.
A special thank you to Capital National Bank, HAP, Miller Johnson Attorneys of Kalamazoo and Underground Printing of Kalamazoo for their support.
WMCC Director of Development Anne Witherspoon was invited to attend, raise awareness, share information and accept donations to support their mission.
“It was wonderful to see the student-athletes support the community through this initiative,” Witherspoon said. “Beyond just being incredible students, who I enjoyed spending time with, their impressive organization and professionalism fostered a meaningful connection with the K community, letting us share the WMCC mission with parents, fans and donors.”
Athletes were gratified by the support they received and the end result.
“It was definitely more work than we thought, especially with the business aspect of things, but we’ve learned that there’s so much in the Kalamazoo community to love,” Rajendra-Nicolucci said. “It was interesting to see how much we can do just by talking to people. Anne Witherspoon, who works at the West Michigan Cancer Center, said one of her best memories of the day was sitting with Ty and getting to know him and our school. Those connections go a long way and show there’s more to playing a college sport than the gear and winning.”
In serving SAAC, Rajendra-Nicolucci and Horky have consistently organized campus events for students, including student-athletes. But the first Compete for a Cause events have been special as they’ve reached out to the at-large community. And now, it’s time for K’s winter athletics teams, including Horky’s men’s basketball team, to take the effort’s reins.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams are combining their efforts to support homelessness awareness and the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission during their home games on Saturday, February 3. The same day, the swimming and diving teams will spread mental health awareness and donate all of their proceeds to Gryphon Place.
Separately in their time at K, Rajendra-Nicolucci played women’s golf for two years and taught biology and English to children in Spain during her study abroad experience. After graduating, she hopes to develop a career in medical or pharmaceutical sales. Horky also wants to build a career in medical and pharmaceutical sales and might consider playing basketball as a graduate student to fulfill a final year of eligibility. But Compete for a Cause’s effectiveness will be what they and other SAAC participants point to as they define their legacies at K.
“Students are busy all year, whether it is with school responsibilities, work responsibilities, athletic responsibilities or extracurriculars,” Rajendra-Nicolucci said. “Something as simple as this initiative can remind us that there is always more to be done. Giving back is something you will never regret. Whether it is the connections that you make along the way or the touching moments, these feelings are just as good or even better than the feeling of winning a double overtime game. Everyone is welcome to these games, and we hope to see you and the rest of the Kalamazoo community continue to give back to something greater than just a game.”