By Blake Dickinson, Contributor
With countless scandals and examples of poor character and leadership in sports littering today’s headlines, it’s encouraging to know that there is still a strong devotion by some athletes to give back to the community and clean up the athlete image. It’s even more encouraging when these athletes are from here at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The Mavericks baseball team has made volunteering a priority this year as a way to use its status as a Division-I team to make a difference in Omaha. Junior Sam Murphy has been one of a trio of upperclassmen leaders who decided that the team would do things a little different this year. The other two are junior Alex Schultz and senior Alex Mortensen.
“We know we have an influence, and we didn’t think we were using our platform enough,” Murphy said. “We decided that we needed to be more involved in the community and to be more dedicated to building positive relationships.”
The team collaborated on which people and organizations to get involved with and decided on Children’s Hospital, Castelar Elementary School and the Open Door Mission. Players go on a cycle to one of the three every Monday, with different players attending each week. At the hospital, the players have focused on one special patient: 5-year-old Parker who has just started a six-month cycle of chemo treatment to battle Leukemia.
Recent examples of athletic teams supporting similar patients, such as the Nebraska football team with fellow leukemia patient Jack Hoffman, have attracted enormous amounts of positive attention toward treatment and finding cures.
At Castelar Elementary, players spend time participating in a variety of activities to support the students who often come from lower socioeconomic status homes.
“We play games with, answer questions, help with homework and mainly just be there for them,” said Murphy.
Murphy says that this time at the school has not only been good for the kids, but has helped the team grow as a unit.
“When you volunteer with a group that you spend time with every day, its going to make your bond a lot stronger,” he said.
The more that the team “buys in” to their goals, the better the outcome will be and the more fun they’ll have, according to Murphy.
Finally, the team’s role at the Open Door Mission is, “to do anything and everything they ask us to do,” Murphy said.
Seeing this commitment from their upperclassmen leaders, the Maverick coaches have also made efforts to contribute to the community and the university. A couple of weeks ago, the coaches organized a kickball game for international students in the Pep Bowl, where they gave tips on how to play and helped officiate the game.
The team has noticed that there is more pressure from the public spotlight the more success they have on the field. Murphy said, “We’re not Big Ten baseball or anything, but kids still look up to us and our name comes up in the community. When you’re getting press, you can either do bad or good with it.”
The team has clearly chosen the latter.
UNO baseball has made a commitment to producing well-rounded players. This means not only making better baseball players out of the 35-man roster, but also better people.