feature stories

Athletes Gain ACCESS-ability

By Ashley Festa

A program recently started at the University of the Incarnate Word is a sporty, faith-filled experience for student-athletes designed to help them reach out into the community and also reach into themselves.

Student Athletes

Murray and Knips impatiently await their turns in a relay of vulunteers versus children.

The Athletic Center for Character and Excellence in Sports and Spirituality program, which is known by the acronym ACCESS, was started by Athletics Director Mark Papich and Sr. Audrey O’Mahony, assistant to the president for Mission effectiveness. Head diving Coach Andy Scott, who has previous experience with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is developing the program.

Scott said ACCESS is a great opportunity for students. “I believe we can be effective as a conduit of sorts, providing ‘access’ for our athletes to be able to reach out beyond themselves.”

The program hopes to help create three points of access:

  1. Access to God through the spirit.
  2. Access between the athletic department and the rest of the university by demonstrating the value of sports, while also letting the campus bring energy to the program.
  3. Access to the community, both by going out into the community and bringing in the community.

Several activities have gotten the program rolling. “The main events so far have been the coach's prayer breakfast in December, the athlete prayer breakfast in February, and an initial activity with the San Antonio Big Brother Big Sister program” in March, Scott said.

His biggest hope for the program is to give people an opportunity to talk about the connection between faith and life. Creating the chance for an open dialogue about athletes’ personal lives instead of just about sports and academics, will help coaches connect more with the reality of their lives.

According to the program’s vision statement, the purpose of the group is “to create an environment in the athletic department where coaches and athletes are encouraged to deepen their faith and given opportunity to put their faith into action in and out of their competitive arenas.”

To accomplish this, student athletes will be involved in leadership training, partnerships with local schools, working with Habitat for Humanity and other community service programs.

As for long-term plans, Scott wants to implement a team chaplain program. The chaplain would be someone who could help lead and mentor athletes in a different capacity from what coaches do. Scott also hopes mission trips, either inside or outside the United States, are a future possibility.

“We have a long-term vision, but we’re going to allow ourselves time to grow. There seems to be some energy on campus … to see this thing happen. We want to take that energy and ride that wave,” Scott said.

To help the program grow more quickly, Scott wants to get the ACCESS group more involved with San Antonio’s Big Brother Big Sister program. Coaches don’t always have time to create opportunities for community service, Scott explained, so it’s helpful to get athletes involved in established programs.

“It’s minimal planning on the coaches’ part, but they’re getting involved. (The Big Brother Big Sister program) needs volunteers, and we need a place to get involved,” Scott said, so it’s a win-win situation.

Student Athletes

Diver Courtney Hill (left) keeps score at the Big Brother Big Sister field dy competition, while assistant swim Coach Matty Knips (center) and swimmer Lesley Murray (right) cheer on the participants.

In fact, Scott noted a Big Brother Big Sister program called Sports Buddies that “fits beautifully with the vision of this program.” The program involves a commitment in which athletes spend time with a child once a month. During the school year, the athlete might attend different UIW sporting events with the child.

The main idea, Scott said, is to “find out the passion and vision of our students and connect them with places they can serve.

“I’m really excited because I believe the potential is here that we could have a great impact,” Scott said.

“One of the things that I have found as a person of faith, if we’re not pushed beyond our comfort zone, we’ll never grow,” Scott said. He hopes ACCESS will push student-athletes, and then spiritual growth will occur.

“You realize you can’t do it on your own, and you rely on God. That’s how you grow spiritually.”