Jan. 6, 2018
ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the first time in league history, the Sun Belt Conference held an on-campus meeting of representatives from member institutions Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), with UTA Athletics serving as the proud host of the event over the weekend.
UTA's award-winning SAAC was proud of host the inaugural event, which began on Thursday during the Mavericks basketball doubleheader with Troy.
"The weekend was incredible," Tim Kennedy, director of UTA's SAAC and student-development specialist and life skills coordinator said. "Our student-athletes really gelled with each other and were able to build some really good relationships. To be able to talk with our Athletics Director, Jim Baker, and see how Jim is really all about student's welfare and to make sure they are taken care of is something that is impressive to them. I think they all feel like they are going to be able to take things back to their campuses and leadership groups and share that information to help make their communities improve."
Friday was filled with a bevy of educational opportunities, including an extensive visit with UTA Athletics Director Jim Baker in the morning, campus tour activities, a team-building activity in the evening and a Salvation Army service project in the area.
"It is an honor that the Sun Belt picked us to host this first ever event," Kennedy said. "And one of the reasons they picked us is because of our leadership with Mr. Baker and (President) Dr. (Vistasp) Karbhari. Jim does such a great job of supporting SAAC and it was really an honor for us. It shows that not only are we doing well on the field and in the gyms but we are also striving for excellence in the community at helping our student-athletes in life after sports."
Among the attendees included Appalachian State's Tristan Helms (baseball), Arkansas State's Taylor Schneider (women's soccer), Little Rock's Jarred O'Connor (track and field), Coastal Carolina's Kelsey Briggs (track and field), Georgia State's Sarah Renner (volleyball), Georgia Southern's Hayley Carter (softball), Louisiana's Sarah Kozlowski (women's soccer), ULM's Payton Simpson (track and field), South Alabama's Parker Harrell (volleyball), UTA's Chloe Lewis (track and field), Texas State's James Sherman (football) and Troy's Cassidy McDila. The Sun Belt National SAAC Representative was Nick Clark from Coastal Carolina football.
"It was an awesome weekend," Sun Belt Director of Championships and Corporate Sales Spencer Dodd said. "A great opportunity for the student-athletes across the conference to come on campus and see something other than their arenas and fields but to truly be apart of campus and get to learn how a different campus operates, which is very valuable. The UTA staff was great and everything ran really good."
Saturday included a morning meeting of the SAAC representatives and a meeting with UTA President Dr. Vistasp Karbhari.
"First and foremost it went really quick," Texas State junior football student-athlete James Sherman said. "If you ran into us this weekend, you'd think that our group had been friends for years. We really got a lot of stuff done. It has been a really enjoyable time. We are setting a lot of precedent of what we can do in the future and in the spring going forward."
Among the topics addressed include an emphasis on student-athletes around the conference and nation in continuing to progress in their mental well-being.
"We really focused on mental wellness of student-athletes," Sherman said. "It is a national initiative, working on breaking the stigma of improving mental wellness. We have a lot of resources on our campuses and as student-athletes we need to take advantage of those. We can be stressed out – class, workouts, games, whatever we have – it is just about breaking the stigma that working on your mental health isn't important. It is okay to rely on resources. We work our bodies so hard on the field, weight room and gyms, so why not work on our mental well being. It is not something that is going to hinder us. It is going to be really exciting to see how we can implement some of the things we learned moving forward the next few years."
"That is something that is overlooked by a lot of universities and student-athletes," Kennedy said. "People don't understand how important their mental well-being can be. Our SAAC student-athletes put together a plan, how to really increase awareness to that issue. There are several things that are going to be implemented on our campus that will be a great asset in the long run."
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