by Steve Jones
The student-athletes who compete for Stevenson University’s 25 intercollegiate teams don’t just spend time on the fields, courts, and classrooms. They are also encouraged to become involved in the communities that surround their campuses.
For the past four years, student-athletes like men’s volleyball player Rob Wingert have spent time showing others how to compete. Wingert was one of 54 volunteers from the 4,000-student school in Owings Mills, Md. who took the time to help children and young adults at the Carroll County Special Olympics Spring Games.
“It’s wonderful to see so many athletes who love their sport, and compete simply for the love of the game,” said Wingert, a rising senior and the incoming President of Stevenson’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “That’s what the Division III athletic model is all about, and it makes this experience more rewarding.”
The annual competition, held on April 22, crowns Special Olympic champions in a variety of sporting events. The event attracted 187 athletes from 30 schools, plus more than 1,000 spectators, to the football stadium at Westminster High School.
The Stevenson volunteers, who included student-athletes from 12 sports, helped to organize track and field events and the softball throw, recorded times and distances, placed ribbons on the competitors, and helped with the awards ceremonies.
“Everywhere you turned, there were Stevenson people,” said John Plevyak, the school’s men’s soccer coach and community service liaison for the Stevenson athletic department. “The Special Olympics people are always looking for additional volunteers, and they always come to us.”
Plevyak and women’s basketball coach Jackie Boswell have been involved since Stevenson first sent volunteers to the event in 2012. In that first year, about 40 Stevenson volunteers were on hand at Winters Mill High School, the event’s former site.
“One of Stevenson’s tenets is community service,” Plevyak said. “When you’re a coach, you’re also a teacher. The most important thing we can do is to teach our student-athletes how to be good citizens and the value of giving back to the community."
The members of Stevenson’s athletic department have heeded the call.
“We have coaches and student-athletes who have volunteered and know what Special Olympics means,” Plevyak continued. “Those who have volunteered come back to campus and tell their teammates how valuable the experience was. That makes it easier to get the numbers of volunteers that we bring each year.”
Wingert has been one of Stevenson’s most ardent recruiters. The native of Hanover Township, Pa., who worked as an awards presenter at the 2015 Spring Games, has used his position as a student leader to boost the volunteer base.
“I try to spread the word through the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as much as I can,” he said. “I talk to people who I think would be a good fit for the event.”
Plevyak and Wingert will both be involved in the expansion of the Special Olympics to the Stevenson campus. The school is planning to hold a Unified event this fall, where Special Olympians will match up with Stevenson student-athletes.
Wingert hopes that the on-campus event will build more good memories, like the one he took from the 2015 Spring Games.
“We were getting ready to head out, and we were waiting for the completion of the long jump,” Wingert said. “There was one athlete who backed up about 80 yards to get a long running start. I think she was probably tired by the end of that run."