“Muleriders in Magnolia,” an outreach program that consolidated community-outreach efforts at Southern Arkansas, has been recognized as the 2013 winner of the Division II Community Engagement Award of Excellence.
Southern Arkansas was honored last week as part of the annual Division II Identity Workshop.
Community engagement is a key part of Division II’s strategic position. It emphasizes not only the relationship of the athletics program with the community but also the interaction of the overall institution with the community in which it is located.
In addition to Southern Arkansas, 15 other programs were honored as conference winners. Each conference winner receive $500.
“Muleriders in Magnolia” is an ongoing community-engagement activity that was established to connect Mulerider athletics back to the community of Magnolia. It became clear to many in the athletics department at Southern Arkansas, including Director of Athletics Steve Browning, that the some of the biggest supporters of Mulerider athletics were in Magnolia and that the relationship needed to be reciprocated.
“At any given athletic event on our campus, it is safe to say that a majority of the fans in the stands are members of the community of Magnolia,” Browning said. “That is why it is so important for us to get out and give back to the community to show our appreciation for their support of Mulerider athletics. We also realize how significant of an impact our athletes, as role models, can make on the community.”
A chief goal of the program was not only to get athletes out in the community but to do so in a unified way. Before this program, several teams performed their own community engagement, but “Muleriders in Magnolia” provided a unified front for the athletics department.
For calendar year 2012, a total of 132 student-athletes participated in community service activities on nine separate occasions through “Muleriders in Magnolia.”
“The athletes from SAU have been a big hit at Magnolia Health and Rehab,” said hospital administrator Jeff Harrington. “From their visit in the fall, two of the athletes have decided to come back every week and play Bingo with our residents. The Christmas decorations were wonderful as well.
“Most of our residents wanted to leave them long after Christmas was over. I cannot express enough gratitude to these young men and women for what they are doing in the community.”
In the brief time that “Muleriders in Magnolia” has been underway, the impact on the community, the Southern Arkansas campus and the student-athletes has been overwhelmingly positive.
Numerous student-athletes have gone into the community multiple times, and Magnolia has begun to reach back to the athletics department with new and exciting opportunities for community-service projects.
“The kids love it,” said football coach Bill Keopple after a successful program at an elementary school, “and so did the teachers and the athletes. Close to the end of the school year the classes take a field trip to Wilkins Stadium on our campus and we have a field day with the kids. It is an awesome thing to see.”
For eight years, the Mulerider baseball team also has participated in a Big Brother program, where the teammates are paired with boys in the community. They become big brothers, spending quality time and teaching them fundamentals of the sport.
“It’s been a great opportunity for everyone,” said Browning, who also serves as baseball coach. “It benefits the young ones and our guys. The baseball players come to understand how important they are as role models.”
Southern Arkansas Overall Winner Muleriders in Magnolia
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