Bearkat Mentors shines light on athletes’ community work

In this day and age, if you play college sports, the most emphasis is placed upon your performance on the field. A team’s wins and losses and a particular player’s effect on the outcome often determine their worth.

Sam Houston State University is trying to change the perception of the worth of a student-athlete. Through the Bearkat Mentor Program, the athletic department has tried to demonstrate that an athlete’s effect isn’t just limited to the field.

The Bearkat Mentor Program is designed for all incoming freshmen athletes and members of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. It allows for these athletes to assist with school programs and help mentor students at Gibbs Elementary in the Huntsville Independent School District.

Created in 1982, the men and women’s tennis teams began working with children at Gibbs Elementary. However, there was a drastic change to the program in 1997 when current Associate Athletic Director for Student Services Chris Thompson took over the academic program. Thompson saw the positive impact the tennis players had at the school and how much the children got out of the experience, so he changed participation to not only have the tennis team mentor at Gibbs, but expanded the program to allow all freshman athletes to attend a mentoring session at least once during the fall semester and have SAAC members attend a session in the Spring semester also.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Thompson said. “It helps a child at Gibbs [Elementary] because the athlete can be a very positive role model, and from the athlete’s point of view, it gives them that good feeling you can get when you do something for someone else.”

At the present time there are no plans to change the requirement to make it mandatory for transfer and upperclassmen to participate in the program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they choose not to.

“We encourage all students to attend, but it’s not required,” Thompson said. “The transfer athletes are given the opportunity and at least one-third chose to do so. They aren’t necessarily from Huntsville, but they want to give back to the community.”

At Gibbs Elementary, the student-athletes help the children by assisting them in areas of need, such as math, reading and writing. Not limited to just educational matters, the student-athletes also try to become positive role models for the students, many of whom don’t have a strong positive influence in their lives.

“The kids are so enthralled when they see the athletes; to the children it’s something special,” Thompson said. “They tutor everything, but they also teach life skills. When they have lunch with them, they can show how to behave and display proper etiquette while eating.”

After having a rewarding experience, many athletes choose to come back and continue to mentor the elementary students. Senior quarterback Wade Pate, a business major, has continued to remain a figure in Mrs. Leeann Woodward’s class the last three years.

“She was really nice, the kids liked me, and I felt it was a good fit so I just kept coming back,” Pate said.

Pate has made sure not to miss a week, going every Friday. In one instance two years ago during a Thursday night game, Pate suffered a concussion. The next day, before going to the hospital, Pate headed to Gibbs.

“A lot of people talk about giving back,” Pate said. “Me and two fourth graders created and sang a song in front of the class about brushing your teeth; you just can’t get that anywhere else.”

The children and athletes both seem to really enjoy the experience and it seems it will continue to help make a positive effect on the children.

“We’re helping the future; the children,” Thompson said. “If we can do anything that can help the teachers and administrators at Gibbs, it allows for our student-athletes to give something back. It gives the athletes a different perspective, because as humans, we have a lot to offer.”

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