January 8, 2004

UNC Softball Community Service

BY BROOKE JONES
Junior Visual Arts major

Junior softball player Brianna Richardson spent one school day last October helping an eighth grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School write an essay about how he spent his summer vacation.

Like her teammates, Richardson is part of the Athletic Department's new program that has student athletes read to classes or help younger students with homework and class assignments.

It's "Bears for Books," an idea developed by Larry Aschebrook, director of marketing and promotions, to encourage athletes to serve their community. The department is aiming for 5,000 hours of service this academic year, at 10 hours per athlete.

Players appreciate the break in routine. "It made me feel good to help a younger kid who was struggling," says Richardson. Her head coach, Linda Witt, agrees, calling the program "a critical part of being a good citizen."

Such service is part of Witt's job description. "We are so lucky," she says of UNC's athletes. "It's nice to do good things for people who are less fortunate."

So Witt coaches the idea of community involvement. "You have to sell it by the value of what you get, opposed to just doing it because you have to," Witt said.

"Bears for Books" -- only one of several service opportunities for UNC athletes -- first ran from September through November. It starts again in February, ending in May with a carnival at the Greeley Mall.

Teachers in overcrowded Weld County middle schools appreciate the help, Aschebrook says, and especially the help of student athletes as role models for youngsters, some who may dream of playing sports professionally.

"They see college people and think, 'That's cool,'" he says. "Then they see college athletes and say, 'Wow.'"