As the end of a weeklong celebration of NCAA Division III athletes draws near, athletes and coaches of MacMurray College’s football team have a lot to be proud of.
The football team was surprised when two members of the local U.S. Marine Corps Reserve appeared at their spring practice session last week and awarded the Highlanders with the Commander Award for their services during the annual Christmas Drive in December, sorting presents.
According to MacMurray football coach Chris Douglas, the team has amassed 342 cumulative hours of community outreach and volunteer service throughout the Jacksonville community this school year. He says the goal is 500 hours.
“Really, outreach for us is one of our primary goals for our program. First of all, we want to be excellent in the classroom. Academic excellence, we want to strive for as high a GPA and as many academic, all-conference guys as we can get,” he says.
“But community outreach is another goal of our program, and so, we’ve encouraged our guys through different ways. We have a competition of sorts, and part of that competition provides points towards the outreach that they give to our community, whether it’s on campus or off campus,” Douglas continues.
Sophomore linebacker Joey Luna of Beardstown talks about the experience at spring practice last week.
“The man came up to us at practice and told us that without our help, all of the presents wouldn’t have gotten shipped out on time. That made me feel really great,” says Luna. “Since I was little, my parents have always given me a great Christmas. It means a great deal to me to give somebody less fortunate to have a great Christmas like I had.
MacMurray football players have also volunteered at three Jacksonville elementary schools, two churches and a nursing home. Wide receiver Zach Mudd of St. Charles, also a sophomore, notes an increase in the community service effort at Mac this year.
“Last year, we had some community projects, but this year, we really stepped it up and I think it’s important to do this because [we] get out there in the community, give Mac a good standing, and hopefully they’ll return the favor and maybe come to some of the games and support us,” says Mudd.
This week, MacMurray student-athletes, coaches and staff members joined over 440 Division III institutions to promote “Division III” week, an initiative created three years ago to celebrate the core values of Division III intercollegiate athletics.
Douglas says one of the big statement points about Division III sports is balance between on-campus and off-campus lives.
“Understanding that we just don’t be hermits on campus, but we go out and we try to serve the community in a greater sense. We tell our guys all the time, they have to understand, that they’re very blessed to be healthy enough and strong enough and have the ability to be able to play college football and the ability to be able to go to college,” says Douglas.
“They owe it to their community and owe it to people around them to give back, so I’m hoping that part of their educational experience coming through football is that they understand that this is something they can do beyond just these four years in college, but it becomes a habit for them.
“It becomes something that they include as part of their lifestyle after graduation as well is giving back to their community,” he continues.
On Saturday, Douglas says the team will wrap up Division III week by participating in the latest cleanup project for the Town Brook. There’s one more scheduled project this semester, and that’s a scheduled day of playing with students at Our Saviour Grade School.