Division-3 Week 2021 prioritized community outreach as well confronting the mental and physical health of student-athletes. Courtesy of Muhlenberg Athletics.

Despite the ongoing uncertainties surrounding Centennial Conference Athletics and even the upcoming Spring semester, the Muhlenberg Athletics Leadership Team or M.A.L.T., has remained hard at work. Throughout the fall semester, M.A.L.T has continued educating and bringing together their fellow student-athletes as well as engaging the college community as a whole. 

While it is certainly not the ideal choice, M.A.L.T. has adjusted to the virtual environment in stride. The entire team, its executive board, and their advisor, softball head coach Sarah Leavenworth, have worked tirelessly to put together different programs while participating in various social media campaigns. 

One such program they sponsored was the “Mules Kick the Stigma” webinar, held on Oct. 15. As Muhlenberg’s student-athletes and the majority of the student body find themselves stuck at home, away from one another and the routines they have established, tackling mental health has become a major concern.

For Joel Hark ‘22, M.A.L.T. executive board and Muhlenberg men’s golf member, addressing the growing concern of mental health in this way was of utmost importance. “One of my interests is mental health and I thought it was super necessary to bring that resource to our student-athletes especially during the tough times of COVID,” he said. 

The webinar, which featured a panel of several sports psychologists and local mental health experts, provided an open forum to discuss mental health. However, it also served as a reminder that at the end of the day, everyone is human. This, according to fellow executive board member and Muhlenberg softball star, Sophie Chong ‘21, was the most powerful message. “A major takeaway from ‘Mules Kick the Stigma’ was a quote that was shared by one of the panelists, Dr. Shawn Zeplin, where he stated, ‘There is nothing wrong with you, you are human,’” said Chong. It was the simple nature of Dr. Zeplin’s statement that really stood out to Chong.

Like her, Hark found the event to be immensely  beneficial and even a source of personal development. “Personally, the talk helped me exponentially. It actually gave me courage to start therapy and to be open to my teammates and coach about my mental health. It really put it into perspective that our mental health is just as important or more important than our physical health,” Hark said. 

It is through collaborative efforts, alongside Muhlenberg Mental Health Peer Advocates and Muhlenberg Wellness, that make programs like the webinar so successful and the work of M.A.L.T. so rewarding and meaningful. 

Reflecting on the work that has been done, Chong said, “The main focus and driving force has been to come together as student-athletes and be there for one another which aligns with our slogan ‘22 Sports, 1 Team.’” 

While the commendable work they have done cannot be ignored, Leavenworth realizes that there is more to be done. “Our efforts this semester addressing student-athlete mental health and the resulting feedback has really shown us that what we have done so far is a great start, but not enough. While we are extremely proud of putting together the ’Kick the Stigma’ webinar and promoting several other mental health campaigns, we have realized that a lot more is needed to serve our student-athlete population,” Leavenworth said.

A major element of serving Muhlenberg’s student-athletes and truly illuminating the “22 Sports, 1 Team” motto has been the incorporation of the freshmen class of student-athletes. While the newest class has not had the opportunity to experience the excitement of the fall season, M.A.L.T. has done their work to keep the freshmen class involved and teach them exactly what they stand for. 

“At the start of the semester we had a large Zoom informational session in order to introduce M.A.L.T. and our main purpose on campus. From there, we have truly relied on the work of our team representatives to share all that M.A.L.T. does. The main way of communicating has been through social media and we have seen great success from this,” Chong said.

From that introductory informational session early on in the fall semester, it is clear that Muhlenberg’s future stars have already begun to leave their mark on the campus community and M.A.L.T.  They not only have joined the ranks as M.A.L.T and SAAC ( student-athlete advisory committee) representatives, they have also led the charge organizing programs. Leavenworth reflected on this saying, “One of the last events we held this fall, a post-election debrief,  was planned and organized almost exclusively by freshmen. We hope that by showing them early on there is room for everyone’s ideas, they will start taking action and contributing right away.”

The fall semester may be coming to a close, but mental health advocacy still remains a top priority for Chong and the M.A.L.T team. “As we wrap up this semester and start planning for the Spring we hope to continue to focus on the mental-health of athletes and engage with everyone through Winter break on social media platforms,” Chong said. 

In their sustained mental health campaign, M.A.L.T. is also in the progress of introducing “Sound Minds, Strong Bodies,” a new club solely dedicated to the mental health of student-athletes. However, while strategically adjusting to the circumstances, Leavenworth, Chong, Hark and the rest of the M.A.L.T. team have even more in store. “I can say we have some very exciting plans to reshape our StepUp! program as a joint effort with the Offices of Multicultural Life and Prevention Education,” Leavenworth added. 

We plan to continue to stay connected through social media and to have more informative webinars to try to not only connect athletes but to connect the rest of the campus as well,” Hark said. 


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