Muhlenberg athletics not only works to win on the field, but it also strives to work in the community and impact the lives of others. The slogan “22 Sports, One Team” was established a few years ago and really embraces Muhlenberg athletics’ focus on bettering the community by working together. As per the athletics department’s vision statement, “Our programs will motivate and empower students to develop leadership, well-being, sportsmanship and interpersonal skills while nurturing a sense of civic responsibility.” It aims to create strong, responsible, and caring individuals both on and off the field.
Each team and athlete is responsible to participate in various sorts of volunteer and community work throughout their time at Muhlenberg. “Although we have 22 varsity athletic teams, every team works together to impact the community, both in Allentown and beyond,” said Associate Athletic Director Megan Patruno. “In order to work in the community, we must establish a sense of community and by coming together as one team. We are a community.”
Each team impacts the community in a variety of ways, whether it is playing games to fundraise for certain charities, running athletic clinics for individuals with disabilities, working with elementary school students or raising money for several charities. The teams decide how they will impact the community and which charities and organizations they will work with through collaboration between the coaches and the players. In Patruno’s previous six years as the Assistant Athletic Director, she has seen both “consistency and growth” in the community engagement programs.
Assistant men’s basketball coach Dawud Abdur-Rahkman is the coordinator for diversity, inclusion and leadership. Abdur-Rahkman encourages athlete participation in community engagement programs. “It gives athletes a sense of value and makes them want to give back to the community in the future,” said Abdur-Rahkman. According to Abdur-Rahkman, when the men’s and women’s basketball teams participate in the Dream to Read program at Jefferson Elementary School in Allentown, both the athletes and the elementary school students benefit tremendously.
The basketball players read books to elementary school students in the Dream to Read program. The students are then asked to draw their understandings of the books, and the athletes help them design placemats that are sent to Meals on Wheels. “Jefferson Elementary school is a racially diverse school and many of the students’ parents have not had the opportunity to attend college,” said Abdur-Rahkman. “When visiting Jefferson Elementary, the athletes are given an opportunity to be part of a diverse lifestyle, while the elementary school students feel the sense that they can attend college and also make a difference. The students feel that they are part of the team.” Abdur- Rahkman is able to relate to this program because he was the first member of his family to attend college. Programs such as Dream to Read create a bigger, more important impact than just teaching a kid how to read; they instill hope and care within both the student and athlete.
“It gives athletes a sense of value and makes them want to give back to the community in the future”
With the spring athletic season beginning, the Muhlenberg athletic programs will continue to participate in community engagement both on and off the field. The baseball team will participate in Vs. Cancer, a fundraising program that helps fund cancer research. The entire team will shave their heads in support of the organization.
Matt Riebesell ‘19 looks forward to participating in this event and was thrilled to find out that the Muhlenberg baseball team was one of the program’s top athletic donors. “Every year the founder of the organization visits Muhlenberg and usually comes to one of our practices and explains where the money we raise goes and how we directly impact the recipients of our fundraising efforts” said Riebesell. “We are one of the best teams in the country at raising money for Vs. Cancer and usually raise more than many big Division I programs.”
The donations to Vs. Cancer do not just come from the members of the team. “All of the players’ friends and families get involved with raising money for this organization which makes the experience of Vs. Cancer even more special,” said Riebesell. He also notes that working together as a team helps accomplish many of their community engagement goals and betters their relationship off of the field. “I really like going out into the community with the guys on my team. I think a lot can be accomplished when big groups can go into the community together,” he said. “The guys on the team will be my friends for life.”
Riebesell has also observed other varsity teams participating in similar community engagement work and believes it is very motivating to see fellow Muhlenberg teams working in the community. “I am glad that I see and hear of other teams doing great things too,” said Riebesell. “It kind of pushes all of the other teams to get involved and do things for a lot of great causes.”
Currently, the women’s lacrosse team is partnering with Relay for Life, One Love Foundation, Yards for Yeardley, and Operations Gratitude. “Our team is very involved in the community and we make sure to give back every year,” said Kelsey Nagle ‘17, the team’s captain. With four years of volunteer experience in community engagement, Nagle remarks, “My favorite part of volunteering is knowing that my contribution can make a difference. It’s so easy to give a few hours of your time to help such a good cause and knowing that I am helping is a very rewarding feeling.” Nagle and her teammates have donated money to Relay for Life and the team is currently selling camo hats, and all of the proceeds will go to the organization.
Karissa Astrella ‘18 is a part of the Mules softball team, and she loves being a member of the unique sports community on campus. “The Muhlenberg athletic community is supportive, lively, and a true family,” said Astrella. “Being an athlete here is so much more than just playing your sport. It is about growing as a human being and becoming a better, overall, person.” Astrella’s favorite organization to work with is Student Athlete Mentors (SAM), as she is an executive board member. SAM trains student athletes to communicate with one another when they are in need of help.
One of the most anticipated events is Mercy Field Day. Members from all twenty-two varsity athletic programs have the opportunity to participate in the Mercy Field Day in April, a community engagement event that started in 2016. Muhlenberg athletics partnered with the Mercy School of Special Learning in Allentown, a school for students with special needs.
During this event, students from the school are able to participate in a wide range of athletic programs ranging from relay races and soccer drills to softball games with the help of over 60 Muhlenberg athletes and coaches. The event takes place at Scotty Wood Stadium and students from the Mercy School are able to get a glimpse of what it is like to play on a collegiate athletic field. This event is incredibly meaningful to Patruno because her daughter, Caroline, is a Mercy School student. Last year, around fifty Mercy School students and 60 Muhlenberg athletes participated in the field day, and even more are expected for this year’s field day.
Members of Muhlenberg athletic teams believe participating in community engagement programs is incredibly fulfilling. Working within the community has increased the sense of awareness of each athlete, as it continues to challenge them to consider how to keep impacting the community in the future.
You can find out about various community engagement programs that Muhlenberg teams participate in by visiting the student athlete development page on the athletics’ website.
Dream to Read photo courtesy of Muhlenberg Athletics. Mercy Field Day photo courtesy of the Morning Call.