When the University of Maryland's athletics department placed a premium on community service, it probably wasn't expecting to be honored for its altruism.
But the commitment the university's student-athletes showed toward their surrounding communities was recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and the Fiesta Bowl, which has named Maryland the winner of the inaugural Community Service Award.
"I was shocked when [Maryland athletic director] Kevin Anderson announced in a staff meeting that we had won the award," said Kristen Brown, Maryland's associate athletic director-administration. "I give 100-percent credit to our student-athletes for reaching beyond their sport."
The award will be formally presented to the athletic program by officials from NACDA and the Fiesta Bowl at a fall ceremony on the university's College Park, Md., campus. The Maryland athletic department will receive a trophy, plus $10,000 to give to its chosen charity.
The award is presented to NCAA Division I institutions that place a high priority on volunteerism and community service. Maryland, which was one of three finalists along with East Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast, was recognized largely because of the success of its Share the Shell community outreach program.
"Maryland's Share the Shell program was extremely impressive and is a comprehensive example of the good work that NACDA members and their students across the country are doing off the playing field," NACDA executive director Bob Vecchione said in a statement. "We are proud to recognize the Maryland athletics department with this award for their dedication to servant leadership in the community."
The Share the Shell program was started Oct. 22, 2016, in conjunction with the major national effort known as Make a Difference Day. The program was based on the four pillars of Health and Wellness, Civic Engagement, Education and Literacy, and Leadership and Mentoring. The program offers student-athletes from each of Maryland's athletic teams the opportunity to work with nearby communities.
"Our student-athletes were already doing so much in the community," Brown said. "Over 550 Maryland student-athletes have been involved in community outreach. Share the Shell established the pillars of the program and helped put together the framework. We wanted to focus on the issues of hunger, education and literacy and fitness."
Brown described Share the Shell as "a combination of the work of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the initiative of Dr. Sue Sherburne." Sherburne, who is Maryland's senior associate athletic director for academics and student development, helped to organize the groundwork that had been laid by previous affiliations between Maryland student-athletes and community organizations. Share the Shell worked to build on previous relationships and develop new partnerships with such varied organizations as the Special Olympics, Team IMPACT, Best Buddies, Children's Hospital of D.C., the Prince George's County Public Schools, Baltimore's House of Ruth and several other community-oriented programs.
"We started a reading program in Prince George's County," Brown said. "We worked with TerpsGiving in providing Thanksgiving meals to families in Baltimore. Share the Shell also partnered with [former Terp football players] A.J. Francis on his canned food drive and Shawne Merriman on his coat drive."
Brown said the Share the Shell program could extend beyond its current areas of influence.
"Our pillars are pretty broad, but maybe the scope of the program will be enhanced," she said. "We've been focused on Prince George's County and areas of D.C., but would like to do more in Baltimore. At some point, we want to get the program into at least every county in Maryland."
Photo Credit: Malina Howard/Maryland Athletics