Leading by example

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Women’s soccer team inspires younger students.

In soccer, teamwork is everything. Whether scoring a goal or pulling a teammate up off the grass, supporting one another is necessary for success. For the Northern Arizona University women’s soccer team, this philosophy of helping others extends beyond the field at Lumberjack Stadium and into the surrounding community.

Recently, members of the team visited Williams, Arizona to talk with high school and middle school students about how abstaining from harmful drugs, underage drinking, and other unhealthy behaviors has contributed to their success at the university level.

In addition to their coursework, all Northern Arizona University student-athletes are required to complete 10 hours of community service per semester. Pam Lowie, the assistant athletic director for academics, says the members of the soccer team regularly log double that requirement, making them a natural choice to speak at Williams.

“When I called them, Alana D'Onofrio – one of their captains – said the team would love to go,” Lowie explains. “For many of our student-athletes, especially the soccer players, they complete community service and outreach because they have the intrinsic desire to do so, not because the Athletics Department encourages them to do so. When the opportunity with the Williams School district presented itself, asking the soccer team was a clear choice because of the team members’ previous commitments and experience volunteering their time.”

Williams, a small town most pass through on their way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, suffers from unemployment problems. Thirteen percent of the population lives below the poverty level, which can cause many students here to feel like their future prospects are dim.

“The Williams school district approached NAU Athletics because they are having problems in their schools with bullying, poverty, alcohol, and substance abuse,” Lowie says. “For our student-athletes to visit and be positive role models for these high school and middle school students is very important.”

Improvised inspiration

When the team arrived at Williams High School, they found that, despite their presentation preparations, playing in front of a crowd is easier than speaking in front of one.

“The students started coming in, and we asked, ‘How many more are there going to be?’” Malio Tano, a sophomore forward majoring in hotel and restaurant management, says. “We were pretty shaky at first, but then we started getting comfortable and it became easier when we saw the students were listening to us.”

Tano and one of her teammates, midfielder and junior biology major Emily Roth, presented together on the negative impact of marijuana and tobacco use. Roth was unsure what kind of reception they would receive, but found the younger students were responsive and genuinely interested in the lives of university student-athletes.

“We had a lot of kids come up and talk to us afterwards about how we got to where we are,” Roth says.

Giving back, taking in

Tano and Roth are grateful for the opportunity to give back to their community, and don’t take their status as athletes and university students for granted.

“I feel like Flagstaff, as a community, gives so much to Athletics, and is so supportive of this university,” Tano says. “It’s really important and special to be able to give back and help not only Flagstaff, but other surrounding communities.”

Lowie is proud of the work being done by the soccer team, and explains that contributing to the community continues to be an important, defining quality of Northern Arizona University sports.

“The football team went and volunteered more than 100 hours with the Special Olympics of Northern Arizona and had a wonderful experience,” Lowie says. “Many of our teams go to work at St. Mary’s food bank. Kasandra Vegas from the track and field team had 90-plus hours of volunteer work this season. Jake Abbott of the football team went to Mexico and helped build houses for low-income families. These are only two stories about Northern Arizona University student-athletes engaging in the community, and we’re very proud of all of our student-athletes as they promote a culture of giving back at the university.”