GANSEVOORT, N.Y. – As noted in Wednesday’s January Trivia Contest release, the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) was delighted to send five of its student-athletes to this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Convention. This was the first time the NEAC sent multiple student-athletes to the annual convention, which aligns with the goals of the conference’s Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) to allow more student-athletes to be involved in both NEAC and national meetings.
Seniors Jillian Nolan (Johnson City, N.Y.) and Emily Middlebrook (Newark, N.Y.), juniors Katelyn Haas (Huntingdon Valley, Pa.) and Hillary Swartz (Carlisle, Pa.) and sophomore Connor Passalacqua (Whitestown, N.Y.) were each chosen to represent the NEAC at the annual convention, which was held on Jan. 15-18 in San Diego, Calif. Passalacqua currently serves as the National NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative for both the NEAC and partner conference North Atlantic Conference (NAC), while the other four student-athletes are all members of the NEAC SAAC.
“We were thrilled to provide these five worthy student-athletes a chance to experience the NCAA Convention and allow them to represent the NEAC while there,” said conference commissioner Candice Murray, who also attended the event. “This is a very positive first step to achieve the goals set forth by the Strategic Planning Committee and the conference as a whole. Hopefully, this will now become an annual occurrence for the NEAC.”
The group attended multiple meetings on both the national and conference level while at the four-day convention, as they sat in on both the NCAA’s Division III Issues Forum and DIII Business Session, while also attending the conference-only meetings of both the NEAC Board of Athletic Directors and the NEAC Presidents’ Council. Attendance at those meetings gave the student-athletes a new perspective on both the conference and Division III athletics.
“My favorite part of the convention was the NCAA Division III Business Session,” explained Swartz (left), the NEAC SAAC South Chair from Wilson College. “I really enjoyed watching the voting process because it was interesting to see the outcome of each piece of legislation. It was also a great experience to be involved in the NCAA Division III Issues Forum, as it gave me the opportunity to listen to others’ opinions on the potential changes and voice my own.”
“By sitting in on several different meetings, I am now more informed about what is really goes on than just playing in the game,” said Haas, a two-time NEAC All-Conference selection in women’s lacrosse for Penn State Abington.
Middlebrook and Nolan were particularly excited to be a part of the conference meetings.
“I really valued having the chance to be a part of the NEAC meetings,” said Middlebrook (right), a two-time NEAC Women’s Cross Country Runner of the Year and three-time All-Conference selection for Wells College. “I now have an understanding for how our conference operates and that is incredibly useful knowledge. Especially as the Chair of Wells’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, I can now not only work towards achieving our institutional goals, but also towards our conference goals.”
“I learned a lot about how much work goes into running our conference smoothly,” added Nolan, the NEAC North SAAC Chair and SAAC President at Keuka College. “The people involved have a lot of passion towards their jobs, which makes us successful.”
In addition to the aforementioned meetings, Passalacqua also attended the National SAAC meeting as the conference’s NCAA SAAC representative. Passalacqua, who is a member of the SUNY Institute of Technology baseball team, joined the rest of the national committee to discuss and vote on various NCAA DIII legislation proposals, which can be viewed as a PDF here. It wasn’t all business though, as the group was also able to bond through various events, holding a BBQ one night while also helping serve the community through a bocce ball and soccer clinic with approximately 50 local Special Olympic athletes.
“It was a really rewarding experience to be around the [Special Olympics] athletes, competing with them and cheering them on,” said Passalacqua (left). “I would recommend that all the schools in the conference try their best to help out with the program as much as they can, whether it’s going to an event and cheering them on, hosting a sport at your institution or fundraise for the program.”
While attending those meetings with representatives from all three NCAA Divisions in attendance, the potential networking opportunities for the student-athletes were vast.
“Through the Convention, I was able to meet and listen to amazing people who reminded me to constantly remember the larger goals of the NCAA,” said Middlebrook, the NEAC North SAAC Vice Chair. “It’s not to win games, it’s to create a meaningful and well-rounded student-athlete experience.”
“It was an honor to meet several amazing coaches, athletic directors and presidents throughout all divisions,” noted Haas.
Haas was also able to network with former Nittany Lions, as she was invited to attend a Penn State Abington alumni event hosted at the Southpaw Social Club. Passalacqua, meanwhile, spent time getting to know NAC SAAC student-athlete Matt Dekens from Johnson State College throughout the convention, which allowed them the opportunity to bounce ideas off one another that they could then share with their respective conference SAAC groups. It was just one of the many reasons that Passalacqua says has allowed him to thoroughly enjoy his new role.
“Being involved with this committee has been a life-changing event,” exclaimed Passalacqua. “I have made so many new close friends and have made so many memories I will never forget, and this was just year one! I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and I can't wait for the next two to come along and be just as fun.”
The trip also offered some bonding time for the NEAC attendees as a group as well, both in and out of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel where the convention was held. Haas, who roomed with Middlebrook for the week, noted that the two of them spent a lot of time with Swartz and Nolan, which helped them get to know each other through more than just competing in athletics.
“Granted yes, we all have our rivalries with each other’s schools, but it was nice to have such a diverse group of girls spanning over the different varsity sports,” Haas said.
Swartz agreed, adding that it was “a great bonding experience for us NEAC student-athletes.”
Of course, the sunny San Diego weather also made the trip enjoyable for all five attendees, allowing them to escape the current frigid temperatures of the Northeast. In fact, it may have even played a role in the future plans for one student-athlete.
“The weather possibly sold me for graduate school,” claimed Haas (right), who plans on pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy after graduating from Abington with a degree in psychology in the spring of 2015. “San Diego is a city I need to move to.”
Each student-athlete acknowledged that the trip as a whole was a very beneficial learning experience for them, and they are now equipped to share helpful tips for future NEAC attendees that may come from their campuses.
“The advice I would give future student-athletes would be to challenge themselves to be actively involved in the experience by giving a student-athlete's perspective and actively listening to what issues are being discussed, and also give themselves time to explore and see new things outside of their normal environment,” said Nolan (left), a two-time captain of the Storm women’ s volleyball team. “There is a lot to learn in the convention and a lot to learn outside of it as well.”
“For student-athletes who have the opportunity to attend the NCAA Convention in the future, I would say make sure you come prepared to take in a lot of information, but understand how useful it will be to help you as a student leader on your campus,” Middlebrook added.
Each of the five NEAC attendees seemed to return to their campuses with a positive new viewpoint on being a Division III student-athlete, which was summed up best by Middlebrook:
“The NCAA Convention helped me realize how privileged I am to be a Division III student-athlete. In the opening business session at the Convention, the Presidents of Division I and Division II mentioned that student-athletes across their institutions feel as though they cannot take part in certain opportunities outside of athletics, such as studying abroad or participating in an internship, because athletics conflicts so greatly with them. Even further, some student-athletes in those divisions expressed that they cannot choose the major they truly desire because of athletics. I can honestly say that I have never faced those issues as a Division III student-athlete at Wells College and in the NEAC. Everyone in the department of athletics encourages activities outside of athletics and is incredibly accommodating to student-athletes with any conflicts. I know that I am primarily valued as a person as a Division III student-athlete and that is not a privilege that the other divisions always have.”
The North Eastern Athletic Conference has twelve NCAA Division III member institutions which include: Cazenovia College, College of St. Elizabeth, Gallaudet University, Keuka College, Lancaster Bible College, Pennsylvania State University - Abington, Pennsylvania State University - Berks, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Institute of Technology, SUNY Morrisville State College, Wells College, and Wilson College. Bryn Athyn College and Pennsylvania College of the Technology will both join the conference as full members in 2014-15. Associate members are: Cedar Crest College (W Swimming), D’Youville College (M Volleyball), Hilbert College (M Lacrosse & M Volleyball), Medaille College (M&W Lacrosse & M Volleyball), Penn State Altoona (M Volleyball) and Rutgers University - Camden (M Golf & M Tennis). The North Eastern Athletic Conference has partnered with the North Atlantic Conference in the sports of men’s and women’s tennis.