GANSEVOORT, N.Y. – For the second year in a row, the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) was delighted to send multiple student-athletes to this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Convention, which was held from January 14-17 in Washington, D.C. The attendance of the seven NEAC student-athletes 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 Alesandria DeSapio (Frenchtown, N.J.), Mark Gaetano (Mechanicville, N.Y.) and Katelyn Haas (Huntingdon Valley, Pa.), juniors Connor Passalacqua (Whitestown, N.Y.) and Cailin Dunphy (Putnam Valley, N.Y.), and sophomores Emma Gross (Abington, Pa.) and Michael Sciotti (North Syracuse, N.Y.) were each chosen to represent the NEAC at the annual convention.
"It has been a rewarding experience bringing such wonderful NEAC student-athletes to the convention for the second year in a row,” said NEAC Commissioner Candice Murray. “They seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly and it gave them tremendous insight to the administrative operations of campus athletic programs, conference operations, and the national association. The experience will be a good building block and resume booster for them as they move past college.”
Passalacqua (left), who 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), made the trip for the second straight year and credited last year’s experience in helping him be better prepared this year as he took on numerous important roles.
“Going into my second convention, my expectations were to be more involved this year having a better understanding on what was going on during the week,” Passalacqua said. “Last year, I didn’t realize how busy the entire week was, so I better prepared myself for this year. I also wanted to make sure to get the voices of the NEAC and NAC student-athletes heard during our meetings so their opinions on those certain topics could be received.”
Compared to a year ago, Passalacqua said “I felt more involved in the conversations held, I had a better understanding of what was being discussed, and I was overall more relaxed during the week.”
“Sitting in on the NEAC (athletics director) meetings and being asked for a student-athlete’s opinion on issues, I came out of them with a greater understanding of how the conference works, the different points of view that exist within the conference and how issues are viewed from a conference perspective,” noted Gaetano (right), a four-year member and two-time captain of the SUNY Cobleskill men’s soccer team.
“These meetings made me realize that a lot goes into making sure the NEAC will be successful for many years to come,” reflected Sciotti, a member of the Wells College men’s soccer team. “The biggest thing I realized is that student-athletes can be greatly affected from certain outcomes at these meetings. It was great for all of us to be able to voice our opinions on certain issues.”
“I learned that there is so much more behind our sports teams than just playing games,” said Gross, a member of the Bryn Athyn College women’s cross country team who also serves in the school’s SAAC group. “It was interesting to hear the athletic directors and their opinions on issues, and then the president’s thoughts on the same issues.”
“I think the most significant thing I learned being involved with the NEAC meetings was how the conference is structured, and seeing what it takes to make things run as smoothly as they do,” added DeSapio (left), SAAC President for the College of Saint Elizabeth and three-sport athlete for the Eagles.
In addition to those conference meetings, the group attended multiple sessions at the national level, including the NCAA Division III-specific issues forum, business session and legislative session, along with numerous NCAA educational workshops that focused on topics such as sexual harassment and violence prevention, gender equity, and student-athlete health and wellness.
Sciotti enjoyed attending the business session, stating that it was “very cool to see conferences from Division III vote on legislation that could greatly affect student-athletes.”
DeSapio and Gross particularly enjoyed the student-athlete health and wellness session.
“I think that most programs focus on physical training and fail to look at student-athlete mental wellness, which this session touched on in great detail,” noted DeSapio.
“All of the statistics were really interesting to hear, and there was a lot of information that was important to helping athletes stay healthy and perform at their best,” added Gross (right).
Passalacqua was able to serve on the panel for that session alongside NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline and fellow National SAAC member Amanda Ingersoll from Stevens Institute of Technology. Passalacqua described his role in the session as a rewarding experience that allowed him to “speak on behalf of Division III student-athletes.”
“We were able to meet with all 80 non-national SAAC members that attended and [we] had a blast,” said Passalacqua, who was subsequently elected to serve on the Committee on Competitive Safe Guards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) that is also composed of doctors, trainers, and sport science researchers from around the country. “Most of us expected them to be nervous because convention can be quite stressful at times, but they were focused and had a lot of questions for us, which made us excited!”
Passalacqua and the rest of the student-athletes also got to bond as a group, rooming together for the week while doing some sightseeing in the nation’s capital during their evening downtime.
“Meeting the student-athletes of the conferences I represent is the best feeling in the world,” Passalacqua said. “I was able to spend four days with student-athletes of the NEAC and NAC, and by the end of the fourth day, we were acting like best friends. We may compete against each other on the court or field, but it’s the love of the game that keeps us together.”
The group also got to enjoy a personal dinner with Commissioner Murray when they all first arrived to D.C., allowing them to get to know each other while helping ease their transition to the busy convention schedule that would lie ahead during the rest of their time there.
“Having dinner together the night we all arrived provided a good starting point for the journey we took at convention,” Murray said. “It was a casual yet important element in getting to know one another and set expectations for the rest of the week.”
“Dinner with Candice was a lot of fun! I had never met her in person before so it was nice to get to talk to her about other things besides the logistics of the convention and the plans to get there,” said Gross, referring to the conference calls the group had with Murray prior to leaving for convention.
The dinner even led to a fun challenge, as the student-athletes convinced Murray to ride on a mechanical bull along with them and cheered her on as she held on for a total of four seconds.
“Personal-best time,” Murray noted with a laugh.
Along with those opening-night memories, the rest of week seemed to be just as rewarding for the group.
“The NCAA convention was a wonderful experience,” Sciotti (left) said. “The experience was very beneficial and allowed me to see all of the hard work that goes into running the NEAC and Division III as a whole.”
For Gaetano, the experience left him as reassured as ever about his future career plans.
“I have always known that I wanted to be involved in athletics as a career, but after attending the convention and seeing how the NCAA works up close and personal, it reinforced for me that athletic administration is what I want to do as my career,” explained Gaetano. “Ultimately, I would now like to be an athletics director at the collegiate level someday.”
Dunphy (right), a member of the Morrisville State College women’s lacrosse team, was also grateful for the experience, as she noted in this video interview taken at the convention.
For more information on this year’s convention, including highlights and videos, please visit the convention page of the NCAA website here.
The North Eastern Athletic Conference has fourteen NCAA Division III member institutions which include: Bryn Athyn College, Cazenovia College, College of St. Elizabeth, Gallaudet University, Keuka College, Lancaster Bible College, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Pennsylvania State University - Abington, Pennsylvania State University - Berks, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Institute of Technology, SUNY Morrisville State College, Wells College, and Wilson College. 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). The North Eastern Athletic Conference has partnered with the North Atlantic Conference in the sports of men’s and women’s tennis.