Center for Community Engagement

Amherst LEADS holds 'Caring Deeply' community engagement event aimed at first-year student-athletes


Joey Cheek
April 2012—story by Reilly Horan ’13

On Tuesday, March 29, the Amherst LEADS program hosted an event to encourage student-athletes to engage in their community. The event, called “Caring Deeply,” is the fifth part of a year-long series of events directed at first-year student-athletes as part of the First-Year Initiative program. 

“Essentially what we were trying to get at in this segment was the idea that we need to expand our idea of leadership from within athletics to outside of that sphere,” Gregg DiNardo, director of Amherst LEADS, commented. “This is an effort to go outside the boundaries of athletics and be leaders in the community.” 

The hour-long event was broken down into three parts: an exercise with two of the Athletics Liaisons from the Center for Community Engagement; an interactive exercise using the canned goods that each student-athlete brought with them to the event; and a keynote speech from headliner Joey Cheek, Olympic speed skater and activist for the crisis in Darfur. 

Athletics Liaisons Roshard Bryant ’13 and Irene Hickey ’13 started the night off with introductions, explaining that their role is to pair sports teams with community engagement initiatives. They conducted an exercise about community engagement, asking the student-athletes to rank a list of examples of community engagement projects and analyze those choices. 

“It was an activity designed to encourage discussion about how students perceive community engagement and how they can incorporate it into their lives,” Hickey noted.  “One thing that came out of it was a trend in how many of the athletes did their rankings,” Bryant added. The list included initiatives ranging from holding a sports clinic for a youth group to helping an elderly woman cross the street. “As they ranked each project, we found athletes wanted to use their skills— team building, one-on-one contact with people, communication, and physical activity— to get involved with their community.” 

Part of the Athletics Liaisons’ process to get teams involved is finding a project that resonates with team members. Bryant and Hickey work to make sustainable matches between teams and a cause that interests those teams. 

Next, the student-athletes participated in the more interactive component of the night: designing and playing a mini-golf course made out of the canned goods that they had brought in to be donated to the Amherst Survival Center later that week. 

After some games, the student-athletes re-gathered to hear from the night’s keynote speaker, Joey Cheek.  Cheek won the Olympic gold medal for 500 meter speed skating and the silver for 1000 meter in Turin, Italy in 2006 and the bronze medal for 1000 meter in Salt Lake City in 2002.  The attention Cheek has received for his athletic achievements allowed him to focus on philanthropic causes— and, Cheek has argued, this has been more important than winning Olympic medals.

Cheek has helped raise awareness about the crisis in Darfur, Sudan and most famously used his post-win Olympic press conference in 2006 to talk about the cause and pledge his winnings to it instead of talking about the race. 

“Joey basically made the observation that he had worked his whole life, skating in circles, to win the gold. Now what?” DiNardo reflected. “He talked about the need for athletes to gain some perspective and work towards some good outside of their athletic arenas.” 

The event challenged first-year student-athletes to reflect on what they wanted their legacy to be after graduation from Amherst. Amherst LEADS aims to nuance the definition of the student-athlete.  Student-athletes, among many things, should be good time managers, role models, teammates, and leaders.  “Caring Deeply” aimed to focus on the student-athlete as a community engager. 

“We’ve prided ourselves on our statistic that 100% of teams participate in community engagement. What we did that night was try to ingrain that philosophy in our next wave of leaders.” DiNardo noted. “Leadership encompasses so much. Within LEADS, it’s easy to think about athletics— better teammates, better captains— but we want to create better people.” 

Reilly Horan ’13 is one of three Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect athletes and coaches to the resources of the Center for Community Engagement and work to create a sustainable culture of service within the Athletics Department. 

If your team is looking for community engagement projects, contact Roshard Bryant ’13 at or Irene Hickey ’13 at for advice and resources or visit their office hours in the Center for Community Engagement (in Keefe Campus Center) every Friday from 10am-12pm. If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Reilly Horan ’13 at so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.