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Ole Miss Student Athletes Give Back

Being a college athlete means more than making big plays or bringing home a championship trophy. It means being a role model. With this in mind, the University of Mississippi requires its student athletes to give back to the community.

Photo by Robert Jordan of Ole Miss Communications
Photo by Robert Jordan of Ole Miss Communications

In 1991, the NCAA created the Champ Life Skills program to help student athletes across the country grow into positive roll models. The Rebel Ready program, as it is called at Ole Miss, states that its mission is “to challenge our student athletes to be lifelong learners while pursuing continuous improvement academically, relationally, socially, personally, and professionally during and beyond their careers as student athletes.”

The Champs Life Skills department at Ole Miss sponsors a wide range of programs for student athletes broken into six areas: student-athlete assistance services, career development, continuing education, community outreach, financial education, and career transition. Rebel Ready is far more than a community service requirement.

Former football player Dr. Jamil Northcutt serves as the Assistant Athletics Director for Internal Operations and is responsible for arranging the community service opportunities for student athletes. However, prior to his current position, Northcutt said that he remembers participating in Rebel Ready when he was a student athlete from 1999 to 2003.

“A lot of the things we did then, we do now.” Northcutt said. “Reading with the Rebels, I remember that. I also remember going to Azalea Gardens and helping the elderly there.”

The Athletic Department is known for its volunteer efforts and for hosting various events around the Oxford and University communities.  As part of Disability Awareness Month, specifically April and October, the Athletic Department organizes various events to spread the word that just because a student is in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean he or she can’t be an athlete.

For example, the Ole Miss tennis teams hosted an exhibition match in conjunction with Student Disability Services and the Exercise Science department. Members of the USA National Wheelchair Tennis team joined the Rebels to play a series of matches with the hope of bringing awareness to athletes confined to wheelchairs.

In April 2013, the Athletic Department organized the first annual faculty/staff Rollin’ Rebels wheelchair basketball tournament. Even Athletic Director Ross Bjork used a wheelchair to bring awareness to the cause.

“It’s a blast to watch and to participate,” HottyToddy.com Sports Editor Adam Brown said. “As a disabled person, it’s not only a great cause, but it’s a whole lot of fun.”

Photo by Nathan Latil of Ole Miss Communications
Photo by Nathan Latil of Ole Miss Communications

Ole Miss senior linebacker and defensive end DT Shackelford said his favorite community service opportunity so far was a week-long mission trip to Panama City, Panama. In March 2013, a handful of Ole Miss football players, led by Shackelford, traveled to Central America to speak to schools, help at orphanages, feed the homeless, and even organize a free football clinic.

According to Shackelford, visiting a tropical country for spring break was a plus, but being able to give back to those who are less fortunate brought the Alabama-native immense joy.

“It had a lot to do with helping with basic needs, but also showing people Jesus Christ. It was nice to get out of our little community here and spread our message even further,” said Shackelford.

Shackelford recently returned to the field after being out for the past two seasons due to injury. However, the injury never stopped him from giving back to the community. He has consistently volunteered with various organizations, both on and off campus. In October 2013, Shackelford was named the SEC Community Service Player of the Week.

“That was a huge accomplishment that I was glad to have,” said Shackelford. “It lets you know that football is more than just football.”

Ole Miss student athletes have participated in a variety of community outreach organizations, including Reading with Rebels, Move Mississippi, Leap Frog, and Adopt a Basket. They also visit hospitals and hosts several ‘Meet the Rebels’ days through out the year.

“Our students have always been involved in the community,” said Northcutt.  “Sometimes they don’t get recognized for it. We know it’s not to get recognized; it’s about helping other people and serving them.”

Northcutt believes that players gain as much from community outreach they give. Often times student athletes come from hard times and similar backgrounds as the groups they help, which makes the experience personal and humbling for all involved.

“They can be an inspiration to individuals showing that they too can make it,” said Northcutt.

Shackelford said that no matter the amount of recognition, it’s most important “to keep on trying to do our part and give back every chance we get.”

– Amanda Wilson is a student in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media

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