The NCAA Division I National SAAC is proud to announct the two winners of the Fall 2009 National SAAC Award of Excellence. University of Houston Cougars

In years past, The University of Houston’ Student-Athlete Council might have been considered "a sleeping giant" – a group with enormous potential but not much activity. But thanks to new leadership, student-athletes have been moving forward full throttle in the 2009-2010 school year. Only six weeks into the fall 2009 term, the UH Student-athlete council has already met four times – every other week. In this short time, the SAAC has created and implemented a SAAC webpage and committed to 5 community service events for fall: the American Diabetes "Step Up" Walk in November, the Houston Marathon Kids Kick-Off on October 10th, the Harvard Elementary School Literacy Night on October 20th, the Star of Hope Holiday Party on the first Monday in December, and a Cookies and Milk Event with Star of Hope Homeless Shelter residents in November (which will be come a monthly event).

Through the newly founded "Coog for a Coog" program, a SAAC led initiative, the group ask those who are not practicing or competing to attend their fellow student-athletes competitions. Turn out by student-athletes has increased dramatically at Womens' Soccer and Volleyball games, and student-athletes were all seated together to provide additional support to our football team at a Sept. 26th, nationally televised game.
The SAAC has also increased its leadership goals by inviting a Head Coach and an Athletic Administrator to each meeting to share their insights from a leadership perspective and to increase communication between the athletic department and its student-athletes. One of the SAAC representatives is also a member of the Student Government Association and our SAAC is in discussion with the SGA President to determine whether Athletics can have its own seat in UH Student Government.

Further, the SAAC has composed a list of short-term and long-term goals that are aimed at improving the UH community and student-athlete welfare. Two of those goals are the installation of an indoor bike rack to reduce theft of student-athlete bikes and encourage a ‘greener; way of living, as well as a "healthy options" food/sandwich cart that would improve lunch/snack options for student-athletes and staff by providing better choices than the nearby fast food chains.

In addition, the SAAC Officers are now meeting once a month with the Director of Athletics to discuss implementing their goals and to express the concerns of UH student-athletes. Communication, visibility, accountability and the development of understanding and respect between teams has been the immediate result of the increased activity and expansion of UH SAAC.

The Houston SAAC President, Clark Mitzner, was also elected C-USA SAAC Chair and attended the NCAA Leadership Development Conference last summer to increase his knowledge of best practices and his leadership abilities.

Finally, the University of Houston recently celebrated homecoming last weekend. In an effort to narrow the gap between students and student-athletes, each team had the opportunity to participate in the Homecoming Parade with a decorated Golf Cart. Teams came up with a theme and decorated their carts. Themes included Track and Field’s “Beat it” by Michael Jackson (Beat the Mustangs), while the Swimming and Diving Team kept to the water (Drown the Mustangs!).

In all, it is safe to say that the “Sleeping Giant” has been awakened, and that the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at the University of Houston is quite alive and active. The National SAAC is proud to recognize the University of Houston as one of the recipients of the Fall 2009 National SAAC Award of Excellence. Houston’s student-athletes have shown that inter-sport team work, collaboration, and support can go a long way. The many accomplishments of your student-athletes this fall semester set a great example for the untapped potential within student-athlete groups all over the country. Keep up the good work, and congratulations!

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
The student-athlete advisory committee at the University of Minnesota is rooted in a number of traditions that have had an incredibly deep impact on its surrounding communities. For quite some time, the Minnesota SAAC has served as a great example of how institutions around the country are working with student-athletes to give back to their communities. This year marked the 3rd annual “Allianz HopeKids HopeDay Festival.” The event is held on the first Sunday of the semester as a “welcome back” to student athletes. More importantly however, is the HopeDay festival which accompanies the event.

The HopeDay festival included sporting clinics from all 25 Gopher sports and student-athletes, including a dunk tank by the swim teams and obstacle course with the men's and women's track and field teams. Along with the student-athlete clinics, there are a variety of other activities for kids and families to attend, including pony rides, a petting zoo, a rock-climbing wall and face painting. The event drew over 500 student-athletes and over 1,400 members from the HopeKids organization.

HopeKids is an organization which gives hope to children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and their families by participating in ongoing, highly anticipated events with the message of hope. The idea is that hope, in and of itself, is a very powerful medicine.
Eric Decker, a U of M football student-athlete was one of many student-athletes helping with HopeDay. "The whole time, you could tell the younger kids were definitely looking up to the college players. It wasn't that they were in awe; I think they just wanted a buddy." Decker explained, "Being around those kids, I realize how fortunate I am to be where I am at Minnesota."
While the Minnesota SAAC holds a number of community events on their campus, they also have many opportunities to go out into the community to touch lives. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Minnesota SAAC was the acquisition of a 21-passenger bus specifically used for community service. St. Jude Medical Foundation donated the bus largely in part to all the work that SAAC does in the Twin Cities community. St. Jude Medical Foundation was extremely impressed with the U of M SAAC and even had the bus wrapped in Gopher graphics, including action photos of student-athletes. Not only is this bus used to bring University of Minnesota student-athletes out into the community, but it is also used to bring young students on to the University of Minnesota campus for special programming. The M.A.G.I.C. (Maroon and Gold Impacting the Community) Bus bus was on the road six times in the first two weeks of the 2009-2010 school year, and is set to navigate the roads of the Twin Cities bringing education, fun and excitement to area youth for years to come.
The University of Minnesota and its initiative within the Minneapolis/St. Paul community makes them an exceptionally deserving candidate of the National SAAC Award of Excellence. While community service and outreach is not the only impressive facet of the student-athletes at the University of Minnesota, it is certainly noteworthy and very deserving of recognition. The NCAA Division I National SAAC is honored to recognize the University of Minnesota as one of the recipients of the Fall 2009 National SAAC Award of Excellence.Congratulations to both the University of Houston and the University of Minnesota. Your initiative, leadership qualities, and community outreach are exemplary qualities, and we are happy to present you both with this award.
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