PacWest SAAC has an impact on campus, in the conference and at the NCAA

Sara Bowden By Tom Di Camillo

GRAPEVINE, Tex. – Student-athletes in the Pacific West Conference compete against each other in an arena of competition where outcomes of games are decided, results are exulted and champions are crowned.

But it is in the arena of cooperation where PacWest student-athletes learn life lessons, present their needs, and build lasting relationships with combatants from other teams.

That arena is owned and operated by the PacWest Student Athlete Advisory Council and has been entrusted to Sara Bowden, a Grand Canyon University women’s volleyball player who is representing the hundreds of conference student-athletes at the that NCAA Convention Jan. 16-19 in the Greater Dallas city of Grapevine, Tex.

“All week I have had one thing on my mind – Texas,” Bowden stated in her pre-convention blog. “Texas is the location of the 2013 NCAA Convention and will be taken over by people who are extremely passionate about sports for the entire week. It is my hope that when I am able to speak on the convention floor about any controversial legislation, I will properly express how the student-athletes across the nation feel about the topic as a majority. I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity to represent the phenomenal student-athletes of the PacWest.”

Bowden recognizes her responsibility to all of the student-athletes in the PacWest and the unique opportunity to participate in the NCAA Convention.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to represent the PacWest at the national level the past year and a half,” she said. “As the national SAAC representative, it is my responsibility to be the means of communication between the student-athletes of the PacWest and the NCAA. I am extremely passionate about Division II athletics and absolutely love every minute I have served on this national committee.”

Heading to the NCAA Convention is unique in more than one way for Bowden. She is a repeat customer after attending the convention in frosty Indianapolis in 2012.

“As I prepare for the 2013 NCAA Convention, I flashback to this time last year when I attended my very first NCAA Convention in Indianapolis,” she said. “Although National SAAC was thoroughly prepared for the convention, I had no idea what to anticipate for the week of NCAA meetings. I experienced nerves of excitement before the NCAA daily meetings, much like the nerves I experience before volleyball matches. I was pleasantly surprised with the highly-organized agenda, keynote speakers, and topics of discussion that were brought up among the student-athletes, as well as the athletic directors with the NCAA as a whole.”

Bowden’s experience in 2012 was more exhilarating than she anticipated.

“The NCAA Convention is unlike anything I have ever experienced. NCAA faculty and staff, athletic directors, CEOs of universities, and student-athletes from across the nation attend the NCAA Convention. These representatives are from Division I, II and III schools and they all have an opportunity to be present on the convention floor. It is a formal event in which business attire and professionalism is exemplified from the president of the NCAA all the way down to the student-athletes who are in attendance. The meetings allow everyone to see the success of the NCAA, as well as what needs to be improved.”

While Bowden represents her fellow student-athletes in Texas, her volleyball schedule precluded her from participating in the PacWest SAAC meetings Oct. 5-8 in Anaheim.

It was there that the student-athlete successes were celebrated, new goals implemented and interaction was fostered with athletic administrators from the conference and each member institution.

“My experience at the SAAC Retreat for the PacWest was positive in that it provided me with a deeper understanding of how to communicate with groups in order to reach an understanding, to place focus on what really matters, and how to go about taking action,” Aurel Dan, a Grand Canyon University wrestler, explained. “The student-athletes from the other schools were a great part in what made my experience so beneficial and positive because they shared many great ideas and thoughts that helped to enrich discussions held throughout the event.”

Dan saw a real commitment by participants of the PacWest SAAC Retreat toward the needs of the student-athletes at their institutions.

“Their involvement greatly reflected how much they care for the student-athletes at their respective schools and I greatly respect that about all of them,” he stated. “I could easily see from all of our discussions and how they voted - and their reasoning for how they voted - that they had their school’s student-athletes’ best interests at heart.”

Sierra Sanchez, a multimedia communications/fashion design student, Academy of Art University SAAC president, and Urban Knight women’s golfer echoed Dan’s sentiments about the PacWest SAAC Retreat.

“It was an experience like no other and I am so honored to have been a part of it. This being my first conference, I was very impressed because it greatly exceeded my expectations of the power we hold as SAAC leaders. My favorite part was voting on legislation. The fact that our decisions in this meeting will affect other athletes really made me excited because each school brought different viewpoints to the table so that we could all be well aware of the PacWest as a whole.”

The work by the SAAC committee during the retreat impressed many of the athletic administrators around the conference, including PacWest Commissioner Bob Hogue.

“The two biggest things to come out of this event were the interaction between the SAAC members and the athletic directors where we intertwined their two meetings, and the continuing commitment to Make A Wish,” Hogue said. “The fact that it was our SAAC committee that originally proposed a $2000 per school goal last year - and exceeded that goal to finish in the top five conferences in the nation - and upped that goal to $3000 per school for this year is quite remarkable.”

The student-athletes were engaging, thoughtful and participatory in the meetings, then went out into the community to serve breakfast at the Orange County Rescue Mission. The interaction in the board room, during the service project and at Downtown Disney, all fostered a greater understanding of the Division II student-athlete in the PacWest.

“The discussions we held greatly enhanced my knowledge of the legislation being voted on this year, as well as on how to better create a sense of community on our respective campuses,” Dan said.

“This knowledge is what I brought back to my campus because at GCU we already do a decent job with regards to Make A Wish and placing an effort to solve the issues and problems that student-athletes are having that are ruining the quality of their student-athlete experience. However, the other schools represented at this event discussed what they do in order to create an understanding and respect for diversity on the campus, as well as how to create a sense of community within the campus.”

Jessica Curlett, a tennis player for Dominican University of California, concurred with Dan’s assessment of the retreat.

“The SAAC Retreat, for me, was a wonderful experience. Getting to work with students from other school's SAAC teams was wonderful since we usually only meet across the court. Our school gained a lot of good ideas for our own SAAC and lots of ways to raise money or get people interested in the activities our SAAC throws for the students. It was a great time and a lot of fun.”