By Lindsay Ewing '15, CCE Athletic Liaison
The Amherst Women's Ice Hockey team competed with fervor this season and finished the year third in the NESCAC. Like any successful team, the student-athletes skated with tenacity, skill, and teamwork. Yet it was their "attitude of gratitude" that set coach Jeff Matthews and his student-athletes apart.
The team organized two days of "Junior Jeffs" hockey clinics for aspiring female players—the first in Amherst and second in West Springfield—during their only weekend off from competition. Just days later, the student-athletes teamed up with rival Williams during a home contest to fight breast cancer with the college's inaugural "Pink in the Rink" event. "Pink in the Rink" is a national campaign through which teams pick a specific important game at which to fundraise for the American Cancer Society with raffles, activities, and proceeds from ticket sales.
The events allowed the team to engage with the local, NESCAC, and national communities. "We've had an 'attitude of gratitude' be a focus of ours this season," remarked Matthews. The activities reminded the Amherst student-athletes of why they initially decided to play hockey and of the sacrifices parents, coaches, and communities made to help them achieve their goals.
The Jeffs may have scant free time, but they kept the rink busy even during their lone weekend off. On Saturday, January 19, the team hosted aspiring female hockey players between the ages of 10 and 14 at Orr Rink.
"The team ran multiple stations and small games on the ice, gave the players a locker room tour, described a typical game day, showed a highlight video of the Championship history of Amherst Women's Hockey, and socialized over pizza and cookies," described assistant coach Stephanie Clegg '12, who played an instrumental role in the organization of the events.
The following day, Amherst traveled to West Springfield to put on a clinic for girls between the ages of four and 12 from the Greater Springfield Hockey League of Western, Mass. The Amherst student-athletes enjoyed a few hours of carefree skating and gave the girls some quality coaching and fun.
The young athletes were excited to receive some advice from collegiate role models.
"They were constantly smiling and eager to absorb any wisdom from the older girls," said Clegg. "They were timid at first but after they were paired with an Amherst player and put on an Amherst uniform, they immediately bonded and opened up."
The team fostered a silly, playful attitude in the rink on both days. Matthews and his student-athletes wanted to emphasize that even at the college level, they play and coach because they love their teammates and the sport. "Too often we take for granted our opportunity to study and compete at Amherst," said Clegg. "The excitement of slipping on an Amherst jersey can wane. Seeing the young players' faces reminds us of the real reasons we play."
The Amherst athletes aimed to inspire the younger players to believe in themselves, be confident, and pursue their dreams in hockey and life. Simultaneously, the eager athletes reminded the Jeffs to appreciate their tenure on the ice and in the classroom at Amherst.
"The goal for a lot of them is to play collegiate hockey at a school like this," explained senior tri-captain Geneva Lloyd. "As a student who is already here, it gives you some perspective on how lucky you are."
"Pink in the Rink"
On Saturday, February 2 the Jeffs teamed up with the Willams to fundraise and join in the fight against breast cancer. During the game—which Amherst won 4-2—football and field hockey players orchestrated a bake sale and raffle to help their classmates' efforts. The community donated all proceeds to the American Cancer Society. Orr Rink was a sea of pink as fans from both sides traded their traditional purple attire for the iconic color of breast cancer support. Both teams sported pink laces, tape, and ribbons to help raise awareness.
"It was amazing to see the athletic community come together to support the hockey team and such a great cause," remarked field hockey player Annika Nygren '16. "The energy in the rink was awesome."
The game raised over $1,500 for the American Cancer Society. Given its inaugural success, the Jeffs hope to make the event a tradition with the rival Ephs. The enthusiasm of the fans and student-athletes transcended an exciting afternoon of NESCAC hockey. The supporters and players deconstructed boundaries in support of a cause larger than collegiate competition and sport.
"The resulting overall 'spirit' of the event enhanced our faith in each other and hope for an eventual cure," explained Matthews. 'I was so proud and impressed with our community."
Lindsay Ewing '15 is one of four Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect student-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 Kate Beemer '15 at firstname.lastname@example.org, Caroline Broder '15 at email@example.com, or Nell Patterson '15 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Lindsay Ewing '15 at email@example.com so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.