Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Barbara Donaldson at the Ronald McDonald House
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Cats Compete for the Community
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: April 10, 2014
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The University of Arizona has a long history of serving the community, and every year the team with the most hours served per athlete is awarded The Athletic Director’s Cup for Community Service (ADCCS). The goal of the award is to encourage community service and recognize the team that has worked the hardest to give back to the community.

Even when doing community service where the reward is in the action itself, Arizona athletes like to let their competitiveness serve as motivation as displayed by the men’s tennis and gymnastics teams.

The gymnastics team has won the award eight times in the past nine years, solidifying themselves as the team to beat, and the men’s tennis team may be the ones to do it.

Gymnastics head coach Bill Ryden recognizes the dedication that it takes to consistently do the most community service hours, and he gives credit where credit is due.

“It is an award they take very personally and they work on themselves,” Ryden said.  “In all honesty, I don’t take credit for this award at all. It comes from the team, and it is a goal that they set for themselves.”

While Ryden appreciates community service, he makes it very clear that he is not the team’s source of motivation when it comes to getting hours. 

“They monitor their own hours and activities, and as they get older I think it becomes more and more of a place of pride with them,” Ryden said. “I think they do it because they enjoy and recognize the importance of giving back and because they have kind of established their own tradition as top community service doers.”     

Barbara Donaldson, a senior on the gymnastics team, plans and coordinates all of the community service projects that the team does. This position gives her the responsibility of trying to maintain the gymnastics team’s long tradition of serving the community.

“I think that it is important to give back to the community in a way that is heart-felt,” Donaldson said. “Our community supports Arizona athletics so much.  The older you get, the more important you think the community service is because you get to see the looks of appreciation on people’s faces when we get to help them.”

Team manager Aubree Cristillo, a former U of A gymnast, oversaw community service the same way that Donaldson does now. While the goal of the ADCCS is to encourage Wildcat involvement in the community, Cristillo and the rest of the gymnastics team use it as an opportunity for friendly competition and bragging rights.

“We have won six or seven times in a row,” Cristillo said, “So it is kind of on the seniors to make sure that we are really out there and having a good time helping the community. There is a little fun competition between the teams who try to beat each other by having more hours, but in the end we do it because it is a good experience and a lot of fun.”

Donaldson is well aware of the tradition that the gymnastics team has when it comes to community service, and she keeps the competitive nature alive.

“There definitely is a little competition between the sports teams,” Donaldson said, “Most of the competition is because a lot of teams have tried to beat us, but we have still managed to win since I’ve been at the U of A. There is a lot of pressure to keep winning the award.”

Although the gymnastics team has won the award all but once over the last nine years, the hard work that is put in by other sports teams cannot be ignored. The men’s tennis team donates a significant amount of time out of their schedule, and they are not far behind the gymnastics team’s hours.

Men’s tennis head coach Tad Berkowitz sees community service as a responsibility, not a competition, that the student athletes take on when they join the program.

“I think that a student athlete’s three main responsibilities are: One, make sure you are taking care of your business in the classroom, two, wining matches on the tennis court, and number three is community service,” Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz knows that helping the community has benefits for the athletes and helps put things into perspective.

“It’s a privilege, not a right to be able to play college tennis at the University of Arizona,” Berkowitz said. “These guys understand that, and we need to make sure we are doing our part to get out in the community. It is good for our guys. It is a great learning experience for them to understand that it is not all about them, and they need to help out others as much as they can.”

Although Berkowitz expects his athletes to serve the community, it is clear that the young men on his team see the bigger picture.

“For us it is important to give back to the community,” senior captain Mario Urquidi said. “They support us so much and they are always here at our matches. We get a really good feeling when we see the excitement and gratitude from the people we help in the U of A and general Tucson community.”

Being a senior has given Urquidi perspectives that come with experience and time.

“Sometimes, when you are a freshman you’re like, ‘Why do I have to do this?’, Urquidi said. “But once you get through a couple years of seeing the appreciation and meaningfulness of it, you learn to value the time that you spend giving back.”

Although this is her first year at Arizona, gymnastics freshman Mackenzie Valentin is already a believer in the importance of community service.

“I think that community service is important for everyone, especially athletes because we make such a big impact in the community, and we have the ability to do so much good.” Valentin said. “I always see the excitement from the people we go to help when we come in the room, especially the employees at Ben’s Bells who all recognize us and are really appreciative.”

All U of A athletes give back to the community by spending time with children, reading,

playing tennis, or in some way trying to positively influence their lives.

The men’s tennis team also participates in programs like Habitat for Humanity and speaks to teenagers in juvenile detention centers. Every athlete has a program that is closest to them and affects them the most, and men’s tennis senior Kieren Thompson has a lot of projects to remember.

“The one that sticks with me is when we went to the juvenile detention center at the start of the semester,” Thompson said. “I think it was really eye-opening for most of the players on the team. A few of the kids in there are really struggling with life and don’t have many mentors to guide them, and it was nice to see our players connect with them.”

Berkowitz believes that Habitat for Humanity is one of the most important projects that his team participates in, and he likes the fact that their hard work is instantly visible. 

“I would have to say Habitat for Humanity it is my favorite out of all the projects we do because having a house is such a life changing difference for anyone in need,” Berkowitz. “It is great to give mothers the opportunity to raise their kids in a nice house, and I think the fact that we are a part of that is huge.”

Ryden knows that even if you cannot see the impact of community service, it is there.

“Our sport is very much a family sport,” Ryden said. “It’s not just teenagers and adults that look up to the girls, but some young children that idolize them as well. Our assistant coach (Randi Acosta) was one of those young children who grew up in the stands watching us, and being out in the community strengthens the bond we have with our young fans.”

By serving the community, the Wildcats not only positively influence the lives of young people, but they also strengthen their sport by being role models to the young fans and epitomize what it means to be an Arizona athlete. 

Bear Down Challenge Gymnastics