Jan. 26, 2004
Brad Wanchulak is a junior on the Notre Dame hockey team. He and his teammates, as well as, all the student-athletes in the Notre Dame athletic department participate in various community service programs that are overseen by Notre Dame's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). A native of Edson, Alberta, Wanchulak has been involved in community service work throughout his hockey career. Here is a recent first-person story that Wanchulak wrote for CCHA.com.
This is my third year at Notre Dame and during my time here, the hockey team has become more prominent when it comes to community service work. For the first time since I've been here, we have one player who oversees the events we participate in.
So far this season, the two main events we've been involved in are the Buddy Walk in the fall and the Pediatric Christmas Party that came during finals in December. The Christmas party is an annual event that all Notre Dame student-athletes are involved in. The Buddy Walk was a walk involving kids with Down's syndrome and was attended by the hockey, baseball and softball teams.
We've also been involved with Habitat for Humanity where the student-athletes work to paint and repair houses in the South Bend area. This is an all day event in the spring that is very tiring, but very rewarding at the end of the day.
Notre Dame, as a school, is very involved in giving something back to the community. Since our school is isolated within the city, we really don't get to have a lot of interaction with the local community and most of our time is spent with other students on a regular basis. The programs we have give us a chance to get out into the community and represent our school in a positive way.
Personally, growing up in Canada, I was always around small towns with populations from 8,000 to 14,000. In those communities, everyone knew who the hockey players were. It was nice to be able to get a group of players together and do things to benefit the local community. The big one that I always participated in was the Terry Fox Run, which is big in Canada as it raises money all across the country for cancer research. Terry Fox was the young man who ran across Canada with one leg to raise money for cancer in the 1980's and it is run every year.
It has always been a part of hockey for players to be involved in giving something back to the community. We get to know a lot of people from being athletes. This gives them a chance to see us without equipment on and they see that we are real people too.
I know that all sports are involved in community service work, but growing up in hockey, it seems like hockey players at all levels are heavily involved in helping people. I remember a TV show in Canada - That's Hockey - were they showed hockey players at every single level - youth, juniors, college, minors and the NHL - getting involved in their community. No one was forcing them; this was just something these guys did.
Here at Notre Dame, our Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) coordinates the things we do. Every team has a representative on the committee with ours being senior defenseman Neil Komadoski. Neil has been the chairman of the SAAC community service sub-committee the last two years and has been instrumental in keeping the team involved.
Eric Guerra is the program coordinator who oversees everything that SAAC does. We are very fortunate to have someone like Eric working with the student-athletes. You can go to him with ideas and he takes it from there. He's great at developing the ideas and then incorporating all the student-athletes and teams into the program. He takes every opinion to heart and tries to do what's best for everyone. He's good at organizing events and delegating jobs to get everyone involved.
I attended the last SAAC meeting in December because Neil was sick and we talked about working with two communities - the Notre Dame community and the local community. We really want to show the other students and faculty that we are aren't just here on scholarship or a free ride. We want to be able to give back to the school and the community.
Through the things we do at Notre Dame, I have become good friends with a Down's syndrome child. His name is Brian Hendricks and he comes to our games and practices. We go skating and spend time together. He's the one who got me involved with the Buddy Walk. This past fall, he told me he wanted a piggyback ride at the Walk. I didn't realize he meant for the whole walk and I carried him for the two miles. All my teammates and the other teams involved had a great time.
To me, that's a key. Our guys have fun doing these events. We go for a half-hour or an hour and it turns into two hours and it doesn't seem to matter. There is nothing better than seeing the looks on the kids faces at a hospital or a school when these big guys come walking in and talk to them.
It's always neat when you are at the mall or around town and you see someone from one of the appearances and you wave at them. They get all excited that you remembered them. Then there are the kids who muster up the courage to come talk to you. They say, 'Hey Brad do you remember me from coming to my school,' or something like that. They are smiling from ear to ear and you know that you've got a fan for life.
Dealing with the community really gives Notre Dame and in our case - the hockey program - a positive image. That also translates into a lot of responsibility for us. You can't act one way in one place and then act totally different in another.
If you are preaching or dedicating yourself to something then you better do it all the time, especially with kids. They are so impressionable. If you're acting in an inappropriate manner, they are just going to mimic you. They look at you and think he's doing that and he's my hero, well then it's okay for me to do it too.
It puts you in the spotlight. You become a role model and that's okay with me. If I can make a difference in someone's life then taking the time and getting involved was well worth it for me.
- By Brad Wanchulak