For over a decade, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) members from each of the SoCon's twelve member institutions have been traveling to Black Mountain, N.C. to discuss a plethora of leadership characteristics and strategies at the league sponsored Student-Athlete Leadership Institute (SALI). The group that assembled July 15-17, 2011 found themselves to be the newly appointed Southern Conference SAAC. SALI has always afforded student-athletes the opportunity to learn from their peers and presenters and take what information they have gained back to their campuses to improve their experiences, collectively and individually. The group at SALI will act as a league-wide SAAC to improve league efforts by working together toward common goals.
The weekend began Friday afternoon as three or four student-athletes and an administrator from each institution harnessed their art skills to create a poster to illustrate their school, campus, town, ideologies or how to successfully kayak to class. After presenting their posters, the group was split into seven sections and began team-building and leadership exercises. Equipped with a paper cup, straws, rubber bands, paperclips and a notecard each team had a few minutes to create something from seven unrelated items. A boat, shako, basketball hoop, sling shot and a hot-air balloon turned flower in a pot were some of the creations.
Mixed with the team exercises, the group heard from Southern Conference Commissioner, John Iamarino, who gave an update on league activities and asked for input from the students on these topics. The program continued with Nelson Bobb, former Athletic Director at UNCG and Chris Everett, the SoCon's Division I National SAAC representative. Bobb engaged the student-athletes with a presentation on decision making. The information he provided was so well received that several attendees requested his services at their school SAAC meetings or with their respective teams. Everett, who was participating in his third SALI weekend, addressed the group with ideas he took back from national meetings, including successful SAAC practices. He also touched on more broad ideas like making a positive impression and building your own personal brand.
The weekend was not all classroom work. Saturday afternoon found the group testing their resolve and teamwork on a ropes course. There was even time for everyone's favorite pizza, a few intense games of dodgeball and 18 holes on the local mini golf course.
As the weekend drew to a close Sunday morning, Heath Eslinger, Chattanooga head wresting coach and a 1999 SALI participant addressed the group about how far the program has come from his days as a student participant. Eslinger challenged everyone to return to their campuses and implement one or two new ideas and "knock it out of the park."
Friendships were crafted, bonds were built and every student, administrator and member of the conference office, walked away with a renewed desire to make a difference on campus, within the league and throughout life.