Taking time out for children

Between classes, practice, games and studying, Northwestern athletes such as Sara Jurek don’t have a lot of free time.

But Jurek, a member of NU’s varsity cross country team, found time to volunteer for the Sporting Chance Foundation on Saturday, managing the relay station in an all-girl’s field day.

Jurek, a Weinberg junior, said she developed a bond with the first- through third-graders who participated in the games because they shared a love of sports.

“It’s fun to see them get so excited,” Jurek said. “They’re not doing it to win anything, they just do it because they really like it.”

Jurek is among the many NU athletes who participate in community service in their spare time, either individually or with their teams.

“Time is a factor,” said Betsi Burns Jacobson, an academic adviser who handles most of the athletes’ involvement with service. “They don’t have much of it.”

But athletes are more than willing to participate when they do get the chance, she said.

A service project all NU varsity teams work on together is a food drive benefitting Family Focus, a nonprofit family support center in Evanston. The athletes will be at the Nov. 18 football game against the University of Illinois collecting food.

Family Focus is the main community service organization that the athletes work with, Burns Jacobson said.

For more than eight years, varsity athletes have helped in a variety of ways, including tutoring and spending time with children. The partnership began when a former student-athlete started working there and called coaches to get involved, said Delores Holmes, director of Family Focus.

Athletes and Family Focus also collaborate on NU Field Day, held at Ryan Field in May. Family Focus buses in 80 children to play sports with each of the teams. Last year, 15 of the 18 varsity teams turned out for NU Field Day. The ones who didn’t were in post-season play.

Coaches also help organize community service projects for their teams.

Pat Goss, head coach of the men’s golf team, said he thinks it is important for athletes to share their knowledge of the sport with others.

Goss said the team particularly enjoyed working with the Maryville Academy in February 1999. The team took about 12 students from the academy to its indoor golf facilities and had contests, games and prizes.

“We went out to pizza afterwards and had a great time,” Goss said. Some of the athletes and children exchanged e-mail addresses.

April Ecke, head coach of the women’s cross country team, said the team has done several events together. Last spring they went to Orrington Elementary School to help the students get ready for a Run-a-Thon.

“It’s important to give back to the community, especially since so many people support Northwestern athletics,” Ecke said.