Student-athletes know how a little encouragement can go a long way. A group of South Carolina student-athletes made an effort to pay it forward recently after sitting down with youths at the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia and the Upstate Evaluation Center in Union, S.C., to discuss “A Day in the Life of a Student-Athlete.” Some of the student-athletes interned at the D.J.J. as part of South Carolina’s Beyond Sports Professional Development and Summer Internship Program.
“It started out being about athletics because some of them want to be professional athletes,” said senior Regina Schreiber of the track and field/cross county teams, who was joined by senior teammate Sarah Taylor at the Upstate Evaluation Center. “But as we went on, it was more about how to better yourself and to become independent individuals who can operate successfully in college and in life in general.”
“A lot of those kids are only seeing the white walls where they are right now, so it was important for me to be able to tell them there are opportunities when they get out,” said Jacob August, a red-shirt junior on the football team, who participated in the discussion at the Columbia facility. “It’s important that your first mistake isn’t the last thing for you. The message was that you’ll have a second opportunity, and you need to make the most of it. We all gave them examples of how we didn’t handle situations the right way, and how we wanted to take steps to make sure it didn’t happen again.”
The opportunity came about after a meeting with administrators within the Department of Juvenile Justice.
“They were able to see first-hand how these young people were successful, and that they could do it too with college and being successful in high school,” said Robert Snipes, Assistant Director at the Job Readiness Training Center for the Department of Juvenile Justice. “A lot of them may have thought it was out of reach, but it got them excited about becoming more successful.”
The youths who are sentenced to stay at the D.J.J. range in age from 12 to 18 years old and come from all parts of South Carolina. The Gamecocks kept it simple in discussing the day in the life of a student-athlete to the D.J.J. students in attendance and also took a tour of the facilities.
The round table discussion in Columbia featured August along with former student-athletes Alaina Coates (women’s basketball), Maya Evans (track and field), who had interned at the school within the Department of Juvenile Justice, and Matrick Belton (football).
“It was a panel discussion where they told the students at D.J.J. about what it takes to be a student-athlete; the determination and hard work, and how to relate it to their own personal lives,” said Matthew Morrison, Volunteer Coordinator at the Department of Juvenile Justice. “The students had a chance to ask them questions, so it was a really meaningful day to the students, and it meant a lot to our staff. It made me proud of our USC and D.J.J. connections.”
“They really liked Alaina Coates being there because she was fresh off a national championship, and they really wanted to hear what she had to say,” August said of the discussion in Columbia. “They were really excited that we all came to see them. I really hope they understand the message we gave them and that they do stay out of trouble.”
“We spoke to some of the young girls there about the day in the life of a student-athlete, what we go through, and what it takes to get to college in general,” Schreiber said of her presentation at the Union facility. “We talked to them about what college is like and tried to give them an idea that there is something out there beyond being in the [Department of Juvenile Justice] system, and that there is something to work for when they get out.”
Officials from the Department of Juvenile Justice noted how many of the youths in attendance expressed an interesting in learning more about preparing for college.
“The students were incredibly excited,” Morrison said. “Prior to the discussion, I had given [the Gamecocks] a tour, and I received a call from a teacher there who said their students saw the athletes walking around campus, and they wanted them to come to their class because they were so excited. It really created a positive attitude across the campus, which is something we don’t always see.”
“At the beginning, they were kind of quiet,” Schreiber said. “There were some that were more outspoken. We got them talking about what they might want to study in college. There was a lot of diversity in that discussion. I think it went well, and at least it got them thinking about it.”
Morrison noted how the assistance of the Gamecocks during their summer internship has left a positive mark in the rehabilitation of the youths at the Department of Juvenile Justice.
“I love to see the excitement and inspiration that the South Carolina student-athletes are able to bring,” Morrison said. “They can show those here that have gone down a wrong path that there is hope, and that there are people who care about them. The whole time that the Maya, Matrick, Alaina and Jacob were here, they cared about the youths they were speaking with. That leaves a lasting impression.”
“Right now they are in a difficult and challenging time in their lives, and probably one of the low points in their lives,” Schreiber added. “I just hope that through our talk, they saw there are better things beyond where they are right now, and they have better things they can work for. I hope we can give them some motivation.”