Monday, July 22, 2013

Stetson's Katie DiGirolamo Wears the Leadership Hat Well

Katie DiGirolamo
When last seen on the sand volleyball court, Katie DiGirolamo was competing with her Stetson Hatters in the A-Sun Championship final.

The Hatters pushed A-Sun Champs UNF to the limit before falling, 3-2, and DiGirolamo split in her matches, 2-2, in the two-day championship.

Pairing her success with the Hatters on the court with excellence in the classroom and inspiring leadership, DiGirolamo is clearly striking the balance of student and athlete, embodying the A-Sun's mission of Building Winners for Life.

In 2012-13 DiGirolamo helped the Hatters to a 13-11 overall mark with a 5-3 record in A-Sun play. She teamed with Jordan Dierickx for a 12-8 record playing at the #3, #4 and #5 spots, while also posting a 4-2 record with Savannah Byl at the #2 and #3 spots.

Off the court, DiGirolamo has been impressive as well. She was a selection to the 2013 A-Sun Sand Volleyball Academic All-Conference Team, majoring in Business Administration with a 3.94 cumulative grade point average.

She has been named to the Dean's List each of her six semesters at Stetson, while also winning the Wendell N. Jarrard Sr. and General Business Merit awards. 

DiGirolamo is a founding member of the Stetson University Fellowship of Christian Athletes and has served as a Senator in the Student Government Association to represent all student-athletes.  She serves as President of the Stetson University Student-Athlete Advisory Council and was voted Miss Hatter for her school spirit.  In addition, she serves as the representative from the Atlantic Sun Conference on the National SAAC.

The SAAC exists to enhance the total student-athlete experience by promoting opportunity, protecting student-athlete welfare and fostering a positive student-athlete image. 

In Katie DiGirolamo, the A-Sun couldn't have selected a finer torchbearer.

“Katie has been a blessing to our Sand Volleyball team at Stetson over the past two years," said Stetson Volleyball Head Coach Tim Loesch. "She is one of our top players, an exceptional student and an even better person."

In her role as the A-Sun national representative, this week she will be attending the national SAAC meeting at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind. She will also be blogging here each day about her experiences and sharing about the good work that the SAAC continues to do for the nation's student-athletes.

DiGirolamo's passion about the work and impact of SAAC at the campus level has also led her to take a leadership role at the national level, where she chairs the 10-member committee that creates and produces "Our Voice," a newsletter produced and dedicated to keeping student-athletes informed and reminding them that they have a voice in NCAA matters. 

Initially her idea, DiGirolamo now recruits contributors from among the other national SAAC leadership and facilitates the newsletter's communication that she feels is so important in regards to student-athletes.

"I got involved with SAAC because I realized that it does give student-athletes a real voice in matters that concern them," she said. "There are things that I can do and that student-athletes can do that truly do have an impact, things that have a real sense of purpose."

DiGirolamo's group works toward fulfilling one of three priorities set forth within the National SAAC: The Student-Athlete Voice, Media Team and Community Service. Each area is comprised of approximately 10 SAAC representatives, and each has a chair. "Our Voice" serves to facilitate communication among SAAC chapters on campus, providing a consistent message about the issues that are affecting student-athletes. The group began publishing in April and with five issues published to date, feedback has been positive.

DiGirolamo believes that often student-athletes are simply not properly educated about issues that affect them.

"I think one of the things that SAAC does for student-athletes is to educate them. I believe there are many that don't know that their voice and their opinions about issues can be heard," she continued. "Plus, just as importantly, that what they have to offer is valued. That is why I have been involved, so that I can represent what is important to student-athletes."

DiGirolamo inherited positions on campus and in her role as the national A-Sun SAAC rep from another Stetson Hatter, Carolyn Boyd. DiGirolamo credits Boyd for the enhanced awareness of student-athlete issues not only on her Deland, Fla., campus, but among her peers around the conference as well.

"Carolyn Boyd did a really great job of building the foundation of the SAAC presence that the A-Sun has today," she said. "The A-Sun has a strong SAAC, and it does a good job of supporting our efforts and in acknowledging what we do."

DiGirolamo's work continues on both fronts. At home, her mission is the continued education of her peers and the strengthening of their voice. More and more student-athletes are buying to the SAAC's message, says DiGirolamo, and so she works to encourage the creation of and participation in more events that include volunteering and community involvement.

No better example of the A-Sun SAAC's commitment to community exists than its most recent endeavor, as its ninth annual fundraising competition raised more than $56,000 to benefit charities selected by the SAAC at each of the 10 A-Sun institutions. The total shatters the previous high mark of 22,209.68, set just last year. In fact, this year’s champion Mercer topped the previous A-Sun mark on its own, raising 23,475.00.

The exemplary effort by chapters from all 10 A-Sun member institutions benefited a number of recipients throughout 2012-13. A-Sun SAAC raised a total of $56,557.95 to benefit organizations including the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Donna Deegan Foundation, Kay Yow Foundation, American Cancer Society and Relay for Life (associated events such as Dig for the Cure, Dig Pink, Strike Out Cancer, Kickin’ It for Cancer, Kick Pink Game, Coaches vs. Cancer, United in Pink, Pink Zone), Alexis Kaiser Foundation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Contributor, the Gibbs Cancer Center in Spartanburg, Boys and Girls Club, Georgia Children’s Home.

In working with her school at the institutional level, she and others have achieved priority registration for those student-athletes whose practice schedules require classes at certain times. They are also working with administrators creatively, such as proposing that athletic events become important "cultural credits," credits toward graduation that can be gained by attending and supporting the Hatters' athletic teams.

"I think there are things that we have been able to bring to the attention of administrators that just weren't imagined before," said DiGirolamo. "We brought to light things that weren't imagined about the rigors of being a student-athlete, and now we have opened those doors of communication."

"Katie is a wonderful role model for our younger players in many different ways," said Loesch. "During practices, weights and conditioning she is one of our hardest workers, always striving to improve. In the classroom she is among our brightest scholars and encourages others to do the same. Off the court, she helps organize many of our team community service endeavors and supports all of the other sports at Stetson.

"The best thing about Katie is that she does so many things, so well, for the right reasons.  She doesn’t do anything for recognition or trophies. She just loves to play, loves to learn and loves people. We are very blessed to have her on our team."

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