For the first three months of 2018, Holy Cross women’s volleyball beat the competition with their service and assists of a different kind — those they performed off the court. And they did it without even trying.
“It was really exciting because I actually didn’t even know it was a competition,” says Allie Barry ’19, Holy Cross volleyball player and team community service coordinator. She discovered via email that the volunteer hours her squad had been routinely recording had automatically advanced them in a new team version of the NCAA Team Works Helper Helper Community Service Competition.
Modeled on a March Madness-style bracket, the competition was run by NCAA Team Works, which organizes volunteerism at NCAA championships, and Helper Helper, an app that athletics departments at more than 200 universities and colleges, including Holy Cross, use to track and coordinate student-athlete volunteer hours.
Barry, a political science and Italian double major from Danville, California, says she and her teammates already had a packed schedule of service on their calendars, so they didn’t really need to make any special adjustments to go for the win once they found out they were in the challenge.
Their mindset: “Regardless of whether we get No. 1 or not, this is an awesome accomplishment,” Barry says.
Helper Helper created the bracket using a measurement called an “impact score,” which is based on the total number of hours of service performed by student-athletes and the participation rate of their team as a whole.
Holy Cross volleyball’s impact score advanced them in matchups week after week, in a bracket that began with 64 NCAA teams from across all men’s and women’s sports in Divisions I, II and III. The final win, against Louisville women’s field hockey, secured the top spot for Holy Cross volleyball with a total of 571 service hours and 100 percent participation for the three-month challenge.
What the competition captured, however, was only a snapshot of what is actually a yearlong commitment to service and way of life for the team.
“It’s just part of who we are,” says Melissa Batie-Smoose, women’s volleyball head coach, who is in her fourth season leading the program, which she notes has a longstanding history of service.
“Allie just took it to the next level,” she says. “She’s a very caring person and draws everybody in. Someway, somehow, she’s gotten everybody on board to think, ‘I know this is a huge time commitment, but this is what we do.'”
“The coaches definitely are super supportive of it,” notes Barry, who plays right side and is a team captain this year. When she took on the service coordinator role, she recalls Batie-Smoose telling her: “Let’s really take it and run with it.”
The team’s 2017 preseason overnight at the Thomas P. Joyce ’59 Contemplative Center also helped the coaches and the team, which included 12 first-year students, reflect on the Holy Cross mission and think about the kind of impact they wanted to make in the coming year.
“We try to pick causes pretty close to home,” Barry says. One that was especially personal to the team was partnering with local organization Pink Hippy, which provides community and support, such as yoga, massage and reiki, for those impacted by breast cancer.
“I’m a breast cancer survivor, and it just happened two years ago, so I’ve been one year fully recovered,” Batie-Smoose says. Seeing her players sell T-shirts and raffle tickets to raise more than $3,500 for Pink Hippy was incredibly meaningful for the coach: “Them wanting to take that on is really special to me.”
When Batie-Smoose and Barry met a woman through Pink Hippy who needed basic essentials, like a winter coat, hat and gloves, they informed the team. Their response? “They spent the hours during finals doing the shopping, gathering the money,” Batie-Smoose says of her players, who reached into their own pockets to help.
It is also a priority to think local when they look for ways to make a difference. “A lot of our team comes from really far away, so Worcester has become a second home for us,” Barry says.
Local service includes intensive, yearlong commitments to one-on-one mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as volunteering at a nearby nursing home. In addition, the team has supported mental health awareness initiatives and canned food drives, among other causes.
“They’re in a powerful position as athletes,” says Eric Buggs, Holy Cross assistant volleyball coach, who is also in his fourth season with the program. “They have many talents that some people will look up to.”
Barry acknowledges it can be challenging juggling the team’s volume of service. She is not only a Division I athlete and double major, but she also serves on student advisory committees for Athletics and Italian, as well as on the Class of 2019 Senior Gift Committee.
She helps mitigate the time challenge for herself and her teammates by staying organized and spacing out their service commitments. Barry is also bringing a younger teammate on as a co-coordinator this year to assist and learn the ropes, which will help ensure a sustainable volunteering leadership model for years to come.
In the end, Barry knows the hard work and prioritization that goes into the team’s dedication to service is worth the effort.
“It really builds a great team chemistry because we’re able to just generally do something we can feel really good about — and have a lot of fun while doing it,” Barry says. “This is just as much a part of who we are as a team as the work we put in on the court, in the classroom and in the weight room.”
Written by Meredith Fidrocki for the Fall 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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