The Pacific Lutheran University athletics department is known regionally and nationally for its winning tradition and its uncompromising commitment to class and sportsmanship. But around Tacoma and Parkland, the working-class suburb PLU calls home, the department is just as well known for its longstanding commitment to community service.
Throughout the past three decades, PLU student athletes have logged thousands of hours coaching youth sports, working with special Olympians and volunteering with local nonprofit organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and the Emergency Food Network.
“Community service is a big part of the athletic tradition here at PLU,” said Marissa Miller ’18, pitcher for the women’s softball team. “That’s what PLU is about.”
Every team is involved with some type of community service. “But it looks different depending on the team,” said Miller, a business major from Edgewood, Washington.
Each varsity team and student athlete at PLU has been encouraged to participate in community service since the university became a NCAA Division III competitor in 1997, but many teams began traditions of service decades earlier.
Frosty Westering was one of the first leaders in the athletics department leaders to embrace community service. Westering established the team’s ongoing reading program at Tacoma’s Lister Elementary School more than 35 years ago.
PLU student athletes were recently recognized by both PLU and Pierce County leaders for their ongoing commitment to community service.
The men’s basketball team earned its second-consecutive Pierce County Volunteer of the Year Award. More than 175 girls and boys from the community received instruction in the arts of passing, dribbling, shooting, ball-handling, rebounding and defending from members of the team.
The PLU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee was honored by the university’s Center for Community Engagement & Service for members’ efforts throughout the year to use athletics to empower others and serve Parkland and surrounding communities.
Two-sport athlete Drew Oord ’16 has mentored students at Lister with his football teammates and coached special Olympians with the baseball team. Oord, an accounting major from Kennewick, Washington, says his volunteer experiences have had a dramatic impact on his plans for the future.
“I love accounting, but doing (volunteering) made me realize what’s really important in life,” Oord said. “Money can buy a lot of things and you can fake happiness with money, but I was able to figure out that I love helping people. That’s what it comes down to.”
Oord hopes to get a job at an accounting firm after graduating, but also looks forward to using his education to serve his community. “I’m interested in investing in rental properties and using them to help families in need,” he said. “I think my calling is helping people as much as possible.”
Athletics Director Laurie Turner says the program’s service activities are driven by a desire to help address health and recreational needs in Parkland and the surrounding area, and also are tailored to the passions and interests of student athletes.
“We try to learn about what’s going on in the community and figure out what some unmet needs are,” Turner said. “We give our student athletes and individual teams a lot of flexibility and also encourage them to work with the PLU Center for Community Engagement and Service to figure out what makes sense for them.
“Often we find there are some natural alignments between how our student athletes are interested in serving and needs in the community.”
Ionna Price ’17, a sharp-shooting forward on the women’s basketball team, volunteers by coaching sixth-grade boys basketball. Her service is about “paying it forward” and honoring the positive impact that youth basketball coaches had on her life.
“I just remember my sixth-grade self and I try to give the kids I coach what I got from my coaches and teach them to have love for the game and to go out and have fun,” said Price, a biology major from Tacoma. “I love the kids and try to teach them everything I know about basketball.”
Turner is quick to point out that while PLU student athletes are contributing a great deal to the Tacoma and Parkland communities, they receive just as much, if not more, from the experiences.
“We’re trying to put our student athletes in leadership roles and help them become global citizens and more holistic leaders,” Turner said.
For Oord, an ideal community service opportunity is one where all parties involved benefit from the experience. “It’s not about just you growing and improving,” Oord said. “If you’re doing something to make yourself better why not bring somebody else along and help make them better as well.”