Lady Hawks win NAIA Champions of Character Team Award
JACKSON, Tenn. – Winning games and enjoying incredible success between the lines doesn’t mean having to compromise character and moral values.
The Shorter University women’s basketball team is the latest Shorter athletic program to prove that fact.
The Lady Hawks, who are making their second straight NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship appearance on the heels of a fourth straight 20-win season, were named the NAIA’s Champions of Character Team Award winner on Tuesday night at the national tournament banquet in Jackson, Tenn.
Shorter’s women’s basketball team becomes the third Shorter program in the past four years to win the NAIA’s Champions of Character Team Award – the Hawk baseball team took home the honor last spring while the Lady Hawk softball squad garnered the accolade in 2008.
One team in each of the NAIA’s 23 championship sports is granted the Champions of Character Team Award each year and Shorter is quickly becoming synonymous nationwide with not only championship performances, but also championship character of its student-athletes.
“This is a tremendous honor for this year’s team and for our program as a whole,” said Shorter head women’s basketball coach Vic Mitchell, who is in his 21st season at the helm of the Lady Hawk program. “This is probably the biggest honor that we have received since I came to Shorter – not only is it a national award, but it is a national character award, and I don’t know how much bigger an honor can be.
“This accomplishment also speaks to the Shorter University athletic department in terms of this being the third time in the past four years that we have had a program win the NAIA’s national character team award.”
“I am very proud of Coach Mitchell, [assistant coach] Kristy Brown, [assistant coach] Sandra Kostandinovic and our entire team,” said Shorter Director of Athletics Bill Peterson. “They certainly epitomize what is right about intercollegiate athletics.”
While Shorter has built a reputation for athletic excellence over the past several years, no other athletic department has made an impact in its community quite like Shorter’s.
Mitchell was quick to credit Brown for her work with Shorter’s Champions of Character initiatives, activities that have become second nature to the Lady Hawk basketball squad.
“We have kids that have tremendous gifts,” said Mitchell. “I credit Coach Brown for setting up so many of these events and I know that both she and the team were thrilled about winning the award. They certainly deserve it.”
The list detailing the women’s basketball team’s community involvement is long.
This year, the Lady Hawks raised $6,000 for breast cancer research as part of their annual Cancer Awareness Classic in November. The event, which helps raise awareness and funding for The Breast Center at Floyd Medical while also honoring breast cancer survivors and remembering its victims, has raised over $22,000 over the past three years and has become a staple of the women’s basketball program.
The Lady Hawks also volunteer at a local homeless shelter and fed 400 individuals at the community kitchen while also helping to prepare future meals.
Once a week throughout the academic year, seven members of the team mentor students from local elementary and middle schools. The players must complete training and be approved by the City and County in order to partake in the program.
The team volunteers at the Open Door Home and took part in a “Pay It Forward” program, during which each member of the team took $10 to do something nice for a complete stranger. Ideas ranged from paying for prescription drugs for individuals who did not have insurance to helping pay for groceries.
Some players even matched the $10 amount themselves to allot $20 to the cause.
The women’s basketball team helped Zeta Tau Alpha with its breast cancer awareness event and even wrote handwritten letters to individuals around campus – professors, administrators, cafeteria workers and other staff members – thanking them for their support and all that they do for Shorter University.
That list only serves as the tip of the iceberg, and as Mitchell says, the impact that his team has had on the lives of others is evident throughout the season.
It also goes to show that at Shorter, winning is directly related to high character.
“We have had members of the Open Door Home and individuals from the soup kitchen come to our games and support us and then stay after and talk with our team,” said Mitchell. “What we have done and continue to do in the community affects a lot of people and it is a great honor to be selected for this award."