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GNAC SAAC Members Attend 2019 NCAA Convention in Orlando


GNAC student-athletes grateful for NCAA
Convention professional development opportunity

WINTHROP, Mass. – While many experienced long airport security lines and breezy Central Florida temperatures, the 2019 NCAA Convention served as an overwhelmingly positive experience for three Great Northeast Athletic Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) members. This year marked the third time in four years the GNAC has funded student-athlete travel to the annual convention, previously sending three to San Antonio in 2016 and four to Indianapolis in 2018.

Last week, Albertus Magnus College junior Sabrina Pohlig, Saint Joseph's College of Maine senior Marshall Berninghausen, and Simmons University junior Molly Hennessey traveled from New England to Orlando International Airport (MCO), which is commonly (albeit jokingly) referred to as Mickey's Corporate Office. While GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh arrived on Tuesday, January 22 for his Division III Management Council duties, the SAAC trio arrived on-site at the Caribe Royale Hotel on Wednesday, Jan. 23, along with Michael Ghika and Annie Jenkins from the GNAC office. 

Last summer, the GNAC announced the formation of its first-ever conference-wide SAAC – an intiative that came out of the GNAC's NCAA Conference Self-Study Guide (CSSG) Committee – featuring three student-athletes from each of the league's 13 member institutions. The SAAC also includes an Executive Council, which during the current 2018-19 academic year includes the three aforementioned NCAA Convention attendees. 

"As student-athletes, to see the inner workings and intiatives that Division III is taking on, ones that we don't necessarily understand or know about, it has been a great experience," said Hennessey, a Sharks' softball student-athlete from Charlton, Mass. "Talking with not only athletic directors, but also athletic trainers and other student-athletes about certain legislation topics was eye-opening. I am excited to use this leadership training to become a better leader on campus within my SAAC group, the GNAC SAAC, on my team and in the classroom." 

Following a friendly dinner between the student-athletes and staff on Wednesday evening, the three had a full agenda on Thursday.

The group first participated in a leadership session called E-Colors, a Personality Diversity Indicator (PDI) designed to help individuals learn about their behaviors to improve communication skills and build better relationships. The GNAC student-athletes were grateful to participate in the four-hour leadership activity thanks to an invitation from the MIAA and USA South conferences. 

All three GNAC SAAC members cited the lessons learned from the workshop as perhaps their most significant takeaway from the trip. The student-athletes found that both as an individual and as a group, there are different leadership types one can use to become the most effective leader possible. 

Next, the three attended the National D3 SAAC luncheon before making a difference in the local community, as Sabrina, Marshall and Molly volunteered at the organized Division III/Special Olympics activity. D3 and Special Olympics have been formal partners since 2011, and the three previously participated in a GNAC SAAC/Special Olympics Massachusetts kickball game in early December at Emmanuel College. Under the Royale Caribe's tent pavilion turf last Thursday, dozens of D3 student-athletes interacted with Special Olympians in both bocce ball and soccer skills + drills. 

Thursday's programming also included an NCAA plenary session, the chance to view a unique association-wide business session, and a SAAC murder mystery mixer. 

"Regardless of how much two people from different universities may disagree, outside of that meeting they had appreciation and respect for one another and an overall understanding that the betterment of the student-athlete experience is the end goal," said Berninghausen, the 2018 GNAC Men's Outdoor Track & Field hammer throw individual champion. The senior hails from Brasher Falls, N.Y. 

"I am looking forward to bringing awareness back to campus," added the senior. "I'm sure many student-athletes do not know about the legislation on the table this year. Making them even just a little more aware of how the NCAA works would be an accomplishment."

"I was so surprised by the sheer size of the convention," said Pohlig, a women's soccer and lacrosse two-sport standout from nearby West Palm Beach, just three hours from Orlando. "It was also surprising that on campuses across the country, they're all facing the same issues that the GNAC SAAC and our individual schools are facing." 

"Along with E-Colors, my biggest takeaway from the Convention is the power of Special Olympics," added Pohlig. "The smiles and pure joy that came from the Athletes at the Special Olympics were amazing. I definitely want to host bigger events on campus with Special Olympics."

On Friday afternoon, the GNAC was fortunate to have so many different constituents represented at its formal AD Council meeting. In addition to the conferece's staff and athletic directors, also in attendance were the three student-athletes, two GNAC Presidents, two Faculty Athletics Representatives (FAR), two Senior Woman Administrators (SWA), and one athletic trainer. The GNAC SAAC trio shed light on many topics, including their experiences at the convention, the GNAC's upcoming spring SAAC event, as well as the emergence of Esports. 

"I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that very few student athletes get the chance to be a part of," said Hennessey. "I loved being able to attend all the meetings, forums, and events, and just soaking all of that in. It was awesome to be able to meet and talk with people in various positions from across the country." 

GNAC SAAC members will next look forward to gathering on Sunday, March 24 in East Boston at the league's conference-wide spring SAAC meeting. The event will be organized by Jenkins, the GNAC Assistant to the Commissioner, as she also organized the student-athletes' trips down to Orlando. 

The Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) is an NCAA Division III association made up of 13 member institutions and over 3,000 student-athletes across the New England region. Founded in 1995, the GNAC annually sponsors and administers 20 championships, while balancing academic integrity, athletic opportunity and community involvement in an effort to enhance the student-athlete experience. 



2019 NCAA Convention