Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shoe drive puts kick into WCC rivalries


Gonzaga faces tough competition with its West Coast Conference rivals this year - off the basketball court. The eight schools are competing against each other in the WCC's first annual service contest to win a pre-game party at the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

Through Feb. 19, anyone can donate a pair of shoes to support charity and help send Gonzaga students to celebrate before the first men's tournament game.

Kennel Club Co-President Kepa Zugazaga is excited about the opportunity.

"We always donate to charities like Relay for Life and Face AIDS, but this will definitely be a way for people to see us helping out. They don't see the donations."

The idea blossomed last fall when students from all WCC schools met in October at the annual Student Athlete Advisory Committee conference and voted to begin a year-long service campaign, said Mike Roden, director of academic support services at Gonzaga.
WCC staff and the SAAC voted unanimously on Soles4Souls, a charity that gives shoes to people in need.

The charity was founded in 2004 during relief efforts to rebuild Southeast Asia from tsunami damages. It houses regional headquarters in Las Vegas and has worked with Orleans Arena in the past, so it was a great fit, said Sarah Arens, WCC's Director of Student Services.

Arens said she is impressed that the students took the initiative.

"The idea really sparked with the student athletes," she said. "It was a perfect match - the students really wanted to do something, and the conference athletic directors had a connection with the city."

Lauren Rochholz said the charity is great because they'll take almost anything.

"Used shoes go internationally, decent ones stay in the States, and really cruddy shoes are recycled to make track or court surfaces," she said. Rochholz is the president of the SAAC at Gonzaga.

All types of donations are welcome, Arens said. She said most of the lightly worn shoes will be donated to at-risk youth in Las Vegas.

The charity is not only a great fit for the location, but also will accomplish a seemingly impossible goal: bringing the eight WCC schools together.

"We spend too much time heckling each other, so it's nice to work together," Zugazaga said.

"It turned into the perfect project," Arens said. "It fits right in with athletics because of the shoes, especially athletic shoes. Lots of students can easily donate an old pair."

In Spokane, donation containers can be found across campus and town. On campus, shoes can be donated in Crosby, Jepson, Rudolf Fitness center, and most dorms. The Runner's Soul and Spokane Racquet Club also have containers.

Gonzaga SAAC members have been working closely with GSBA, the Bulldog Club, and media in Spokane to spread the message, Roden said.

"Friends and family can donate, too. We want this to be a success," he said.

Zugazaga said the contest will be a good opportunity to involve all Kennel Club members and spread the word about WCC involvement.

"We're trying to make it as easy as possible for the students," he said.

Donations can also be made in the McCarthey Athletic Center on February 19th. The contest culminates at the men's basketball game that evening.

The winning school will be recognized at halftime of the women's championship game in Vegas, Arens said. The conference decided on an unofficial goal of 500 pairs of shoes per school, but several schools have already met the number, she said.

As of Tuesday, Pepperdine, Gonzaga, and Loyola Marymount University had the most donations.

The conference will hold a student fan party for the winning team before their respective game at the tournament, Arens said.

"What's great about the contest is that it doesn't just benefit student athletes," Rochholz said. Although the SAAC voted on the contest, the party will be open to the first 200 students of the winning school.

Free pizza will be provided during the pre-game party, and the school's fans will have early access to the Arena.

"There's been a discussion of giveaways, but that hasn't been confirmed," Arens said. "It's our first year, and I've been really impressed with the participation. We can't wait to see everyone in Vegas."

No comments: