Oct. 24, 2013
Once upon a time Vanderbilt University was called - perhaps unfairly - the 600 pound gorilla on West End that supposedly ignored the community in pursuit of its own interests.
Since the sting of those accusations many years ago, the university has not only placed a premium on enhanced community citizenship, it has somewhat reluctantly done a better job informing the public of the good deeds being accomplished by faculty, staff and students. The feeling had been that we do good deeds for the right reasons, not for extra credit.
In the Department of Athletics, 340 student-athletes annually contribute over a thousand hours in a wide variety of good-will activities - inspiring the young and aiding the sick and disadvantaged. Service has always been a part of the Vanderbilt way but in recent years under the encouragement of Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics David Williams the efforts have been ratcheted up.
The efforts culminated last July when Williams sent 21 student-athletes and five staff members on a well-publicized mission trip to Tanzania for 10 days to deliver shoes to remote villages. But on a local, less dramatic, level the department continues being a good neighbor. Since the beginning of the school year, Vanderbilt Athletics has hosted a variety of sports entities, sometimes off the public radar.
The new sports turf on Vanderbilt Stadium has allowed the department to bring a handful of area high school football games to the campus for the first time in years. These games proved to a boon to the schools, drawing larger crowds than could have been accommodated on their home fields. As a result, Vanderbilt plans to expand its prep hosting to six or perhaps eight games on a first-come request basis next fall.
Recently, the department was a partner in the Nashville International Center for Empowerment's Music City International Soccer Cup. In the championship game, the Somali team bested the Kurdish team by a score of 5 to 4 played on our field.
And in September the Commodores opened Memorial Gymnasium to the Memphis Grizzlies for the NBA team's pre-season camp.
There are more plans in the future. The high profile multipurpose facility is incorrectly thought by some to be strictly a football indoor practice complex but the soon-to-open building contains an outstanding track that not only will someday house big-time college events exciting high school meets, too.
Williams has a passion for community involvement that goes far beyond a favorable mention in the news.
"We want to help teach the 340 student-athletes in our program that to whom much is given, much is expected," he says. "One of my hopes is that if we can instill a community spirit within our students while they are on this campus that they will take that spirit with them the rest of their lives."