Helping create the total person by Brandi Bonkowski

As a senior on the Virginia Tech football team, Ernest Wilford is accustomed to receiving instructions from his coaches. But on a Tuesday morning in October, someone else was commanding the 6-foot, 4-inch tall wide receiver.

"Louder," shouted a three-year-old girl with her hair in pigtails and dressed in a Hokie cheerleader uniform.

Despite the size difference between Wilford and the young girl, her voice easily carried over his--as she made it clear that she was upset because she was unable to hear him reading a story. Wilford is one of three Tech football players who read at The Children's Nest Day Care as part of a community service project.

Wilford and children
Wide receiver Ernest Wilford reads to children as part of the CHAMPS program.

Activities like this one are arranged by the Department of Athletics' Office of Student Life to enhance the student-athlete experience at Virginia Tech while maintaining a positive relationship with the Blacksburg community.

Another activity is Hokies with Heart, where each athletic team is partnered with a community organization. The men's soccer and wrestling teams have adopted sections of a highway, and the women's soccer team works with Habitat for Humanity.

"In December, the women's soccer team will be building a house," says head soccer coach Kelly Cagle. "This is a great charity for our team to work with because we will be doing something that will affect people's lives while building better relationships among the team members."

Community service is just one of the five components of the CHAMPS/Life Skills (Challenging Athletes' Minds for Personal Success) program created by the NCAA and sponsored by athletic student life. The other parts are career development, academic excellence, personal development, and athletic development.

Megan Armbruster, director of student life for the athletic department, says, "The goal of our office is to provide students with the total college experience. When athletes graduate, I want them to have had full access to a variety of opportunities while at Virginia Tech."

Felice Lam, a member of the women's tennis team, has taken advantage of the career development opportunities student life has to offer. A junior business major, Lam was one of many student-athletes who attended a workshop for resume development and the fundamentals of attending a career fair.

Located adjacent to the athletics' student life office is the Office of Student Athlete Academic Support. Armbruster works closely with Academic Director Chris Helms to create programs that combine the mission statements of both departments.

The Office of Student Life also offers two classes, Transitions One and Two, for freshmen and senior athletes. These one-credit courses focus on subjects such as time management, the transition into college in the first year, and topics like personal finance, buying a home, and retirement planning in the second year.

Each month, student life selects a student of the month. Wilford received this honor in 2003 for his participation in various community service activities.

"Virginia Tech football players get a lot of recognition for what we do on the field, and I am able to use that recognition to affect lives in a positive way," says Wilford. "Kids may never get the same opportunities that I have. I try to let them know that I never thought it would happen to me either, and if they put their minds to it, they can accomplish whatever they want."

Brandi Bonkowski is an intern for the Virginia Tech Sports Information Office.