Retweet to Make a Difference

Excessive alcohol consumption for the average person may lead to a decline in cognitive function and can oftentimes result in a “hangover effect.” Did you also know excessive alcohol consumption for an athlete has the potential to reduce his or her athletic performance by approximately 11 percent?

NCAA Substance Use Survey statistics such as these are some of the many surprising facts that three Gannon student-athletes and two coaches learned at the 2015 APPLE Conference in Virginia in January.

Students Morgan Walters, Becky Hilker and Nick Bengal, softball pitching coach Michelle Wiley and cross country head coach John Carrig represented the University in its first year participating in the conference. They were joined by representatives from approximately 30 other colleges and universities across all three NCAA divisions.

They were all there for a common goal: to focus their leadership skills to raise awareness of and prevent alcohol and substance abuse on campus.

“They wanted us to learn; they didn’t want to scold us. They didn’t tell us we can’t drink, but they taught us how we can be responsible,” said Hilker, senior lacrosse student-athlete.

During the conference, the students learned how other universities prevented and confronted this issue through student group activities, keynote speakers and breakout sessions. Walters explained, “I think that going to this conference really showed how important it is to be informed on the topic of alcohol use.”

The athletes were challenged with raising awareness on their campus through a social media competition. Initiating a trending Twitter hashtag supporting prevention of drunk driving was the goal for two students from each school.

Hilker and Walters set to work tweeting “#KnightsNeverDriveDrunk” to their teammates, friends, members of other athletic teams and even students from other schools.

Then, the tweets flew in. More than 300 tweets, retweets and likes catapulted Gannon to first place in the competition, receiving the most engagement among their peers.

“I had faith in our support system and knew that we could get the tweets, but it was awesome and felt so good to actually see it happen,” said Walters.

The students took away more than a $50 iTunes gift card from the experience; it humbled the students and made their role and responsibility as leaders on campus more evident than ever before.

“I am a captain this year, so I tried to think of how I can apply it and influence my team to make good decisions,” said Hilker. “I want to impact the recruits’ experience. I want them to not have that idea about college, and stop it before it starts.”

Hilker’s outlook on the importance of sound leadership and the responsibility of being a student-athlete resonates true for most all Golden Knights. “It’s an experience you don’t take for granted.”