Good Sports

Kayla Gross joined several Badger football players for Read Across America Day in March and visited four elementary schools. Courtesy of Kayla Gross.

Kayla Gross joined several Badger football players for Read Across America Day in March and visited four elementary schools. Courtesy of Kayla Gross.

When it comes to community service, UW athletes are pros.

Kayla Gross ’13 isn’t a national-champion athlete. She doesn’t run, jump, block, shoot, or score at an elite level. But she represents Badger athletics better than just about anyone, though few ever see her. Gross is the hidden hand behind an ambitious undertaking.

Badgers Give Back is UW Athletics’ new philanthropic outreach program, in which student athletes have unique opportunities to help make Dane County a better place to live. Created in September 2012 to organize community relations efforts, the program is centered on promoting education, physical fitness, families, and community. From charity fundraising events to appearances at area schools and American Family Children’s Hospital, the program enables UW athletes to make a big difference off the field of play.

But the activities don’t just run themselves — and that’s where Gross steps in. Working behind the scenes, she spent her senior year serving Badgers Give Back as the community relations coordinator, a role that combines her skills in communications with her love of sports and a desire to help others.

After seeing a posting for a similar position on the Minnesota Twins website, Gross was inspired. She took the idea to the UW Athletics academic services department and, in August 2012, was hired to create a program for the Badgers.

“When I came up with the idea and said this is what I want to do, everyone here — from the faculty to the staff and the student athletes — was so supportive,” she says. “I even got to write my own job description.”

Gross oversees all requests for student-athlete appearances — nearly 800 student athletes in total. Her other responsibilities include transporting and accompanying athletes to events and making sure all appearances comply with NCAA rules.

A full-time student on the strategic communications track in the school of journalism, Gross typically spends twenty to thirty hours per week working with Badgers Give Back. On average, she attends three events each week, year-round. During the program’s first academic year, UW athletes clocked more than 4,250 volunteer hours at more than 150 area events. That’s up from 3,600 volunteer hours at 68 events last year, when UW Athletics did not have an organized program.

But her job duties don’t end there. Following an event, Gross is responsible for publicizing it on the UW Athletics website, and through social media sites such as Twitter, using the hash tag #BadgersGiveBack.

“It’s a story people want to hear, and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” says Gross. “Our student athletes are a tremendous group of young people, and the fact that they take time out of their already limited schedules to be so dedicated to our community is fantastic.”

Published in the Summer 2013 issue

Tags: Athletics, Public service, Students

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