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Student-Athletes Team Up for a Better Earth The Generals Earth Action Leadership program works to combine athletics with environmental stewardship.

IMG_5021-cropped-600x400 Student-Athletes Team Up for a Better EarthThe wrestling team worked a Generals Earth Action Leadership shift at the W&L Campus Garden last year.

Team chemistry is essential to a successful athletic team, and getting outside and bettering our planet not only builds teamwork but also allows for a large group of people with a common goal to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

~ Sam Bassett ’26

As a senior in high school, Lucas Chacon ’27 spent an entire week at Camp Chatuga in South Carolina participating in various outdoor activities with his classmates, but it was the day spent cleaning up trash on a trail that resonated most with him. As a member of the W&L men’s swimming team, he was introduced the fall of his first year to the Generals Earth Action Leadership program, which allowed him to combine two passions: athletics and environmental sustainability.

“[My high school] experience was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to clean up our Earth and bond with classmates I had never met,” Chacon said. “My mission is to share the joy I felt in cleaning the world with my friends and teammates.”

Through the Generals Earth Action Leadership program, various W&L sports teams volunteer for different environmental stewardship opportunities throughout the year. For the 2023-2024 academic year, 17 teams have expressed interest in participating, with 38 Earth Action Leadership (EAL) student leaders helping organize the program. Chacon and Sam Bassett ’26 serve as head EAL student-athlete coordinators, a position created this year that makes the entire program student-run.

EAL-400x600 Student-Athletes Team Up for a Better EarthThe women’s soccer team beautified the SPCA flower beds during the 2022-2023 academic year.

“This experience [with the Generals Earth Action Leadership program] profoundly impacted my first year at W&L by introducing me to many students, including athletes from various sports teams and other students who share my passion for environmental sustainability,” Chacon said.

Bassett participated in the Generals Earth Action Leadership program last year with his men’s lacrosse teammates, and he knew he wanted to apply for the EAL leadership position as soon as he learned about it. The program has allowed Bassett to combine his passion for the environment with the W&L academic experience and athletics.

“Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, and exploring the outdoors through many of my different hobbies, I have developed a keen interest in conservation and sustainability,” he said. “This passion has continued to develop throughout the course of this academic year, because I took a geology course this fall, and I took a global climate change course in Winter Term. Overall, I am a strong believer in taking a step in the right direction toward environmental action and sustainability.”

The relationship between the Athletics Department and Boxerwood Garden and Nature Center started with the aim to raise awareness and potentially funds to support Boxerwood’s COREworks Carbon Offset initiative. By the fall of 2021, it quickly evolved into a student-athlete stewardship initiative called GEAR (General Earth Action Rally) Up, in partnership with COREworks.

Originally, each interested team nominated EALs who would work with the Boxerwood staff to coordinate activities such as picking up trash, working in the campus garden and planting trees. During the first year, seven teams participated in GEAR Up, logging a total of 191 volunteer hours, picking up approximately 96 pounds of trash, recycling over 50 cardboard boxes and plastic bottles and planting 15 trees.

During the 2022-2023 academic year, the interest expanded to 13 teams. The student-athletes amassed over 100 volunteer hours more than the previous year by collecting over 100 pounds of trash on six local trails, walking adoptable dogs for the Rockbridge SPCA, weeding garden beds and planting 15 native trees.

IMG_1151-scaled-576x400 Student-Athletes Team Up for a Better EarthLast year, the men’s swim team volunteered to walk adoptable dogs for the SPCA.

This academic year, the structure (and name) changed so that the entire program is student-run, with supervising help from Boxerwood’s Ginny Johnson ’20 and Gene McCabe, assistant director of athletics for compliance and head men’s lacrosse coach. Two completed projects so far this academic year: The women’s volleyball team cleaned up the Woods Creek Trail, and the women’s tennis team picked up trash on the Chessie Trail.

“What is so clear to me is that many student-athletes are passionate about environmental issues and climate change in general,” McCabe said. “This program offers a platform where students can develop leadership skills and, in some way, if even small, engage in meaningful team activities focused on sustainability and taking better care of our Earth. Student-athletes are often strong leaders who are passionate about impacting change. Through this program, it helps bring teams together in a way they can serve the local community and engage as a team beyond the practice and game environment.

“I think this program drives home the notion that, individually and collectively, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to make a difference,” he added. “There are learning opportunities and generally a net positive effect when teams serve others in meaningful ways.”

During Spring Term, student-athletes will engage in activities such as tree planting, trash cleanups and volunteering at the SPCA.

Image-8-e1713882867726-426x400 Student-Athletes Team Up for a Better EarthLast year, with the Generals Earth Action Leadership program, the men’s lacrosse team picked up trash around campus.

“As athletes on this campus, we have a really cool opportunity to have the support of an entire team to work together to make this campus and Lexington as a whole a better place,” said Kaitlyn Chalker ’24, EAL for the women’s tennis team. “Although there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, I think the Earth Action Leadership program is a great way to do it.”

“It is unique and important that EAL be a student-athlete program because of the teamwork associated with athletics,” Bassett said. “Team chemistry is essential to a successful athletic team, and getting outside and bettering our planet not only builds teamwork but also allows for a large group of people with a common goal to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”