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W&L Athletes Partner with Boxerwood Washington and Lee athletic teams partnered with Boxerwood’s COREworks program on community projects to offset carbon emissions in Rockbridge County.

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“I’m really proud of these students’ leadership and initiative, and I’m looking forward to growing this program in the next academic year.”

~Gene McCabe, Assistant Professor of P.E. and Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach

A dedicated group of Washington and Lee athletes amassed more than 190 volunteer hours during Fall Term thanks to a collaboration between W&L Athletics, Boxerwood Garden and Nature Center, and a new program that is helping to combat the effects of carbon emissions in Rockbridge County.

Washington and Lee’s Athletics Department partnered with the COREworks Program, a carbon-offset marketplace managed by the Boxerwood Education Association, on climate-friendly projects around Rockbridge County that included collecting recyclables at track meets, planting trees, tending the W&L Campus Garden, and removing litter from local parks and trails. The pilot program, named GEAR (General Earth Action Rally) Up by the student leaders involved, launched in fall 2021 with eight of W&L’s Division III teams. Each team was led by an Earth Action Leader (EAL) who organized an environmental stewardship activity with their teammates. By late November, 173 student-athletes had completed more than a dozen stewardship actions.

The Athletics Department at Washington and Lee first conceived of the project as a series of fundraisers to help the department purchase credits in the COREworks marketplace to offset emissions from travel related to athletic competitions. The partnership, which was spearheaded by Assistant Professor of P.E. and Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Gene McCabe, soon expanded to include environmental stewardship activities such as trash pickups and tree plantings.

“We started by identifying leaders from each team who are passionate about environmental issues,” said McCabe, who coordinates sustainability efforts for the Green Athletics Initiative at Washington and Lee, “and we gave them a lot of freedom to choose their projects. I’m really proud of these students’ leadership and initiative, and I’m looking forward to growing this program in the next academic year.”

Sarah Hollen ’22, a work study student at Boxerwood who completed her Shepherd internship there during summer 2021, worked on the GEAR Up partnership from its inception and said that it was an opportunity for students to demonstrate leadership in a different way than on the field.

“Integrating sustainability into athletics was really important to me as a student-athlete,” said Hollen, who is on W&L’s cross-country team. “When you’re already starting from a place of working together as a team, it shows the impact of collective action.” She helped the participating teams brainstorm projects and served as an EAL for her team.

COREworks began as a fundraising priority of the 2020 W&L Mock Convention Sustainability Committee. The group wanted to donate funds that would offset the carbon footprint of the convention, which happens every four years. The donation allowed Boxerwood to hire a fellow position to oversee the COREworks program and begin prioritizing community projects. Ginny Johnson ’20, current COREworks fellow, said future goals include composting and regenerative agriculture projects. She plans to coordinate with teams over the summer to provide more onboarding for EALs as they continue their work in the fall.

“Collectively, they were able to accomplish so much more together than they ever would have individually,” Johnson said.

Kimberly Hodge, W&L’s assistant dean of students and former director of sustainability initiatives, said this project is a great model for how other departments lead sustainability efforts that are a fit for them. Her office and the office of Energy Education advised teams and made recommendations as they planned their projects.

“I’ve always believed in connecting theory to the real world,” Hodge said. “This engagement is so important when they leave W&L and begin working in their careers. I also think that actively participating in projects like this helps with any climate anxiety they might be feeling. Once you start doing the projects that help, you can’t be as mired in the negativity.”