Jackrabbit athletics dedicate time in community, internationally


Andrew Holtan

South Dakota State students and fans know many athletes on campus for what they do in their respective sports. Whether it’s the stats they put up, their win-loss record or the trophies they’ve won — but not many know what they do to help out locally, nationally and around the world.

Senior wide receiver Jake Wieneke was one of 22 players in the history of college football to be named to the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works team for his dedication to serving the community. He was recognized for his work with English as a Second Language (ESL) students and dedication as a mentor in the Brookings community.

Wieneke was surprised with the award Sept. 27 at Medary Elementary School.

But community service is a common trait among SDSU athletes.

Eight members of the Jackrabbit football team helped load solar ovens into a truck for Solar Oven Partners Sept. 22, which will be sent to the Dominican Republic. Head football coach John Stiegelmeier said it reminds players of the luxuries they have.

The team has an unwritten rule that players don’t letter unless they do three service projects a year, Stiegelmeier said.

“I don’t have to check up on that because for 98 percent of our guys it just comes naturally,” Stiegelmeier said.

At the end of August, the SDSU men’s basketball team sent shoes and shirts to the University of Houston basketball team for them to donate to Hurricane Harvey relief.

Although these examples of community service may be international and national, Director of Athletics Justin Sell said the athletic department does more work in Brookings than anywhere else.

“All of us here administratively, and our coaches, look for opportunities to be a part of the community and get engaged with the community,” Sell said. “Many of us are raising families in the community, so we want Brookings to be good and we’re willing to contribute to that and lead by example.”

Tyler Glidden, director of operations for the men’s basketball team, said their staff sets up stuff for their players, but will let players do their own projects too.

Junior forward Mike Daum took advantage of that freedom when he was approached by John Van Stedman.

Van Stedman asked Daum if he would surprise his daughter, Lydia, at her 10th birthday party.  

“That meant a lot. It was a cool way for us to give back and nice to see all of the support. It’s really important to use the platform that we have to create positive interactions with the community.”
Lexi Alexander, women’s basketball senior guard

Daum was Lydia’s favorite basketball player, so when he happened to be in Sioux Falls the day of her party he came and surprised her. 

That wasn’t the first time Daum did something like this. In March, he visited Dakota Prairie Elementary School and hung out with a kindergarten class for the day.

“It was a lot of fun to reach out to the part of the community and have some fun with the kids,” Daum said.

It’s important for the men’s basketball team to give back to the community because of the support community members give them, Daum said.

“Those little chances we have to give back is us trying to show how much we love our school and community,” he said.

Many football players work with children by coaching flag football through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. They are also involved with the Children’s Miracle Network. 

Stiegelmeier said working with the Children’s Miracle Network is his favorite nonprofit they help with because they hold events for children who struggle with diseases serious health concerns.

“We’ve had guys shave their heads in honor of cancer, but the most common thing we’ve done is that they [the children] get to hit us in the face with whipped cream pies and it seems like they can’t get enough of it,” Stiegelmeier said.

The women’s basketball team, on the other hand, has an annual “Think Pink Game” where they wear pink uniforms and auction them off after the game. The proceeds go to the Edith Sanford Breast Foundation. Last year they raised $12,550.

“That meant a lot,” said senior guard Lexi Alexander. “It was a cool way for us to give back and nice to see all of the support. It’s really important to use the platform that we have to create positive interactions with the community.”

Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams go to schools in Brookings to read to children. The men worked with the “Stand to Win” program last year and are going to continue this year. 

Stand to Win is a program run through the National Association of Basketball Coaches that head coach T.J. Otzelberger started working with when he was at Iowa State and brought it to Brookings. 

Women’s head basketball coach Aaron Johnston said, with Brookings being such a tight-knit community, people get to know who the athletes are really well. So doing community service is a good way for the athletes to get to know the people of the community. 

“It’s a great way to give back and help the community that shows us support,” Johnston said.