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Student Comments

Below are West Virginia University Students' comments about the Spring presentation of Student Athletes Speak Out held on March 23, 2010. 
Speakers Sports Speech Titles
Bryan Thompson Rugby Seven Seconds
Jamal Nelson Football Only Wise Men
Tavon Austin Football Light a Lamp
Geno Smith Football Family matters

The stories that each athlete presented to a room full of family, friends, peers, and coaches were touching and motivational. The biggest strength that was observable to me, was that all five of the boys spoke from their hearts. Some told stories about loss and heart ache, while other told stories based on the positive people in their lives. Not one of their speeches sounded generic. I could tell by their tone of voice and the looks on their faces that the people in their stories meant a great deal to them. One of the mothers actually had tears running down her face during her son’s speech. The presentations were all well prepared, and I would give the credit to Dr. Atkins for that. The athletes all took a liking to her, and I could tell that she taught them a lot about public speaking. It was interesting to see Tavon Austin speak in both Ebonics and Standard American English. Dr. Atkins successfully taught some of the speakers to use code switching, and it made them sound very professional and well educated.

The speaker who had the biggest impact on me was Tavon Austin. He told a story about how his father was never involved with him, until one day he just showed up. He then stated how his dad came in and out of his life for years, until he asked Tavon to release him from his legal papers, so he did not have to pay child support. He showed us how he overcame this obstacle, and thanked the other family members who filled the void that his father left. Tavon showed a positive outlook on life, no matter what the circumstances were, and this was a very moving speech in my eyes.

This contributed to my academic growth in a motivational way. Most of these athletes overcame a lot prior to their academic career at West Virginia University, and this made me want to push even harder to be a good student. When I’m stressed out, and I think that I can’t handle anymore that life has thrown at me, I’ll think of these boys, and how they pushed through the hard times to arrive at where they are at.

Their speeches were so inspiring, that it was hard to tell if there were any weaknesses. If I had to dig deep for one, I would say that a few of them looked really nervous. Other than that, they all spoke well and got their points across successfully. This was a great opportunity to watch the athletes speak, because it showed a sensitive side to them that many people don’t get to see. After listening to their stories, I can truly say that we have a great group of all around people playing sports for WVU.

On Tuesday, March 23, 2010, I was fortunate to be in the audience for Dr. Carolyn Atkins’s Speaking to Communities class. Five WVU student-athletes presented speeches concerning life, family, and success. Four students were members of the football team, and one student was a member of the rugby team.

A strength that was shared by all of the speeches was that the speakers introduced the audience to their families, and life away from the athletic field. They used real experiences and stories, which are easily relatable to those who aren’t Division I student-athletes. These athletes spoke with passion and enthusiasm. In addition, as college athletes tend to be role models for young children, I was impressed by the wholesome wisdom that these student-athletes shared. I honestly found no weaknesses in these speeches; I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I was most impacted by Geno Smith’s speech. Football fans tend to have a narrow view of the interests of their favorite athletes; however, Geno shared that athletes can and do have hobbies outside of their chosen sports, such as art. He also exhibited that he is very involved in the lives of his younger siblings, providing a positive role model for them.

These speeches have contributed to my academic growth through introducing me to the thoughts of a group of people with which I haven’t really engaged. Student-athletes at a university like WVU are required to put so much time and effort into their athletics and academics; therefore, I haven’t had the opportunity to befriend any of them. It is always a productive learning experience to hear wisdom from people who have a different path in life than yourself.

I feel that this was a good opportunity because the only knowledge that most people have about these athletes is what they see on television or at a game. By listening to these speeches, we were able to understand and relate with the athletes on a more personal level.

Listening to these athletes tell an emotional story about their lives was very interesting. It opened up door and allowed me to see them as normal people and not as just star athletes at a big university. All of them did a great job with telling a story rather than getting up in front of the audience and reading a script. Nerves may have been an issue for them but they each did a great job with trying not to show them. The stories that they told were emotional and real, which made the athletes seem more real. Often times we watch them on television just like celebrities and we often forget that they too are just people like us who have struggles and life obstacles. Furthermore, the athletes showed good articulation, and were for the most part easy to understand. They had great eye contact and they spoke with great conversational skills.

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed all of the speeches. Bryan Thompson’s speech “Seven Seconds” was very emotional and I recently went through a traumatic experience of loosing a friend as well, so his story was near home for me. He expressed the heart ache he felt when he heard the news of his friend/brother/and teammate, as did I went I heard of my friends death last Friday. Death is never an easy thing for anyone to cope with but we all manage to get through the heart ache and continue on with our lives. Bryan mentioned that even though he may not be able to see Josiah, he will always be with him at heart! I am able to relate to that as well and as much as we miss them being by our sides we have to remember that they are only a half of a step behind us.

The athletes spoke with proper English, and did well articulating their sounds which made it easier to follow the story. At times it was difficult to understand a few of them because they tended to get quiet, or speak too fast making their words run together. However, I was impressed and it was evident that the athletes had worked hard and made a lot of progress. When I let all of my classmates and I were very impressed. We were all discussing how much we enjoyed this opportunity, and hope that dr. Atkins continues in the future to invite our class to attend. We are all familiar with these athletes in uniform but it was nice to get to know them and hear of the challenges they have faced through out their lives.

One theme that emanated throughout all of the presentations was the importance of family. Even though each one of the athletes came from a different background and shared a different story, the reoccurring theme allowed the audience a glimpse of the impact their families had on their lives and the decisions they made that led them to where they are now. In Geno Smith’s speech entitled “Family Matters,” he stated, “Family is the key essential in everyone’s life.”

The strengths of the presentations were the individual stories and the way in which they were delivered. Each athlete discussed a topic that was important to their individual life and spoke with conviction as they relayed their stories. You could tell by the pauses and inflections as well as the sincerity that radiated from each athlete that they felt strongly about their story. This made the speeches become more personal and establish a connection with the audience.

The speaker that had the most impact on me was Brian Thompson and his speech entitled “Seven Minutes.” He really drew me in, first, by his personal examples of his family and lifestyle. However when the story turned into a horrific tragedy, I felt like I could relate to how he was feeling at that point in time. I asked myself how I would react in that same situation and how much of an impact it would have on my life and the person I would become. Experiences, like Brian’s, mold you and change you forever.

The speeches have shown me not to take my academics for granted. Many of the speakers expressed their struggles with coarse work and maintaining adequate grade. Classes can become overwhelming if you do not have the right mindset and do not apply yourself. Delivering these speeches to children in middle school provide the opportunity for kids who may be struggling with the same problems to recognize that there are ways to succeed.

The athletes maintained a professional atmosphere while giving their speeches. They were dressed appropriately and displayed strong-willed characteristics. One improvement would be to relax and enjoy your moment. It is your time to shine and tell your story. The audience is interested and want to hear what you have to say. You never know how your story may impact someone’s life. So, relax and enjoy the experience.

I was grateful for the opportunity to listen and partake in “Student Athletes Speak Out.” It gave me the opportunity to see and hear from some of the familiar athletic faces of West Virginia University and gave me a more personal view of each individual. Everyone has a story. Listening to these speeches offer hope for those who may be struggling and a positive outlook for the future.

Overall, I really liked the message that I took away from each of their stories. In their own way, each of the presenters spoke of the importance of family. I thought that the biggest strength of all of their presentations was that they shared such intimate stories. By being so open and honest about their stories, it grabbed the audience’s attention and allowed them to personally connect to the presenters.

As for individual strengths, I felt that Bryan Thompson did a great job of staying composed while telling such an emotional story. I thought that he had a very effective speaking rate with efficient pauses and 
spoke in a loud, clear voice. As for Jamal Nelson, I thought that he seemed the most laid-back and comfortable speaking. I believed that everyone could relate well to his story and appreciated his truthfulness about his struggles. Additionally, I enjoyed his opening quote by Winston Churchill. This quote grabbed my attention from the get-go.

As for Tavon Austin, I felt that he kept a positive attitude even though part of his story was sad. I thought that he did a great job maintaining eye contact with the entire audience. Also, the quote by Jesses Jackson was a very effective way to start off his speech. ? I thought that Geno Smith seemed like a natural while he was up there speaking. He was very good about keeping eye contact with the audience. He also maintained a good volume the entire time that made him very easy to hear.

Although all the stories were very touching and emotional, Bryan Thompson’s impacted me the most. I related to how hard it is to lose somebody close to you. I have never lost anybody that was around my own age though and cannot even imagine how hard it was. Additionally, I felt the presenter’s emotions throughout this speech which really touched me. 
Throughout all the presentations, there were only a couple weaknesses that stood out to me. First, other than Geno Smith and Bryan Thompson, I felt that all the speakers could be a little bit louder. I know that it is hard for boys though since they have low, deep voices. Next, I thought that Tavon Austin could slow down his speaking rate a little bit. Overall though, I believed that all the presenters did a great job.

I felt that this experience contributed to my academic growth because it reminded me of the important things to do while giving a presentation. It also gave me confidence for my upcoming presentation. It reassured me that if these guys can do it, then I can too. I believed that this was a great opportunity because it was nice to see that the athletes are human too. I think everyone sees the athletes in a superhero form, and it was nice to be reminded that they are just the same as we are.

Growing up in West Virginia, you are raised to view the WVU Mountaineers as THE collegiate athletic team, the marching band as musical performers, Tony Caridi as the voice of God, and the athletes as untouchable celebrities. A mountaineer loss is good reason to stomp and fume all weekend, and a win justifies burning the old family couch. Holidays are planned around possible bowl games. Fans tailgate rain or shine. The population of Morgantown doubles on any game day and disappointing coaches are hung in effigy. Welcome to Almost Heaven West Virginia, Home of the Mountaineers, where Mountain Mama and Mountain Dew fill the air from August to April rooting on their beloved men in tight pants or baggy shorts depending on the season.

As a born and raised West Virginia girl, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Atkins’s Student Athlete Speak Out event. Each of the five athletes that spoke gave a peak into the life of someone the average West Virginia only recognizes on a bronze pedestal bearing the name Heisman or Naismith. They spoke of failure, success, and all the lessons learned in between. The greatest strength of each presentation was the vulnerability it revealed about the respective player, and its greatest weakness – the limited time with which to share them. For instance, no spectator would ever suspect that Gino Smith truly enjoys art, and has a particular affinity for watercolors and acrylics. Or that Tavon Austin of being a foster father and mentor for young, delinquent boys. How were these details missed amongst the Google searchers and Twitter tweets?

As college students we are taught to never accept any theory, statement, ideology, or technique at face value. We are taught to question, to inquire, and to provide evidence for all we believe; nevertheless, these strategies used in the classroom are not often extended to life in general. Perhaps we should begin, by applying this method to our student-athletes. Rather than looking simply at their field performances, we should look at their families. Rather than looking at their criminal records, we should look at their hearts. And rather than look at their NFL or NBA prospects, we should looks at their personal aspirations.

Going into the athletes’ presentations, I was not sure what to expect. I thought it was going to be similar to the public speaking class and that they would be presenting their speeches in a classroom setting; I had no idea that the athletes’ family members and coaches were going to be there. However, I was glad to have the opportunity to attend these speeches. The strengths of the presentations were that each presenter seemed to talk about the importance of their family, which was a nice theme. Moreover, the presentations were inspirational and had a message in each one of them. I honestly do not believe there were any weaknesses of their presentations; they all spoke clearly and had great topics. These athletes contributed to my academic growth because they had a lot of courage to get up there at the podium in front of their peers, families, and coaches to talk about personal subjects. I remember being in the public speaking class and being extremely nervous to get up in front of everyone to deliver a speech. However, these athletes inspired me to have less fear when I am public speaking since they were able to do it at a personal level in front of their family and friends.

The speaker that had the most impact on me was Tavon Austin. The speech, “Light a Lamp”, was about his father, who was never there for him throughout his life. I thought that this speech had the most impact on me because Tavon could have had bitter feelings towards his father, but he did not. He realized t hat he had a great family and took what life gave him. This speech taught me to learn to forgive and to appreciate what you have in life. I believe that being able to attend this event was an excellent opportunity because our class got the chance to see the student athletes at a more personal level rather than only seeing them playing on the field.

I really enjoyed listening to each of the five athletes speak about topics that heavily influenced their lives. Each athlete spoke about family; each athlete had a different story. I love that Dr. Atkins is able to work with the athletes as they will have many public speaking opportunities during their athletic careers.

As a speech pathology and audiology student, I was able to see how beneficial a public speaking class can be. Code switching and loudness are just a couple of aspects addressed in the course. Listening to these presenting allowed me to see first-hand what I am learning in the classroom.

As any other presentation, there were strengths and weaknesses. (In my opinion there were more strengths in this case!) Strengths of the presentation include the following aspects of public speaking: excellent topics, easy-to-follow rates, few fillers, good posture, vibrant personalities, and comfortable loudness. One characteristic that will improve with practice is being more comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd. Overall, I was impressed with each athlete’s public speaking abilities.

Tavon Austin’s speech has the biggest impact on me. I absolutely love that Tavon wants to show love and teach discipline to young boys who need it. Tavon and I have the same goal: to help others. I appreciate his honesty in what his life was like growing up and am thankful that he had people pouring love into his life. I wish Tavon the best as he lives a life helping others.

When Noel Devine asked the guys if they felt relieved after talking about these things, Geno said, “Yes, it lets people know us on a more personal level.” I agree with Geno and think that the presentations were a benefit for both the athletes and the audience. Now when I watch these guys play football, I know a part of their life story. “Student Athletes Speak Out” is a wonderful way for the athletes to practice speaking; for coaches, mentors, and family to show that they care; and for students to learn from the presentations.