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Shelter visit highlights athletes' community service

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Dec 4, 2017 at 7:04 PM

It’s true. The East Tennessee State University athletic department has gone to the dogs.

As a promotion to highlight community service, members of ETSU’s baseball, softball, golf, tennis, track and field, triathlon and volleyball teams went to the Washington County Animal Shelter on Monday to help walk and care for several dogs from the kennels.

The idea was the brainchild of ETSU Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Welfare and Compliance Kay Lennon and she explained there were a number of reasons behind it.

“We wanted something creative for the student-athletes to do for the community, but also a good stress reliever,” said Lennon, who also serves on the animal shelter’s foundation board. “There have been many studies about how it helps when you play with animals, and how they’ve even taken them into hospitals. We thought this would be a great way to be engaged with the community, but also to get a little stress relief before finals.”

That was certainly the case with smiles on the humans’ faces and tails wagging like crazy for the canines.

It’s also important for Lennon to get the message of community service out there. So many times, the off-field or off-court stories played up are the negative ones. She wants folks to know the vast majority of those in college sports are truly student-athletes trying to excel in areas beyond just their sport.

“We’re about developing the whole person,” Lennon said. From an early start, we try to get them interested in the community and we’re fortunate to be in a community which is as engaged as they are. Sometimes, the positive stories about athletes don’t get out there. We want to show people that these are really great kids.”

From the athlete’s perspective, it’s equally important to get involved.

Madison Webb is a freshman softball player for the Lady Bucs from Concord, N.C. She found a new friend in Bill, a blue tick hound who could hardly wait to get outside. It even brought Webb back memories of her old dog, Bronco, an English bulldog.

“This is really fun because specifically I like dogs,” Webb said. “These dogs don’t have a family and they don’t always feel the love. So during the holidays, you want to share that love with them.”

On the field, Webb takes her role as third baseman seriously. She strives to help the Bucs repeat as Southern Conference champions after coming from a state championship program in North Carolina. But, the daughter of two ETSU graduates feels an equal responsibility off the field, both in her studies where she plans to major in nursing and working with the Johnson City community.

“Athletes are usually role models, not so much to the people at the school, but to the young kids,” Webb said. “Those young kids look up to others so we have a responsibility to represent ETSU well and show we care about the community and that we’re ready to help.”

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