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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Astrid Escobar, the head coach of men’s and women’s swimming and diving at SUNY Fredonia.
The swimming and diving program at SUNY Fredonia has recently adopted a letter writing project that aims to motivate inactive voters across the country to get out to the polls and cast their vote in the upcoming general election. The team is turning what would have normally been a Saturday practice into a focused effort to increase civic engagement.
Senior diver, Jessica Schimek, represents one of the most service-oriented members in the program. She logged over 160 community service hours this summer alone, noting that the team’s volunteer project encouraging people to vote could have a monumental impact on the fate of the country..“The letter writing campaign is one of the most unique projects I have ever been involved with,” Schimek said. “It reminds individuals to educate themselves on the issues facing today’s world and to make their voices heard by casting their vote for the candidate they deem best suited to advocating on their behalf.”
The team adopts voters through Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization whose core mission is to increase civic participation, especially from historically underrepresented groups within the general electorate. Saturdays at nine, team members jump on a Google Meeting to virtually gather and write actual handwritten, postage-stamped, snail-mail letters that include the story behind why they each vote.
Sophomore Peter Howlett recently joined the program after a year of lifeguarding for the team, noting the team’s passion in and out of the pool as a key factor in joining the program. “Personally, it’s very inspiring to be part of a team with such dedication to not only the sport, but also effecting positive change,” Howlett said. “Engaging with voters in this way helps ground my own understanding of the value of voting. As a first-year on the program, seeing the team and the value it places on leadership extending beyond the pool reaffirms the passion and drive that pulled me towards joining the program in the first place.”
The team completed close to 500 letters after one session of writing with the goal of reaching 1,200 voters. Stamps and envelopes for the letters have been donated to the team’s project from individuals across the country, ranging from states such as New York, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
At the end of this project, it is my hope that my athletes recognize the parallels between being a contributing member of a successful team and being a strong member of their community and country. The same way there are basic expectations that each member on the program must adhere (attending every practice, being on time, honest communication, etc), voting is the most essential rule of a functioning democracy. Similarly, the same way that the culture of our program is built around the idea that each athlete brings something unique and valuable to the table, it’s equally as important to make sure no one in this country feels marginalized or forgotten. Successful teams are built on the understanding that sometimes the needs of the group must outweigh the wants of an individual.
Democracy is not a spectator sport, and I am so proud to coach such a remarkable group of individuals that embrace their duties on the team and to this country.
Escobar was named head coach of men’s and women’s swimming and diving at SUNY Fredonia prior to the start of the 2019-20 season. No stranger to NCAA Division III athletics, Escobar had spent the previous season as the interim assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Prior to that, she was the interim head coach and interim aquatics director at Hamilton College for the 2016-17 season after spending the previous two seasons as Hamilton’s assistant coach.