APU’s Athletic Department thrives on teaching student athletes the importance of providing for people in need

Members of the APU Cougars’ women’s basketball team preparing food for the community. (Photo Courtesy of Miriam Zabinsky.)

Volunteer work has always been an important cornerstone of APU’s mission. It is a part of APU that is constantly growing by providing students and staff with many different chances to spend their time helping those who need it.

This growth has allowed APU athletes to expand in their volunteer work as well. Volunteering has been an essential aspect of Azusa Pacific University’s athletic department for many years. Through the different sports teams, student-athletes are provided with many opportunities to give to communities in need.

A few of the most recent forms of service that APU’s athletic teams have taken part of this summer included: the softball team helping communities in Cuba and the swim and dive team partnering with the Amazing Grace Organization (AGO) in a fundraising effort to help fight against cancer.

With many volunteer opportunities, Cougar athletes have developed a new sense of respect for their teammates in all sports. This was especially apparent for APU’s women’s basketball head coach, T.J. Hardeman, who noticed a difference in how his players used teamwork while volunteering to bond with each other, compared to when they are competing on the court.

“When you do something service-wise, it creates a different dynamic of caring and helping each other outside of [the mentality]: ‘we’re competing for the same position,’” Hardeman said.

Each sports program is unique in how it incorporates volunteer work into their sports season. For example, the football team introduces local kids to sports by going to their schools and playing with them.

For APU’s senior quarterback Andrew Elffers, this was an exciting way for athletes to be selfless and get students invested in sports.

“I always see [volunteering] as a chance to get to know your surrounding community better,” Elffers said. “We live in a culture today that is so self-consumed…service is a way where you can put down your self-interests and use them for the interest of others.”

Athletic volunteering can also provide spiritual growth to those who need it. Elffers in particular views volunteering as a way to use what God has provided him with to help others.

“I think the Lord has given everyone gifts and talents to honor him,” Ellfers said.

Many sports teams use their assets to inspire the youth. APU’s Athletic Director Gary Pine mentioned how fond he is of head baseball Coach Paul Svagdis’s volunteer efforts with his team have been. Svagdis uses his athletes to support and inspire local children through events both inside and outside of campus. Children from Glendora step onto the APU baseball diamond and are able to train with the baseball team, but according to Pine, Coach Svagdis goes above and beyond by having his athletes support the children outside of campus.

“In pairs of two, he sends our players out to their Little League games in Glendora and they sit in the stands and they cheer those kids on,” Pine said. “It develops a connection of teaching, encouragement, support, and relationship.”

Local engagement is not the only way that athletes are encouraged to volunteer. The Athletic Department has also provided students with a chance to volunteer globally with their sports team.

The women’s basketball team spent last week feeding the homeless in Long Beach and this week they will be attending a mission trip in Mexico to help build houses for a local family.

One of those players is senior guard Annanya Raghavan. During her freshman year she was surprised by how much volunteering she did as an athlete. Over time, it became apparent to her how impactful and insightful volunteering can be.

“Coming into college isn’t all about the sports,” Raghavan said. “What you do between the lines is great and all, but what you can do outside of it is what matters.”

This will be the second time in three years that the women’s basketball team will be building houses in Mexico. While it was a great bonding experience for the team, that wasn’t what Raghavan got out of her first mission trip to Mexico. Instead she saw a sense of passion toward the community she helped serve. She watched the father of the family help build the house and occasionally the children would come by and help paint the walls. It was moments like this and the family’s genuine thankfulness that encouraged Raghavan to go on the trip on a second time this year.

“We did get closer as a team but that wasn’t the priority,” she said. “The ability to give a family a new home and make a difference in someone’s life is the big thing that we’re trying to do.”

The APU athletic department strives to form their athletes into difference-makers both in their communities and around the world. This intends to be instilled in the students even after their time at APU.