The Mississippi College Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted a special dinner and presentation for the Choctaw athletic community on Tuesday, April 5th in Anderson Hall. “Most Likely To” accolades and humorous “bests” were awarded to different teams on campus, including categories like “Best Shoe Game” and “Most Likely to be Found in the Caf.”
The event was unlike previous sports banquets held at the Clinton university. The first-ever “Choctaw Sports Night” was a formal affair, dubbed black-tie optional, allowing a unique opportunity for the entire MC sports family to be together.
Seth Smith, a Jackson native and former MLB outfielder for five teams, including the Orioles and the Rockies, was the keynote speaker. Smith spoke about not getting lost in an athlete’s routine of his or her sport, remarking on the privilege it is to be an athlete. His main emphasis was focused on translating what an athlete does on a field or court to a life of faith off the field, with Smith noting that what athletes do “isn’t just about sports.”
Former MLB outfielder Seth Smith was the keynote speaker for the night. Smith has made appearances on professional teams like the San Diego Padres, the Oakland Athletics, and the Seattle Mariners.
The MC Athletic Department sponsored the event, enlisting the assistance of SAAC’s Vice President Erin Hederman and Mississippi College’s University Events Coordinator Lori Bobo. The formal event encouraged MC athletes to dress up for a night of savory food, amusing team honors, an encouraging word on being an athlete, and, most importantly, fellowship with other student-athletes.
“Our main goal for the event was to show the athletes of MC that they are acknowledged and to make them feel celebrated. It was really special to be in an environment, a whole atmosphere, where we were all able to come together for this one thing,” said Hederman, who is also a member of the Lady Choctaw soccer team. “We don’t get that many opportunities for stuff like that. Honestly, the best part of the whole experience was seeing everyone truly enjoying being together.”
In between red-carpet photos of athletes and year-end highlights of the various MC sports represented, members of MC’s athletic community were made to feel welcomed, honored, and recognized for their weighty contribution to the department.
Without the bodies in the room that night, there wouldn’t be football games to cheer for on Saturday, a team from MC represented in the GSC tennis tournaments, or a cross country or track and field team to travel to meets across the southeastern United States.
The event, which was slated to happen almost two years ago but was postponed due to COVID-19, proved that however long the wait, it wasn’t in vain.
The massive function, which had over 400 student-athletes, athletic administrators, and coaches in attendance, took a true team to pull off. With SAAC being the point of contact for university event coordination, the occasion was nothing short of a success.
“My motto when planning anything is ‘success is in the details.’ Erin was so detail-oriented that my job was significantly easier because of her and her team,” said Bobo, who plans all large gatherings on campus. “I helped plan an entire banquet like this one before COVID[-19] and started planning another one for last year that wasn’t able to happen. With this one, it all came together so seamlessly.”
Notable figures also involved in the event’s coordination included Kenny Bizot, MC’s athletic director, co-sponsors of SAAC Dr. Keith Randazzo, an MC kinesiology professor from New Orleans, and Michael Shumaker, the head coach of strength and conditioning for Choctaw athletes, Blake Weir, the sports information director, and Brian Hanna, the AV Production Manager for Event Services.
Brian Hanna and Blake Weir ran audio-visual production for the night. Weir’s department created team highlight reels and event graphics for the night featured on the big screens of Anderson Hall.
Bizot emceed alongside Michael Wright, another familiar face on MC’s campus in the role of Acting Dean of Enrollment Services. The pair flipped between Bizot award-presenting and Wright telling jokes about Bizot’s Louisiana accent, or his “Cajun spice” as Wright noted.
“This was something that gave our athletes a chance to dress up and do something fun that wasn’t going to another practice or having a team meeting. It was also an opportunity for teammates and other athletes outside of everyone’s individual sports to cheer for one another,” Bobo said. “The biggest thing for me when I plan an event is if, as I’m sitting at the event, watching everyone, and taking it all it, the people in attendance are enjoying themselves and they know that the event was for them. That makes every bit of stress worth it.”
Student-athletes dressed out for the black-tie optional occasion. One attendee remarked how special it was to have an event to “go all out for.”
The Student-Athlete Advisory Board exists on NCAA campuses nationwide to be a voice for student-athletes. The mission statement of the sub-organization is to “serve as student-athlete liaisons that monitor and discuss happenings on campuses, within conferences, and at the national level,” according to its official website.
The MC chapter of SAAC has put a new emphasis on growing awareness and campus relevance of the student-run organization this year with fresh leadership like Ava Dickerson as president, Hederman as vice president and event coordinator, and the rest of the SAAC officer body. The SAAC sponsors are Shumaker and Randazzo, MC SAAC hopes to be a true resource and support for Choctaw athletes.
“Our future as an organization is bright. Coach Bizot has done such a good job at promoting us on campus. With his ambition and drive to make our athletics here better, the potential for more events like this one is possible,” said Hederman. “I just really want to thank everyone who was able to make this happen.”
If events like the Choctaw Sports NIght are any indicator of what a positive impact for the organization on MC’s campus looks like, it’s safe to say that SAAC “hit the ball out of the park.”