Aug 26, 2016
Scoring Opportunity
Jerry Hill

A recent partnership between Baylor University and Fort Hood Army base has proven to be a slam dunk, elevating the performance of athletes and soldiers alike.

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

Sixty-five miles is all that separates the Baylor University campus and the Fort Hood Army base near Killeen, Texas. But it might as well have been a thousand.

For years, the world’s largest Baptist university and the most populous U.S. military installment, with more than 40,000 soldiers, were like distant cousins. They didn’t interact or support each other in any significant manner.

Recently, however, that has changed dramatically. With the acknowledgement that athletics and the military can help each other in unique ways, the Baylor athletic department and Fort Hood have developed innovative methods to share their knowledge, passion, and ideas.

The activities have ranged from Baylor athletes experiencing military training to Fort Hood platoon leaders learning about best strength and conditioning practices from Baylor performance coaches. Nick Joos, Baylor’s Executive Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs, believes the partnership is a win-win in many ways.

“Our coaches and student-athletes get a lot out of it, and giving back to the soldiers is also important,” he says. “When we can bring something to them it speaks volumes about Baylor, its mission, and what we’re trying to do here as a partner and as a university.”

THE TIP-OFF

The first Baylor program to build a relationship with Fort Hood was the men’s basketball team. Four years ago, Head Coach Scott Drew immersed his squad in a “Weekend as a Wrangler” boot camp session.

“A number of Fort Hood parents send their kids to our summer camps, and we get to know some of them,” says Drew. “One of the colonels whose son was at our camp offered the idea of having our guys go down to them and experience boot camp and leadership training.”

Over the two-day experience, the players were immersed in a world very different than what they were used to. The team went through a Leadership Reaction Course and weapons training simulation, coached a quartet of Fort Hood basketball teams, made it through six challenges on the Air Assault Obstacle Course, and were trained in hand-to-hand combat.

One of the biggest lessons players learned was how to become a leader when it was not spelled out. “It was great to see different people stepping up for their different roles when we had to get through the obstacles,” says Cory Jefferson, a forward for the Bears from 2009 to 2014 whose mother, Fancy Pace, served in the Army at Fort Hood.

Beyond helping to build team camaraderie and leaders, the weekend opened Baylor athletes’ eyes to the life of those in the military, and it helped them develop an appreciation for what the soldiers go through. At one point, players attended a “Welcome Home” ceremony for the 96th Transportation Company with 200 soldiers returning from Afghanistan, and Drew said there was not a dry eye in the house.

“Part of working together and growing and bonding is doing things like this where 20 years later you can talk about, ‘Do you remember when we went to Fort Hood and had that experience?’’’ he says.

This past season, the team “gave back” to the Fort Hood community when it played a December game against NCAA Division III Hardin-Simmons University at the military base. It was the first-ever regular season college basketball game at 2,000-seat Abrams Gym, and free tickets were distributed to the soldiers and their families. In the 2016-17 season, the Bears will return to Fort Hood to face Jackson State University.

“When you get a top-20 team like Baylor to come play at Fort Hood, it’s a pretty significant event,” says Col. Todd M. Fox, Garrison Commander. “It means a lot to our families and our service members, and it’s a great way to honor the sacrifices of our soldiers.”

In addition, a few days before last year’s game, the coaching staff made the short trip down to Fort Hood to put on a basketball clinic for the soldiers’ children. And next year, they’re adding a pregame clinic that will have a boot camp mentality with obstacle courses.

SHARING EXPERTISE

The second big collaboration between Baylor and Fort Hood is behind the scenes and entails the sharing of ideas around training and performance. It began when Lt. Col. Andrew Short with the 91st Engineer Battalion contacted Kaz Kazadi, MEd, SCCC, USAW, Baylor’s Associate Athletics Director for Athletic Performance, in January 2015.

“Col. Short has an athletic background—he played football at West Point,” says Chris Ruf, MS, CSCS, SCCC, USAW, Director of Athletic Performance at Baylor. “He envisions his soldiers being like athletes and having peak performance on their mind whenever they’re training for their duties. This helps soldiers view their training as more than just a day-to-day job.”

Col. Short brought some of his soldiers to Waco that February to watch the football team train, then he stayed to offer a few words to the Bears about leadership and commitment. Following that, the athletic performance staff met with some of Fort Hood’s senior leadership to discuss team-building from a “chemistry and culture standpoint,” Ruf says.

Later that spring, a group of 28 football players that were seen as potential leaders went through a one-day boot camp that included learning how to line up in military formation and undergoing some challenges on the Leadership Reaction Course.

“The obstacles aren’t really that physically challenging, but it’s kind of like a puzzle you have to solve,” Ruf says. “It puts guys in different situations than what they’re used to. And that forces them to step out of their comfort zones a little.

“It also got some of our quiet guys to open up,” he continues. “Guys who don’t talk a whole lot normally but want to get things done figure it out quickly, and they’ll be like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do this, you need to do this.’’’

In spring 2016, a younger group went through a similar training, and Ruf noticed a stark contrast between the older and younger players. “You see leadership emerge out of both groups, but the older guys probably took a little more time on the front end to solve the thing, whereas the younger guys tended to rush in,” he says. “They made a few mistakes that ended up costing them a couple minutes—and they learned from that.

“The goal was to complete the obstacle in 12 minutes, which is pushing it,” continues Ruf. “And both times we’ve been down there, the soldiers did a demo in which they make the challenging parts look pretty easy. Our players saw how well the soldiers communicate with each other and are productive each step of the task.”

Another program, in December, entailed the Baylor athletic performance staff offering a two-day workshop on physical development and training for platoon leaders and about 30 soldiers from the 91st Engineer Battalion. The group was getting ready to be deployed to South Korea and Col. Short was looking to prepare them in the best way possible.

“They have between 700 and 800 soldiers in that battalion, and Col. Short wanted to sharpen their physical readiness and preparedness,” says Ruf. “We gave them a blueprint for some ways to approach their training that might be a little more functional for what their daily tasks are rather than what they had traditionally done.”

For example, one of the workshop discussions centered on targeting the correct energy system for each soldier. Just like offensive linemen in football have different energy needs than defensive backs, soldiers also have varying needs, Ruf explains.

Another session was about preventing injuries. “They see a lot of overuse injuries, so we talked about how to identify what those are and how to go backwards to prevent or lessen the chances of them occurring,” Ruf says. “We asked, ‘How can we make a more resilient soldier that can handle the job’s demands yet is also always improving physically?’”

Finally, Baylor strength coaches worked with Fort Hood leaders to develop competitive tasks that measure improvement. This helped the soldiers get physically fit enough to go through Ranger training with minimal setbacks.

MOVING TO THE DIAMOND

Within the last year, Baylor’s partnership with Fort Hood has expanded to other sports. Head Softball Coach Glenn Moore and first-year Head Baseball Coach Steve Rodriguez both took their players to the base to go through the Leadership Reaction Course.

It was particularly beneficial to Rodriguez for finding leaders on a team filled with players he didn’t know well. “I feel that if you’re a leader, you’re a leader all the time and not just on the baseball field, so doing the course at Fort Hood fit my philosophy,” he says.

“It’s low-stress in that the athletes know it’s kind of fun—they are playing games,” he continues. “But it’s high-stress in that it’s something new, and it’s something uncomfortable. That’s when you see your real leaders—when something is not what it’s supposed to be, and a person has to react to it.”

Baseball players were then able to show their appreciation for their Fort Hood experience during a Military Appreciation game. Fort Hood used the opportunity to swear in their whole class of pledges on Baylor’s home field, and the Bears wore their camo uniforms that day.

The softball players had their Fort Hood trip sprung on them at the last minute. Expecting to have Saturday off after the end of their grueling “County Fair” preseason workouts, the players got an early wake-up call, and Moore had two vans waiting to take them down to the military base.

Split into four teams, with a sports psychologist observing each group, the athletes went through several obstacle courses and mental challenges during the day. In one, they had to figure out how to get a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage across the river without getting one of them eaten.

Each of the challenges is designed to figure out which players will take leadership roles, who’s going to be a good teammate and follow, and who’s going to sit back and give advice. “It’s directly applicable to what we do,” Moore says. “I’m a big believer that you can improve leadership qualities, but the true leaders are the ones that just have an innate ability to lead.”

Through the success of Baylor’s recent endeavors with Fort Hood, the athletic department hopes to expand the partnership in new and interesting ways in the future. This could include more teams undergoing military-style training and more collaborative learning experiences between performance staffs.

“We feel like we’re just scratching the surface of this partnership and can certainly get better as we move forward,” says Joos. “Quite a few teams have taken advantage of it, and hopefully that will continue. It’s a great experience for the student-athletes and for the soldiers. Everyone can benefit from it.”

A version of this article appears in Training & Conditioning’s sister publication, Athletic Management.

Sidebar:
SIDE BY SIDE

At Boston College, a new partnership focused on wellness pairs student-athletes with military veterans in the weightroom.

By Leah Settipane

A few years ago, Susan Sheehy, PhD, RN, FAEN, FAAN, was talking with a rehabbing soldier at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., who was about to be discharged. He had undergone two-and-a-half years of treatment. She asked him if he was excited to return home, and to Dr. Sheehy’s surprise, he said no.

He explained that he was part of a community at Walter Reed. The other military patients there were his “battle buddies.” They didn’t feel sorry for each other because of their injuries or experiences and cheered one another on during rehab. They shared a unique bond and understood each other. “What is going to happen to me when I go home?” he said.

That conversation spurred Dr. Sheehy, a nationally recognized expert on emergency/trauma nursing and Associate Professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing, to create the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative. The program offers veterans recently out of rehab the opportunity to partner with collegiate student-athletes in a wellness program.

Funded by a one-year grant from the Wounded Warrior Project, the idea behind the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative is to provide recently discharged wounded military personnel with a positive community and a fitness routine as they transition to civilian life. Veterans often suffer from a sense of isolation, which can result in significant weight gain, depression, increased substance abuse, and, sometimes, suicidal ideations. Offering them a structured and supported group plan that promotes a healthy lifestyle could be just the help they need.

But why link them with student-athletes? Dr. Sheehy felt that because college athletes embrace hard work, teamwork, and camaraderie, they would be perfect workout partners. Student-athletes understand the importance of supporting each other for the good of the team. They are also physically fit, just as the soldiers were when on active duty, providing motivation for the veterans.

Working as a visiting scholar at Boston College during the 2015-16 school year, Dr. Sheehy reached out to Ann Wolbert Burgess, DNSc, RNCS, FAAN, a Professor at BC’s William F. Connell School of Nursing, and the two got the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative up and running in early 2016. The program consists of a 12-week session and, to date, has included nine veterans and 11 student-athletes.

To recruit student-athletes, Dr. Sheehy presented the project to students in Dr. Burgess’ forensics course, as well as the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. Interested student-athletes went through an application process, which included an interview to ensure good matches with the veterans.

Key to the program is that the workouts are overseen by an athletic trainer and very structured. Maria Hutsick, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Head Athletic Trainer at Medfield (Mass.) High School and a former athletic trainer at Boston University, provided oversight during the first two months of the initiative, and Sarah Orban, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, an Athletic Trainer, Assistant Director of Athletics, and Science Teacher at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School in Waltham, Mass., has recently taken over.

The workouts are 75 minutes, twice a week and consist of a 10-minute dynamic warm-up, 35 minutes of strength and conditioning work, such as weight training and body-resistance exercises, and 30 minutes of a cardiovascular activity. The veterans are also encouraged to train at least two more times a week on their own.

The athletic trainer provides the plan each day and monitors the workouts, reinforcing proper form and modifying exercises to fit the individual needs of each participant. The athletes perform the exercises side by side with the former soldiers, providing motivation and encouraging their partners to become stronger mentally and physically.

Following each workout session, the veterans participate in hour-long wellness classes that focus on topics like nutrition, resiliency, sleep, meditation, spirituality, and family relations. These classes are taught by content experts from around the country, sometimes in person and sometimes via videoconferencing. In addition, college faculty present on other general interest topics. Athletes are not required to attend these classes, but my cohort often did and found the information helpful in moving forward in our athletic endeavors, overall wellness, and worldly knowledge.

To monitor progress during the program, the veterans are weighed weekly and physiologic measures (BMI, percentages of body fat and visceral fat) are collected every other week. Using the Beck Depression Scale, psychosocial measures of depression, self efficacy, and resiliency are collected at baseline and at six and 12 weeks.

At the time of this writing, the first program has been completed, and Dr. Sheehy is pleased with the results. In the first cohort of veterans, weight loss ranged from 15 to 27 pounds, and all experienced a reduction in BMI and percentages of body fat and visceral fat. Dr. Sheehy was also pleased to get a phone call from one of the veteran’s mental health workers who relayed how important this program was in helping him on his journey back to civilian life.

At the same time, the veterans provided their athlete partners with an amazing array of life lessons. As a senior field hockey athlete at BC in the 2015-16 academic year, I was honored to be chosen to participate in the first Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative, and it was a life-changing experience. I gained a new perspective on the sacrifices it takes to be a member of our military and what it’s like to put your life on the line for our country.

I also learned that war not only affects a person mentally and physically, but can make relationships with their family and community difficult, as well. Transitioning back into everyday life is a huge challenge.

For instance, the veteran that I was paired with suffered a traumatic brain injury following a blast from an improvised explosive device. Years later, he’s still plagued by chronic migraines and constant pain. I was inspired by his resilience as I watched him push through pain during the workouts and persevere despite his traumatic life experiences. He never gave up. He showed up every day wanting to get better, which has motivated me to do the same not only in my sport, but in life, as well.

Overall, the feedback from the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative’s participants was extremely positive. Both groups said they had an impact on each other’s lives, and they created very strong bonds. The athletes and soldiers have become lifelong friends and continue to keep in touch via phone, text messages, e-mails, and social and athletic outings.

In addition, Norwich University has joined the project with six recently discharged soldiers. Their workout sessions are held on the school’s Vermont campus, and the group accesses the wellness classes at BC via videoconferencing. We hope that similar programs will begin at colleges all across the country so that our veterans, regardless of where they live, can get this unique level of support.

For more information or to join the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative consortium, contact Dr. Susan Sheehy at: [email protected], or Dr. Ann Burgess at: [email protected].

Leah Settipane was a field hockey player at Boston College before graduating earlier this year and was an athlete volunteer in the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative


Jerry Hill is in his eighth year as Director of Communications for the Baylor University Bear Foundation after 25 years with the Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper. He can be reached at: [email protected].


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