West Virginia University faculty, staff, students and the general public are invited to watch 11 athletes enrolled in SPA 170 , Speaking to Communities, give their final exam presentations during”Student Athletes Speak Out,”a.k.a.”Jock Talk”from 1-2 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, in the Jerry West Lounge of the Coliseum.

Dr. Carolyn Atkins and her students spend all semester leading up to this moment.

“Many students begin the class not even wanting to introduce themselves while seated,”Atkins said.”Some have even refused to accept awards and honors because they didn’t want to get up in front of a group. Each student has come a long way from the beginning of the semester.”

Atkins first got the idea for the course at the end of 1989 when the WVU Mountaineers were preparing to play in the Fiesta Bowl.

“I knew that the players were going to be interviewed a lot,”she said.”More often, people see and hear athletes more than other representatives of the school.”

Knowing how most people, and especially students, fear speaking in public, Atkins thought that offering a course for athletes focused on public speaking made a great deal of sense.

“Not only will they be representing the university in public more often, but they also have difficult schedules that are considered when planning this course.”

The first class was offered in the spring of 1990.

In addition to preparing student athletes to speak in public, this class also offers the public a chance to learn from the athletes.

“When talking to the students one-on-one, I was amazed at the stories these young folks had to tell,”she noted.”Some of them had to overcome great obstacles to get to college.”

While the motivational speeches given by the athletes deal with their personal experiences, the messages conveyed are universal. Being on a team also adds a great deal to the lives of the students.

“Many students have had to deal with the deaths of loved one, and others have grown up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods where drugs and violence are part of every day life,”Atkins said.”Dedication, commitment, the importance of teamwork, balance, focus and how to deal with mistakes and to set goals are also consistent themes.”

At the beginning of the semester, students work in class on icebreaker assignments such as introducing a classmate to others and giving an impromptu presentation on a given topic.

Speeches on personal experiences and the most influential person in their lives run a little longer than the icebreaker assignments and begin preparing the athletes for their public appearances.

“The motivational speeches are based on real-life experiences,”Atkins said.

During the second half of each semester, the class visits local public high school classrooms to talk to classes. The schools chosen vary from semester to semester. Each student generally speaks to two different classes with half the class speaking at each site.

The speeches run approximately five minutes each and the audience has the chance to ask questions after the presentations.

The group also visits various elementary schools in the area to participate in the Read Aloud program.

“It’s important that the athletes not only read to the students but that they also interact with the children, answering questions and engaging in conversation,”Atkins explained.

The visit to the Children’s Hospital before the annual Gold and Blue Football Game at Mountaineer Field is especially fulfilling because the athletes have a chance to see rooms that they have furnished and to hear about holiday and birthday parties funded using proceeds from the game.

“It’s a very positive experience,”Atkins said.”I think it makes playing in the game even more meaningful when they get to see the impact on the children and their families.”

The final presentation, in front of a community audience and videotaped, truly tests their presentation skills and demonstrates the comfort and confidence they have developed through the semester.

“The question-and-answer period helps them to think on their feet,”Atkins adds,”and it’s rewarding to see them engaged and involved in the moment.”

The lessons learned in the class stay with the students even long after graduation.

“I’ve seen many former students through the years,”Atkins said,”and when they see me they say they make sure not to use fillers such as’like,’‘uh,’‘ya know’because they remember that from class.”

This semester’s topics and speakers are:

  • One MindTwo Bodies (about friendship) by Jason Colson
  • We Are Family (team unity) by Chris”Slim”Henry
  • Confucius Says(anger management) by Liz Holbrook
  • Not Always Glamorous (the hard work it takes to be a student athlete) by Eric Ruth
  • Replacing an Empty Mind (how college can be intimidating) by Krystoffer”Ju-Ju”Williams
  • Experience is a Teacher (the importance of studying) by Kevin”Boo”McLee
  • The Transition (from high school to college) by Kevin Pittsnogle
  • Learning from Bad Times by Warren Young
  • The Potential Around You (living life to the fullest) by Gareth Gold
  • If Only He Had a Different Attitude (how attitude can affect your life) by Ridwan Malik
  • Daddy’s Boy (growing up with a well-known father) by Patrick Beilein

Admission to this event is free. For further information, call Dr. Atkins, professor of speech pathology and audiology, at 304-293-4242, ext. 1835.