April 4, 2017

Division III Week: NAC Values Castleton's Pelkey & Green Mountain's Wright

Member institutions of the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) place a high value in the overall student-athlete experience while focusing on four attributes including Sportsmanship, Community/Global Service, SAAC/Campus Leadership, and Diversity and Inclusion. The NAC will be featuring one student-athlete at all ten member institutions throughout Division III Week, April 3-9, 2017, in a series titled "NAC Values."

The college experience provides students a chance to follow their passions and to develop their potential. NCAA Division III student-athletes discover their growth while in the classroom, as well as during their participation in a competitive athletic environment. Student-athletes push themselves to excellence on the field of play and in the classroom. 

Below you will learn how Castleton University senior Ashley Pelky (Barre, Vt.) and Green Mountain College junior Dominic Wright (Queens, N.Y.) embody NAC Values and the three NCAA Division III ideals, "Discover, Develop, and Dedicate."

To view the previous NAC Values feature stories, please click HERE.

Name: Ashley Pelky
Institution: Castleton University
Major: Exercise Science; Minors: Coaching and Fitness Sport Science
Class: Senior 
Varsity Sport: Women’s Ice Hockey and Women’s Lacrosse
Hometown: Barre, Vt.

Name: Dominic Wright 
Institution: Green Mountain College
Major: English
Class: Junior
Varsity Sport: Men's Lacrosse
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.

What does being a Division III student-athlete mean to you

Pelky: Being a Division III student-athlete means being a student first and an athlete second. We, Division III athletes, work as hard as Division I or Division II athletes, but without any financial reward or ‘ins’ to the next level in our athletic career (professional, Olympic level). Every lift, practice, or game is strictly for our own satisfaction and the chance to represent our school. As I am coming to the end of my college career I have been able to understand my experience as both challenging and rewarding and I firmly believe that is because I am a Division III student-athlete.

Wright: Being an NCAA Division III student-athlete to me means that I balance the complex nature of making time for school, clubs, volunteer work, and sport(s). While being a Division III student-athlete, I acknowledge that I need to grow my education, sport, and leadership qualities on as well as off the field. 


What is the athletic culture like at your institution, and what does being a “Spartan/Eagle” mean to you?

Pelky: At Castleton the athletic culture is united and supportive. I applaud every student athlete for facing the abnormalities and challenges that come with it. At the end of the day we do not receive any sort of extrinsic reward or special treatment from being a student-athlete. With that said, we all just understand each other and the ups and downs that come with the experience. Castleton is a small university; therefore, word travels fast. When a program suffers a tough loss or an exciting win, everyone is there to either motivate you to ‘get ‘em next time’ or applaud you for ‘showing them what Spartans are made of.’ Being a Spartan, means being a part of something bigger than yourself. When I came in as a first year, I was so clueless as to how much of an impact this school would have on me. I grew to understand the true meaning behind being a ‘Spartan’ and doing things the ‘Castleton Way’. Being a ‘Spartan’ means pushing yourself to and beyond your limits for the person next to you and bleeding green every chance you get. Bleeding green is a common term used among student-athletes at Castleton, but I believe it is best defined by dedicating yourself not only to your program but by supporting other teams on campus, taking every opportunity you can to dress in 343 green, and being a part of the family through all the highs and lows. Most people say we win and lose as a team but at Castleton we win and lose as a school. 

Wright: The athletic culture at my institution is tight knit. Everybody knows one another on a first name basis, especially the coaches and athletic trainers. Outside of the athletic facilities, the student body, along with the faculty, are supportive. More often than not, professors attend the games and cheer on their students with other attendees of Green Mountain. Within the athletic facility, my Athletic Director, Kip Shipley, makes accommodations with the student body so there is not a gap between athletes, student life, and on-campus activism. Being that my school is very social justice/environmentally oriented, Athletic Director Shipley, along with the coaches of the varsity sports, are constantly attending panel discussions and club meetings making their personal side more accessible to all athletes as well as the student and residential body. With this being said, being a Green Mountain Eagle means representing those individuals who put forth so much effort and work into making my life as joyful as it can possibly be. Representing the college and those people who work for well it is a goal of mine.  

How has athletics affected your collegiate experience as a whole?

Pelky: I will forever be indebted to Castleton Athletics for providing me with the best experience to excel as a student-athlete. Coming into Castleton, I was not recruited for either sport that I play, ice hockey and lacrosse. My main focus at the time was trying to get onto the hockey team. That year there were thirty or more women trying out for the team, ranging from returning players from past programs, recruits, and walk-ons. Long story short, I was the only walk-on to make the team, while about seven other returners and walk-ons did not. Today, I look back and reflect on that experience and understand that if it wasn’t for my hard work, dedication to succeed, and ability to push myself when I was told I wasn’t good enough, I would have experienced college in a very different manner.

Wright: Athletics has affected my collegiate experience in numerous ways. I am learning more about myself all while developing affinity for different groups of people, both athletes and non-athletes. When recalling my freshman year at Green Mountain, I had no idea of how I was going to fit in with a new atmosphere of students who are mainly from the New England region. Also, I used to witness an abundance of social stigmas around campus regarding the way people felt about athletes that they are not involved with anything bigger than their respective sports. Athletics, however, in my experience has only built bridges here on campus to get more involved. The upperclassmen on the lacrosse team, during my freshman year, had introduced me to people who were pretty involved on campus. As a junior, I see the different ways I can be a member of the lacrosse team, attend multiple events on and off campus, and still represent my team as well as the athletic department in a positive light. With this in mind, I hope to contribute to the removal of social stigmas that that athletes are uninvolved in anything other than their athletic team and goals.

How do you balance being a student and an athlete, while maintaining your grades?

Pelky: I find it much easier to manage time while being an athlete and it has reflected through my academics. Time is extremely valuable and unfortunately, our rink is about twenty minutes away from campus. With that said, practice tends to consume about five hours of the day not including lift, video, or rehab with the athletic trainers. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my college experience, it’s how to manage my time. Since athletics take up most of the free time in my day, I have discovered how to capitalize on every extra minute outside of sports, class, and work, to study. It can be challenging at times when midterms and finals roll around, but even throughout high school, my grades always seemed to be better in season. 

Wright: The way I balance being a student and an athlete, while maintaining my grades, is by remaining organized whether in the form of phone reminders, my google calendar, or a planner to keep me updated with assignments. This year, I feel better prepared being that my lacrosse coach, Kevin Zuchorski, gave us assignment sheets to complete at the end of each week. By attending class and having my professors sign their names next to the slot they teach, this is the best way I can remain on top of my academics and hold myself responsible. One thing I learned while being a student-athlete is that there are a few guys on my team that are in a handful of my classes so we support and remind each other of assignments, projects, and extra-credit opportunities that arise. 

What do you believe are the most important skills to possess when trying to excel on the “field” and in the classroom?

Pelky: As a student-athlete, I feel the most important skill to possess is communication. Informing your professors when you will be missing class due to an away trip is crucial in maintaining an open and positive relationship. Communicating with your teammates and coaches is another very important skill and a key to success. Keeping your coaches up to date with classes, grades, and other things that could affect your sport assures less room for problems in the future. As a senior captain this year, I found myself addressing situations with my peers and coaches often. It did not take me long to realize that people communicate and respond to communication in different ways. On the field, some athletes get very ramped up and when they try to communicate, the receiving end may feel like they are being yelled at or negatively criticized. As an athlete, focusing on the content instead of the tone is hard, but very important. In general, building relationships with your teammates and coaches through communication will increase the strength of your team culture. All in all, being an effective and receptive communicator will help you achieve success on and off the field through the college experience.

Wright: Personally, I strongly believe the most important skills to possess when trying to excel on the field and in the classroom are the main ones every athlete should have down pat: poise, precision, awareness, leadership, and mental toughness. As a student-athlete, you have to be ready for whatever comes your way, whether this takes on the form of assignments or a tough opponent. 

Which NAC Value/s do you believe that you embody most: Sportsmanship, Community/Global Service, SAAC/On campus Leadership AND/OR Diversity or Inclusion? How you exemplify NAC Values every day?

Pelky: Sportsmanship is the NAC Value I embody most. I am the type of athlete that keeps to herself and respects her opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Although I am extremely competitive, I never lash out with words or violence; I express it through my own successes on the field. Even when I have a bad game or suffer a bad loss I still see the importance of shaking the other teams hand and applauding them for their performance. In practice, I am constantly cheering my teammates on and pushing them to be their very best. At the end of the day, I am fortunate enough to put on the Castleton jersey; therefore, it is my duty to represent the school in a positive manner. 

Wright: The NAC Values that I believe I embody the most are on campus leadership, diversity/inclusion, and sportsmanship. For starters, I believe I embody these values every morning/afternoon before and after practice. I demonstrate campus leadership by attending and merging the gap between student life as well as athletics. Recently, I took on the role of being a peer advocate, this being a part of another student's senior project, I am going through a training session with my school’s wellness center to help me be a better peer and develop a stronger version of empathy for people who are battling something bigger than themselves. I also embody diversity and inclusion and sportsmanship because they go hand in hand with one another. While being one of the two people of color on my team, I am often faced with adversity at some of the games my team and I attend. Hearing harsh terms that can be associated with stereotypes or racism, I rise above that. Whether it comes from a player on the opposing team or from the stands at away games, I do not let it disrupt my mental state or my game and encourage others to do the same.

Are you involved on your campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC)? Why do you believe the formation of this committee is important?

Pelky:  I have been a SAAC member for two years. I feel this committee is important because it allows the student-athletes to gather, share information, get more involved around campus, and express concerns or issues we may see throughout our campus. SAAC is the voice for athletes and assists us in being heard by the administration, the NAC and other conferences, and the NCAA. It’s a way for us as student-athletes to plan and organize events to bring everyone together, while staying in the loop with decisions made by the higher chains of command. 

Wright: I am not involved in SAAC but, as I mentioned earlier I am a part of a group of peer advocates on campus that helps out fellow students who are battling something bigger than themselves. Although it is not SAAC, it is something that is up and coming in caring for the well-being of students around campus.


How are you a leader on campus and/or in the community?

Pelky: I find myself being a leader to the underclassmen on both the hockey and lacrosse teams. Being a captain for the hockey team, I was in charge of organizing events, holding my teammates accountable for their actions, and assisting them in any sort of needs they felt comfortable coming to me with. I am not a captain for the lacrosse team, but have been informed by my coaches that as a senior and not a captain, a lot of the younger women look up to me for assistance on and off the field without feeling intimidated.  

Wright: On campus, I am a leader in many different avenues. While attending numerous activities and attending to my academics, I am currently in the process of creating a diversity and inclusion workshop that will have coaches, professors, and faculty open for conversation in regards to the broad idea of issues people of color face on a predominantly white campus. Ideally, this will have students of color in the future feel safe and open to talk about their issues to faculty. Also, I am involved in different clubs and using my voice, to defuse multiple situations. Allowing students to come up to me and being able to confide in me with things they do not feel comfortable telling faculty, especially, students of color. 

The ultimate goal in the NAC is to create an atmosphere of respect for all participants. How have you distinguished yourself through demonstrated acts of sportsmanship and ethical behavior?

Pelky: As I mentioned before, I am not the type of athlete that lashes out with negative words or violence. With that said, I continuously show good sportsmanship on and off the field in order to represent not only myself, but also the university in a positive manner. In high school, I took a holocaust genocide class that taught me to always act and to never be a bystander. If I am witnessing something unethical, it is my job to intervene whether it be bullying, self-harm, domestic violence, or sexual assault. In addition to acting on such behaviors, it is also my job to inform those who are unaware of the seriousness and commonality of these things happening around campus. This year we will be having our third annual ‘One Love’ game to continue to spread the word and stop domestic violence and sexual assault. I think dedicating games to raise awareness for ‘It's On Us’ and the ‘One Love Foundation’ helps demonstrate the importance of ethical behavior amongst our generation. 

Wright: I am respectful of not only other teams that we encounter, but also respectful of my teammates. For example, when a person on my team is having a bad practice or game I usually go up to them and put my arm around them. A simple gesture to let them know I am here for them if they need to vent, but more often than not, I tell them to get out of their head. One quote that my coach always tells us is that there are 60 minutes in a game so if we mess up, there will be room for improvement. In a game, regardless of the score, I keep my head up and say good game to the opposing team while shaking their hand. From a more team-oriented perspective, I have the mentality of not getting frustrated with my teammates. Even if they have 5+ turnovers, I do not let the on the field issues transition to our off the field relationship. Honestly, if the role is reversed I would not want them to perceive me differently if I am having a bad game either. So mental toughness, along with maturity, are character traits I hope to emphasize. 

If you have time to volunteer, which organization has been most rewarding for you to work with? Why is volunteering important to you

Pelky: This past year, both the men’s and women’s ice hockey team got the opportunity to work with The Special Olympics USA. We hosted a training camp for all their winter sports teams before they went off to Austria in March to compete on an international stage. I got the opportunity to learn some awesome floor hockey techniques and compete against the best special Olympic floor hockey teams in USA. This experience was so rewarding because every athlete was so positive and encouraging and reminded us all why we love the game of hockey so much. Volunteering is so important to me because it allows you to step back from competitive aspect and just help someone out. Like being a Division III student-athlete, there isn’t any extrinsic reward to volunteering but in general it just makes you feel good knowing you made new connections and gave a helping hand where it was needed.

Wright: When it comes to volunteering, I dedicate one hour every Wednesday afternoon to be a peer advocate. This has been the most rewarding for me because; I am a huge advocate for people’s overall wellness. Being that I went through intervals of the high and lows in my lifetime, I do not want anyone to ever feel as down as I was without having a person to talk to. Not only has it been rewarding in that sense, but it also has been rewarding because I am establishing myself with a great group of people who are a part of different groups on campus. I am also volunteering and working with a fellow student to establish a panel discussion about social justice on campus and for that panel discussion to be available to the Green Mountain College community.

Is there any advice you would give to your peers or aspiring collegiate student-athletes that you believe would help them benefit more from their collegiate experience?

Pelky: Being a student-athlete at any level is a privilege, not a right. Division III athletes work just as hard as those at the Division I or II level; therefore, push yourself to your limits, work harder than you ever have in your athletic career, study more than you ever thought possible in the classroom, and leave with no regrets or feelings like you could have given more. For most, this is the last chance to have fun and have limited worries before entering the ‘real world’. Capitalize on this opportunity to grow and find your true potential; you might surprise yourself. Get involved and have as much fun as you can because one day you might look back and wish you had one more year.

Wright: The advice that I would give to my peers and fellow student-athletes to better their collegiate experience would be to challenge yourself. Challenging oneself in ways such as, taking on a new hobby, talking to people you do not often converse with, and being open to new ideas that people have is challenging, but it also contributes to growth. Challenge yourself to improve on the level of humanity only adds to leadership ability and allows for an individual to develop respect for him or herself and other players.

What is your greatest accomplishment thus far in your collegiate career (on and off of the “field”)?

Pelky: My greatest accomplishment in my college career is a toss up between advancing from where I was the lone walk on freshman year, to becoming one of three captains my senior year and the time I helped my team by scoring the only goal against Norwich on January 16, 2016 to award us with our first win against our conference rival. Off the field, I think my greatest accomplishment was making either the Dean’s or President’s list almost every semester since freshman year. 

Wright: My greatest accomplishment on the field would be solidifying myself in the history books my freshman year by scoring Green Mountain College’s first-ever playoff goal in NAC history. Off the field, I would say my greatest accomplishment was continuing my education at Green Mountain even though I was facing rough patches in my life from time to time. The adversity I overcame was the racism and stereotypes I was faced with. Not reacting in a way that would make me look bad was the greatest achievement in my eyes. 

Beyond your sport, what are you most passionate about?

Pelky: I am passionate about coaching, being a leader, helping people, and sharing my knowledge and experiences through all aspects of my life thus far. I am the type of person that likes to investigate problems and find the solution. 


Wright: Beyond my sport, I am passionate about fixing up my community at home. This can take on the form of making sure more people know about recreation centers, cleaning up the streets, and even being a mentally strong advocate to help not only my younger siblings but other young children as well as young adults.


What are your plans after graduation?

Pelky: After graduation, I intend on trying to play at the professional level overseas (Australia), eventually get my masters through a graduate position of coaching women’s ice hockey or coaching athletes in the weight room as a strength and conditioning coach.


Wright: After graduation I plan on working as a writer for an entertainment firm, whether it be writing articles for a blog or learning the ropes and working for a talk show. Ideally, I want to work with MTV News, NBC, HBO, or local comedy clubs to get my name out there as a writer/entertainer. I was to represent and be the voice of the youth.


More information on Division III Week:

For a Division III Week "Facts & Figures" document please click HERE.

Division III Week is a positive opportunity for all individuals associated with Division III to observe and celebrate the impact of athletics and of student-athletes on the campus and surrounding community. During the week, every Division III school and conference office is encouraged to conduct a type of outreach activity that falls into one of three categories: academic accomplishment; athletic experience; or leadership/community service/campus involvement.

During NCAA Division III Week, every member institution and conference is encouraged to schedule at least one activity, which celebrates an aspect of the Division III student-athlete experience, from these three categories:

  • Academic accomplishment, including activities such as taking time during a game to acknowledge student-athlete academic achievement, or asking teams to select a faculty member to serve as a guest coach for a practice or competition.
  • Athletics activity, including conducting events such as a youth sports clinic or competition, or scheduling recognition of school teams’ or individuals’ athletics accomplishments during a game.
  • Community or campus outreach, such as scheduling a community-service activity during the week, or participating in an event involving a local chapter of Special Olympics as part of Division III’s partnership with that organization.