MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The St. Thomas University Athletics Department hosted its inaugural NAIA Champions of Character Panel Discussion on Tuesday, October 15 where 250 student-athletes learned from successful individuals from the sports world on the application of the five core values of Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Sportsmanship and Servant Leadership.
International Tennis Hall of Fame member Butch Buchholz, professional race car driver Milka Duno, and former Miami Dolphins Player Judge Edward Newman headlined the list of panelists who shared their life experiences with the students through the prism of the Champions of Character core values.
Also serving on the panel were Florida State Representative Kionne McGhee, Criminal Defense attorney Arthur McNeil, St. Thomas University professor Debbie Goodman-Lerner, Boston Red Sox professional scout Wilie Romay, and Manny Tarich, Esquire. ESPN and BIG 105.9 FM broadcaster Dave Lamont moderated the discussion.
“With the help of Mr. (Arthur) McNeil, we put together this panel discussion to provide our student-athletes with real-life examples of how the core values of the NAIA Champions of Character program translate into success both in sports and in life,” said Laura Courtley-Todd, St. Thomas University Director of Athletics. “On behalf of the entire athletic department, I would like to thank all of the panelists for their insight, candor, and perspective that proved to be invaluable to our student-athletes.”
Duno, who had promoted the event on her personal Facebook page to her more than 16,000 followers, was a particular hit with the student-athletes, with roughly 50% of the audience being female and several student-athletes hailing from Venezuela, the multi-talented auto racer’s home country. She effectively communicated the Champions of Character core values to the student-athletes through her unique story as a female auto racer in a male-dominated sport.
“You have to dream. You have to look inside yourself to see what you really want to do in life and in the future,” Duno told the audience. “I had the drive to succeed in my sport even though it was a male dominated sport. It was very important that I did not let anything intimidate me. You have to just choose a goal and go in that direction.”
Questions were presented to the panel from STU’s respective sports teams, members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, as well as St. Thomas coaches and administrators. The panelists then answered the questions, sharing with the student-athletes their personal experiences as they related to the Champions of Character mission. Questions ranged from what employers are looking for, to how to handle adversity, to hot-button topics such as social media and performance enhancing drugs.
“As a former student-athlete I think it is important for these core values to be continuously grilled into them,” said State Representative McGhee. “It is important that the values of Champions of Character are taught to excel on the field and in the real world.”
“It was a wonderful opportunity for our student-athlete and student leaders to get a blueprint on life from professionals and leaders,” added Professor Goodman-Lerner. “Every day, character counts. It is good to always remind our students to do the right thing at whatever level they happen to be at in life.”