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For Immediate Release: September 26, 2011
Contact: John Hartrick (hartrick@binghamton.edu)
Phone: 607-777-6800

BU student-athletes play pivotal role aiding community flood victims
Numerous sports teams donate time, money, manpower to assist those in need
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When flooding devastated the Binghamton region on September 6-9, few were spared. The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee deposited nearly nine inches of rain over a two-day span and the Susquehanna River in Binghamton crested at a record 25.71 feet - over 10 feet above flood stage.

More than 15,000 people had to evacuate their homes and close to 1,800 found shelter at the Events Center, Binghamton University's primary athletics facility and home to 16 of BU's 21 sports teams. Following the storm, President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration and Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated damage at $1 billion.

In the wake of the natural disaster - the area's second annhilating flood in the past six years - BU student-athletes were quick to act. Taking to heart the athletic department's "Making an Impact" mantra, the teams and individuals volunteered in a variety of ways and did so without fanfare.

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"Our staff and student-athletes have always been very good about giving back to others on campus and in our community but the response to the recent flood has been simply amazing," Director of Athletics Jim Norris said.

The wrestling team joined the Red Cross and National Guard in closing one emergency shelter in nearby Johnson City and readying displaced individuals and families for transportation to a new shelter. The group loaded and unloaded donations at a local charity before heading out into the neighborhoods to help several elderly families begin to clean up from the damage.

"It was important for us to help out because there is a lot to be done and as a unit we had a lot of manpower and a lot hands to help those who really needed it," wrestler Dan Riggi said. "The people of Binghamton are our fans as well so it's a way to say thank you for supporting us by supporting them when they need it most."

Teammate Joe Bonaldi was moved by the sheer volume of people at the shelter.

"It was awful to see how many people were left without homes," he said. "Seeing that gave all of us even more of an incentive to help out in any way possible."

The baseball team came to the rescue of one particular family who lost nearly everything to the flood. The players demolished damaged sheet-rock, ripped up and removed flooring, removed wet insulation, hauled out appliances, and carried everything out of the garage so the family could clean and salvage what they could. An emotional resident said that the team did in four hours what would've taken his family three months to complete.

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"They worked quickly, efficiently and most importantly, were extremely respectful throughout the entire process," he said. "So much was accomplished! I am extremely thankful and grateful that there are individuals/groups in the community that have come together to help."

Local baseball players Mike Danaher and Bijon Mangouri felt a strong pull to assist their hometown community.

"The flood destroyed my aunt's and uncle's home," Mangouri said. "Many families in Conklin (a town close to the Susquehanna River) were going to lose their homes so I searched for flood relief efforts in the area and told the coordinator that our team was available to help out. The relief we gave certainly didn't turn anyone's life around but the families were very grateful."

"Seeing the mud line halfway up trees and seeing homes and parks sitting in water that had no business being there showed me just how devastating this flood was to our area," Danaher said. "My family was very fortunate to avoid the damage that a lot of other families suffered so helping those who were affected was rewarding to me. It was the least we could do for a community that supports our team and this university."

The women's softball team helped clean-out flooded buildings and the women's lacrosse team donated food and toiletries to the local United Way office.

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"The flood was devastating and it tested the strength of our community," softball player Shannon Kane said. "My teammates and I worked side-by-side with 40 other people who were there only because they drove by and noticed a neighbor needed more hands."

After returning from a tough 1-0 road loss at Siena on a Sunday night with classes and school work looming the next morning, the women's soccer team cheerfully entered the Events Center with toys and books for the scores of children and families forced to spend day and night in the building. Parents of the players had banded together to purchase the gifts, which were then transferred to the team bus at Siena. The men's lacrosse team also delivered soccer balls to the youngsters in the Events Center. The men's soccer team took its talents to the Endicott West Corners region that was hit particularly hard by the flooding. The players and coaches ran a free soccer clinic for nearly 100 children.

Volunteer efforts weren't limited to organized team outings. Dozens of individual student-athletes took initiative to sign up, show up and spearhead projects. Just a sampling included track and field athlete Adam Helman, who worked the overnight shift at the Events Center, assisting the University Police Department and the Emergency Management Team stationed in the facility. Women's tennis player Cait Mastroe, whose parents' and grandparents' homes were damaged, handed out water and other supplies to neighbors in need before helping clear out an adult day care business. Another tennis player, Jessie Rubin, is currently raising money to purchase supplies for nearby MacArthur Elementary School, which was heavily damaged.

Interestingly, the student-athletes had one thing in common with the flood victims sheltered on campus: they, too, were displaced. Once the Events Center and adjacent West Gym were declared evacuation centers, nearly all of BU's 400+ student-athletes were affected for 16 straight days. The basketball and volleyball courts, track, tennis courts and indoor areas for all other sports were converted to space for the Red Cross to use for the flood victims. Access to the weight room, training room, locker rooms and meeting rooms was limited, a significant competitive disadvantage for the in-season fall sports teams. All of the teams had to adjust their schedules to squeeze into condensed spaces and time slots. In addition, the Student-Athlete Success Center was offline for several days, reducing the availability of computers, study space and tutors. Student-athletes who made the Events Center their "second home," eating meals, practicing, visiting with coaches and studying at corner tables, were sent elsewhere. Shaken from their usual routine, they turned their attention to the needs of others.

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The volleyball team saw its practice court turned into a Red Cross staging area so instead of serving volleyballs across the net, they promptly served meals and supplies to the emergency visitors. Members of the women's basketball team helped set up beds, feed the evacuees and escort people to the first-aid station as needed. The basketball coaching staff also handed out towels and toiletries, served dinner and visited with people who appreciated a friendly face and encouragement.

"We obviously had to move around our practice schedules and other things but we didn't mind and wanted to help out the people who were in the Events Center," basketball player Viive Rebane said. "We don't have the money to help them, but a bunch of us from the team went outside and were playing with the little kids. We wanted to give them our time even if we didn't have other resources to help them out."

It turns out, the greatest resources continue to be the compassionate and engaging young men and women who wear the Bearcat black and green.

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