Dec. 31, 2009
By Bruce Madej, U-M Athletic Media Relations
NEW ORLEANS, La. -- One of Zoltan Mesko's first memories as a University of Michigan football player was not only stepping onto campus and preparing for his freshman season, but it was watching the news and the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina unfold in New Orleans.
So, it seems apropos that on New Year's Eve 2009 Mesko finds himself in New Orleans honored as one the 22 players of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
"I guess you could say my Michigan career started with Katrina and now it is ending with me helping an elementary school get ready to open right here in New Orleans," said Mesko. "It is unreal what this city has had to go through."
For the 22 players who are being honored with a trip to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl and halftime recognition, this is just one more stop on a journey of public service and volunteerism. These players have been recognized for their off-field achievements and selfless deeds, selected from the 50,000 football players that participate in all divisions of the NCAA and NAIA.
In many ways, this team tells us more about what sports can do for an individual and a community then any win/loss record or All-America team. We are now being inundated with 'shock' journalism, showing athletes and coaches under fire. In reality, those are the few in sports that have separated themselves from the field for the wrong reasons. The majority of student-athletes are giving back to the community and campus much more than the average individual. It just is not that interesting for the appetitive of the general public.
At Michigan, Mesko coordinated the Thursday trips to Mott's Children Hospital. He volunteered to talk to elementary school and high school students about staying the course. And Zoltan is just one of many who has given back to the university and the community as a student-athlete.
Our ice hockey team has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, the women's basketball team put on a clinic for underprivileged kids, the football team wrapped presents for charity, in addition to all the other work that U-M student-athletes have and will do for the U-M Hospital and local organizations. And this happens on all campuses across the country, not just with athletes, but with the general student population. And most of it goes unnoticed. This does not make talk radio or the blogs and rarely gets mentioned in traditional television and newspaper stories.
So, it is fortunate when the Charles Woodson's of the world give back to the community with major contributions and when corporations like Allstate put the emphasis on community service. The PR surely helps the brand name and the individual, but more so it creates the public recognition these charitable and community organizations need.
The Andrew Wilson elementary neighborhood school was ruined by the flooding caused by Katrina and today players from across the country, including Mesko, are helping the school get ready for its re-opening on Jan. 4.
It might seem like a drop of water in a bucket, 22 collegiate players spending three hours in one school. And for the more cynical, it might seem like an easy way for Allstate to get its brand name out to the general public. Yet for the NOLA School Volunteers that see the volunteers spend a few hours to help, it is well appreciated.
For Mesko, it is one of the last times he will represent Michigan. What a fitting way to finish off a career that has given him so much.
With all people see wrong in sports, there is so much more that is right. Zoltan Mesko and the 21 other football players have proved it during their careers.