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On the Right Track

Doug Everhart helps student-athletes meet the challenges of balancing academics and athletics.

by: Ross French and Mark Dodson   (December 2005)

No doubt about it, the UC Riverside student-athlete has it all.

That is, all the pressures of a college student taking a minimum of 12 units of course work a quarter, combined with the stresses of 20 hours a week of practice and competition at NCAA Division I, mixed liberally with the challenges of becoming an independent, young adult.

It is a tough road to travel, filled with pitfalls and potholes, but Doug Everhart is there to help. Not merely to guide them past the challenges, but instead to teach them how to overcome them and how to help others do the same.

Everhart has a full plate as health educator and student affairs officer in the Campus Health Center. He is actively involved in the lives of Highlander student athletes through the CHAMPS/Life Skills Program, Golden ARCHES, the Educational Speakers Series and the Student-Athlete Mentors program. While the organizations are loosely affiliated with one another, each is part of a larger program designed to educate student-athletes and to focus on peer education to provide them with the means to become well-rounded individuals and responsible human beings.

He is also a ubiquitous presence in and around the UCR Athletics Department, whether it is sitting in the stands with his wife, Wendy, and sons David and Robby, cheering on the Highlanders, serving “mocktails” to fans at UCR sporting events as part of an alcohol-awareness fundraiser, speaking to student-athletes or even the occasional trip with a team to a road contest.

While many of Everhart’s programs have been developed and sanctioned by the NCAA, there is no standard template or blueprint on how they are to be implemented on each campus. This enables Everhart’s imagination to take off.

“That is one of the great things about this program,” said Everhart. “You can take all of the materials and resources that the program has to offer and utilize them the best way to fit your individual campus needs.”

Everhart’s passion for the student-athletes manifests itself particularly with the UCR men’s and women’s golf teams. In addition to attending practices, he has accompanied the squads on almost a half-dozen road trips in the past three years, providing a familiar face in a sport without much fan support.

“Doug’s presence [on these trips] shows support from the department side and the university side that the student-athletes appreciate,” said Head Golf Coach Paul Hjulberg. “He’s reached out to the golf teams and to me to be an asset and a resource for the kids.

“One of the reasons that Doug is a valuable resource is that kids can go to him and they don’t have to tell the coach,” Hjulberg said. “They have that outlet if they want to talk to him about something that might be a personal matter.”

With an M.A. in education/counseling from the University of Redlands, coupled with 15 years of student affairs experience, Everhart’s quest is to use peer education to allow students to help themselves and others.

“In the collegiate environment, students already know, or think they know, most of the information that helps shape their attitudes and behaviors. At this point, it’s about teaching them that they are now responsible for making their own choices and decisions,” Everhart said.

“The ultimate goal is not trying to get student-athletes to stop drinking, quit going to parties or abstain from sex, but rather to give them the tools and skills necessary to make responsible decisions and to realize the effects these decisions can have on their lives,” he added.

The approach to today’s college students is different than the one that Everhart experienced in his college days at the University of Redlands.

“When I was a student, the ‘Just Say No’ campaign was just kicking off,” Everhart said. “While it was certainly addressing a legitimate concern, it was an unrealistic approach for most students.”

The CHAMPS/Life Skills Program was developed in 1994 by the NCAA, and UCR’s program began in 1999 with the efforts of Everhart, who joined UCR in 1998 after working at Redlands. The program, which stands for “Challenging Athletes’Minds for Personal Success,” supports development of five areas: academics, athletics, personal development, career and community service.

The CHAMPS/Life Skills program does not limit its influence to the footprint of the UCR campus. In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives and appearances at local events and schools, Everhart wanted to create a program that was unique to UC Riverside. That desire germinated in the “Seeds of Hope” campaign, in which UCR student-athletes visit patients at the Loma Linda Children’s Hospital armed with plants and art supplies from local home improvement stores. Together they decorate a pot filled with soil with the final touch of planting a flower seed. The program was so successful in its first year that Everhart looks forward to making it a regular feature this upcoming academic year.

When Everhart arrived at UCR, the school already had a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), in which a member of each team represented his or her teammates in discussing regulations and policies affecting student-athletes. Everhart foresaw the need for more than a regulatory board.With the Highlanders making the move from Division II to Division I, he knew that student-athletes would become even more prominent members of the campus community and he wanted to give them the opportunity to be positive role models for each other and for the campus as a whole. Thus the Student-Athlete Mentors program (SAMs) was born, a volunteerbased, sustainable peer-education system where student-athletes provide a support network for each other while dealing with common issues.

“The power of peer education is that it allows for a two-way street,” Everhart commented. “You have peers out there with the student population, bringing ideas to you, letting you know what the issues are. SAMs in particular has been a great resource for us to identify issues.We’ve had things from substance issues to pregnancies to gambling brought back to us through our SAMs representatives that we otherwise would not have known about.”

SAMs mentors go through both formal and informal training sessions on topics such as conflict resolution, listening and maintaining confidentiality and trust. SAMs also sponsors awareness campaigns, facilitates educational workshops, provides social alternatives and serves as role models and resources for their peers.

Under the umbrella of the Golden ARCHES (Advocating Responsible Choices through Health Education and Support), SAMs works in concert with ANGLE (Advocates for National Greek Leadership and Education) and PHE (Peer Health Educators) to provide a way for all students to receive the information, guidance and resources to make educated and informed decisions.

With the assistance of a $30,000 CHOICES grant from the NCAA, Golden ARCHES launched the “Winning Choices” Social Norms Campaign, in which data from the UCR campus are compiled and disseminated to paint a more accurate picture of the attitudes and behaviors of UCR students.

“The theory behind [Social Norms] is that people naturally and instinctively want to fit in,” Everhart said. “The common misperception out there is that everybody drinks, everybody has sex and everybody goes wild. However, that’s not the reality. Most students go to class, study, socialize, make good decisions and enjoy positive, healthy relationships. By letting students know that most students make healthy choices, it validates those behaviors.”

The success of Everhart’s programs has garnered national recognition. The BACCUS and GAMMA Peer Education Network, which supports nearly 1,000 peer education programs across the country, has awarded the Golden ARCHES program a national award for the past six years, including one of 10 Outstanding Affiliate Awards (for an outstanding overall program) four out of the past five. UCR was also selected by the organization as one of three programs in the country to launch an impaired-driving initiative. At the annual APPLE (Athletic Prevention Programming Leadership Education) Conference in Long Beach this past February, the Golden ARCHES Program and SAMs program specifically were featured as model programs. Finally, Everhart was selected in 2003 to be part of the 12-member NCAA CHAMPS/Life Skills Advisory Team.

In June 2005, UCR junior softball player Jamie Yee joined Everhart at the NCAA Leadership Conference as one of 325 student-athletes from across the country who traveled to Orlando, Fla., for five days to discuss issues that affect their campus, sport and community.

“I met a lot of people and heard their stories. I got to relate with people who have gone through the whole experience of being a college athlete while dealing with school,” said Yee. “I learned to connect with the community in ways that will benefit me both at school and when I leave the university.

As required of conference alums, Yee returned to campus in the fall with new techniques of identifying and utilizing resources. Past UCR attendees have created elementary school reading programs, team camaraderie and support initiatives and student-athlete welfare programs.

With the supportive initiatives of Doug Everhart, the CHAMPS/Life Skills, SAMs, and Golden ARCHES campaigns, and the hard work of student-athletes such as Yee, it is safe to say that when it comes to creating an environment for informed decisions, the UC Riverside student-athlete can have it all.

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