April 4, 2012
IRVING, Texas - Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky announced the 12 student-athletes that will receive the C-USA Winter Spirit of Service award today. The C-USA Spirit of Service Award is designed to recognize the community service efforts of the league's student-athletes, based upon significant community service, good academic standing and participation in their elected sport. The Spirit of Service award is presented three times throughout the season, with today's honorees representing Conference USA's winter sports: men's and women's basketball, women's swimming and men's and women's indoor track and field.
Complete Winter C-USA Spirit of Service Release (PDF)
2011-12 WINTER C-USA SPIRIT OF SERVICE HONOREES:
Erica Bell, East Carolina, Women's Track & Field
Bryan Brown, Houston, Men's Track & Field
Kacey Preun, Marshall, Women's Swimming
Robert Jackson, Memphis, Men's Track & Field
Tamir Jackson, Rice, Men's Basketball
Alisha Filmore, SMU, Women's Basketball
Wendy Miller, Southern Miss, Women's Basketball
Brett Benzio, Tulane, Women's Basketball
Chris O'Hare, Tulsa, Men's Track & Field
TaRonda Randall, UAB, Women's Basketball
Sonnisha Williams, UCF, Women's Track & Field
Kristine Vitola, UTEP, Women's Basketball
East Carolina senior Erica Bell has placed a high emphasis on reaching out to the community as part of being a track and field student-athlete. She volunteers three hours weekly at the ECU Pirate Tutor Center working with her peers. She also volunteered at the Wintergreen Intermediate School Fall Carnival and the Pirate Club's 10K and Fun Run. The native of Haddon Heights, N.J., holds the ECU school record for the 800 meters and high jump in the pentathlon. Bell has maintained a GPA of 3.77 as an exercise physiology major. She earned a C-USA Commissioner's Academic Medal and was placed on the Commissioner's Honor Roll for three seasons. Bell is also a three-time Dean's List selection.
Bryan Brown is a senior on the Houston men's track and field team who served as president for the UH Student-Athlete Advisory Committee from the 2010-11 season. During that time, he participated in community service events with Marathon Kids, the Texas Children's Hospital and the Step Out Walk For Diabetes, the Harvard Literacy Night and the Alexander Middle School Red Ribbon Week. He also served as the Houston Cougar Mascot "Shasta" during numerous community and athletics events such as football and basketball games, as well as during community outreach programs. Brown graduated in the fall with a degree in organizational Leadership and supervision. He is currently pursuing his masters in Human Resources and Development. Brown was also named to the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll for his academic performance in the 2011-12 school year. A native of Kingwood, Texas, Brown earned the silver medal at the 2012 C-USA Indoor Championships, as he placed second in the pole vault competition with his 5.13m vault, helping lead the men's team to a second place C-USA finish.
Marshall freshman Kacey Preun, a member of the swimming and diving team, participated in, the global cancer awareness event Relay for Life and spends time interacting with and encouraging local children to be active. Beyond her philanthropic and outreach work, the St. Andrews, Manitoba native owns a 3.75 GPA in nursing and received the C-USA Academic Medal and was a member of the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll. She won 19 events during the swimming season, including all seven 200-yard breaststroke events she entered.
Memphis senior Robert Jackson volunteered at St. Anne's Catholic School for its Special Athletes Fun Day in October, spending time the children and played games with them. Robert also worked the True Blue Choices Tailgate Tent, where he along with his teammates talked to fellow students about making better choices on campus in regards to drugs and alcohol. That same month he volunteered at the annual Children's Museum of Memphis Halloween bash. In December, he took part in the Tiger Christmas event where student athletes raised money, then purchased Christmas gifts that were donated to Youth Villages here in Memphis, Tenn. He participated in delivering the gifts and spending time with some of the children. Jackson was the 2012 C-USA Indoor 60m hurdles champion, 2011 C-USA outdoor 110m hurdles champion, 2011 C-USA Indoor 60m hurdles champion, 2010 C-USA outdoor 110m hurdles champion, seven-time All-C-USA performer, two-time NCAA East Regional qualifier and qualified for the 2012 NCAA Championships.
Rice basketball student-athlete Tamir Jackson has gone above and beyond to make an impact in the community. The junior guard volunteers with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Houston and is active in community outreach, speaking to grade school students. As a guest speaker last December, Jackson made a lasting impression on fifth graders at Rusk Elementary in Houston. The school located just east of downtown serves a low-income area of the city whose student population includes children from a homeless shelter. He also has been involved with the Rice Readers during his career. He was a part of a Rice team which received Conference USA's Sport Academic Award last summer which recognizes the highest grade point average for each conference-sponsored sport and boasted a 3.44 grade point average. Jackson averaged 10.5 points and had 100 assists this season, which both ranked second on the team. During the year he scored his 1,000th career point. He played in 34 games during the season and helped lead the Owls to their first postseason appearance since 2005.
Alisha Filmore of SMU is a junior on the women's basketball team. She serves as a mentor for Promise House, an organization which embraces homeless, runaway and at-risk teens and as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Filmore volunteers with the North Texas Food Bank and organized a canned goods drive with SAAC and participated in the Conference USA initiative. The Mansfield, Texas native also has volunteered her time during the past three years at the Kids Get Fit Fest, a free event put on by the Dallas Area Coalition to Prevent Childhood Obesity. She is a team leader for Relay for Life and is a member of the executive board of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. On the court, Filmore led C-USA in 3-point shooting (41.3 percent) and was fourth in free throw shooting at 78.2 percent.
Southern Miss women's basketball player Wendy Miller serves people of all ages, volunteering at a local retirement home and with a variety of youth organizations. The freshman from Palatka, Fla., helped retirees create Christmas cards and bag and carry groceries at the Corner Market Store all while engaging in friendly conversation. She also volunteered at The Children Center, helping children with speaking disorders, as well as the Boys and Girls Club, United Way, Calvary Baptist Church Senior Citizens, Heart Walk, as well as aiding in free clinics. She was named to the C-USA Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll and to the AD Honor Roll during the fall.
Brett Benzio scored more than 1,000 points and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds for the Tulane women's basketball team during her career, but her most valuable contributions came from her community service. The senior has worn many volunteer hats during her career at Tulane, including stints working with Habitat For Humanity (2008), Outreach Tulane Volunteer (2009), Junior Achievement Volunteer (2010), Final Four Grow Dat Program (2012) and the Final Four Yes Clinic (2012). Benzio was named to Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll and Tulane's 3.0 Club in each of her first three seasons as a college student-athlete. She became just the second player in Tulane women's basketball history and the third player in the Green Wave annals (men or women) to surpass the 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound plateau and was named second-team All-Conference USA and to the C-USA All-Defensive Team as a senior in 2012.
Tulsa junior Chris O'Hare has not only won a national championship for the Golden Hurricane, he has also been supportive in the Tulsa community and at home. O'Hare won the 2012 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championship in the mile, after placing second in 2011. He also holds seven school records in track & field. O'Hare participated in the Salvation Army Angel Tree programs and volunteered at the St. Francis Children's Hospital and the SPCA. He has also been a lunch buddy at Kendall Whittier Elementary School and done various projects with the St. Phillip Newman Neri Center for church and for Catholic Charities. A native of Scotland, he provided mentoring and coaching for mentally challenged children there. The exercise sports science major is a three-time member of the athletic directors list and earned a spot on the C-USA Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll.
TaRonda Randall has been ubiquitous around the Birmingham community during her time as a women's basketball player at UAB. She has assisted with mini camps for the past three summers at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham and also has worked camps for the local YMCA and the City of Birmingham. Randall has been a guest speaker at local schools as part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program and spent time reading at local elementary students. She also volunteered her time to work with the disabled at Birmingham's Lakeshore Foundation as well as the Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House. Additionally, Randall has worked locally with the Miracle League and Race for the Cure. A native of Greenville, Ala., she is a four-time Conference USA Commissioner's Academic Medal winner and four-time member of the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll and owns a 3.82 GPA as a political science major.
UCF track and field student-athlete Sonnisha Williams is active in a variety of outreach events, including charitable organizations such as Miracle League, which helps children with disabilities build self-worth by pairing them with volunteers to play a game of baseball, and Autism Speaks. The Jacksonville, Fla., native also served as a Teacher for the Day at Jackson Heights Middle School. Williams was appointed to the Captains Council by UCF women's track and field head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert and is one of a select group of student-athletes who attended monthly meetings to foster their leadership skills. She is a two-time USTFCCCA All-American in the long jump and was the 2012 C-USA Indoor Champion.
Kristine Vitola of UTEP is a leader on the court for the women's basketball team and through her community involvement. The junior compiled 24.5 hours of community service this year to lead all members of the women's basketball team and has made appearances at events for the El Paso Independent School District, participated in the Marathon Kids and was a part of the Conference USA initiative SAAC Hunger. On the floor, the Latvia native helped the Miners to the 2012 C-USA tournament championship and a berth into the NCAA Championships.