As a Charlotte 49ers long-distance and cross-country runner, Ashleigh Handchen is used to covering a lot of miles to accomplish her goals.
Handchen was one of four Charlotte student-athletes, along with two administrators, to travel to Reston, Va., on Jan. 16-18 for the annual Athletic Prevention Programming and Leadership Education conference, which addresses substance-abuse prevention for college athletes and administrators.
The Charlotte APPLE team returned to campus hoping to implement some of the ideas and concepts within the 49ers’ teams and in the athletic department in general.
For Handchen, not only was the symposium beneficial to her as an athlete but its content easily could apply to her academic field. The junior from Brick, N.J., is applying to the university’s public health program.
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“This opportunity was really amazing,” said Handchen. “I’m really grateful for it. I feel as a team we really worked well together.”
Each of the nearly 50 teams attending the conference was charged with implementing an action plan on its campus. The Charlotte team chose to develop an ambassador program, in which each 49ers athletic team will have an athlete who can serve as a resource for teammates who may need to confront an issue regarding alcohol or substance abuse.
Other 49ers athletes attending the conference were javelin-thrower Daniel Freeman, football offensive tackle Jamal Covington and women’s soccer goalkeeper Annie McHenry. Leading them were Rachel Ramey, assistant director and Life Skills coordinator in the Charlotte Athletic Academic Center, and Leslie Robinson, health-education specialist for UNC Charlotte’s Center for Wellness Promotion.
The annual conference is coordinated through the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the University of Virginia. This year’s event was the 24th, and the second consecutive year Charlotte was represented.
The 49ers’ attendance was supported financially by the NCAA CHOICES grant program for alcohol education. The grant stipulates that participating institutions integrate athletics and other campus departments to implement alcohol-education programs.
Last year, Ramey and Robinson accompanied Freeman and women’s soccer goalkeeper Alex Kubrick to the APPLE conference in Newport Beach, Calif. The theme of the 2014 meeting was the perception that the public has of athletes when it comes to alcohol and drug use.
“Some people think athletes are on a higher tier and are doing things they shouldn’t be,” said Freeman, a fifth-year senior majoring in sociology. “But the (reality) is they’re not.”
The 2014 team’s action plan was to create a survey for Charlotte student-athletes in which they answered questions about their behaviors and what they think other people’s perception of them is. Ramey said the collection phase was just completed and that her department will produce “social norms” posters to display on campus.
Ramey expects the first posters to be hung and the first ambassadors, as part of this year’s action plan, to begin work next fall.
Freeman is a member of the Charlotte Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and received his certification as a peer health educator through a public health class on campus. Freeman’s skills make him a good candidate to serve as an alcohol and drug education ambassador, but he said he is scheduled to graduate before the program is in place.
The new ambassadors are scheduled to be announced at this spring’s year-end athletic banquet. Their role will include serving as a liaison between teammates and coaches when addressing alcohol- and substance-abuse issues.