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Baseball team’s ‘rock star’ makes Buddy Walk personal

NKU%27s+baseball+team+was+one+of+three+university+organizations+that+participated+Sept.+12+in+The+Buddy+Walk+
NKU's baseball team was one of three university organizations that participated Sept. 12 in The Buddy Walk

NKU's baseball team was one of three university organizations that participated Sept. 12 in The Buddy Walk

Photo provided by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati

Photo provided by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati

NKU's baseball team was one of three university organizations that participated Sept. 12 in The Buddy Walk

Matt Sexton, Sports Editor

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While community service is a mandated part of being a student-athlete at Northern Kentucky University, it is much more than that for the baseball program.

 

Thanks to Team Manager Ryan Mavriplis, one particular community service project is personal for the NKU baseball team.

 

As they have for several years, the Norse baseball team participated in the annual Buddy Walk on Sept. 12, a fundraiser sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati.

 

Mavriplis, known affectionately by his teammates as ‘Mav’, has Down syndrome. But that does not define him, or what he means to his teammates.

 

“When Ryan comes with us … you think of 40 twenty-something-year-olds coming in with Ryan,” Kyle Colletta, junior baseball team member, said. “Ryan’s the rock star when he goes there. It’s good for him – it’s his day. He definitely embraces it.”

 

Junior Nate DeNicola said Mavriplis’ enjoyment of the event is the highlight of the night.

 

“The enjoyment that Mav gets out of it is something that I take away too,” DeNicola said. “Obviously Mav does a lot to help us out whether it’s getting the bats or cleaning stuff up or making us laugh after a bad at-bat or a bad game. To be able to give something back to him is big for me.”

 

Most college students might shy away from giving up their Saturday, even for a good cause. For the returning baseball players, the Buddy Walk is something that they look forward to attending.

 

“I know when fall comes around, I’m all excited,” Colletta said. “All the returning guys are excited to go to the Buddy Walk and the freshmen don’t really know what it is. So we’ll tell them, ‘Trust me, this is not going to be like I can’t wait until it’s over, this is something to look forward to because it’s an awesome time.’”

 

DeNicola was skeptical before his first Buddy Walk but he certainly isn’t anymore.

 

“Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect,” DeNicola said. “Then you get to see it was a really cool experience for not only them but for us too. You go in not really expecting to be of help to other people, and you end up getting something out of it yourself.”

 

In addition to the NKU baseball team, the fraternity Pi Alpha Kappa sent volunteers to the event. Also, the NKU women’s soccer team attended for the first time.

 

Kayte Osterfeld is a sophomore member of the women’s soccer team. She said that thanks to teammate Brooke Schocker’s involvement with the event, the whole team decided to attend.

 

“Each of us had different roles,” Osterfeld said. “Some of us were face painting, and the rest of us were assigned to a team at the Buddy Walk. We were their runners basically. Whatever they needed, we got.”

 

Osterfeld also came away impressed with the event.

 

“I thought it was really cool,” Osterfeld said. “It’s a huge event. I was not imagining that many people were going to be there. It’s not judgmental. We were celebrating these kids and their future and helping raise money.”

 

Unlike the baseball team, the women’s soccer team is in the middle of their regular season. Osterfeld said the event was a welcome break from the daily grind of the season.

 

“I think it’s kind of humbling,” she said. “We’re mostly always focused on soccer and running and doing our thing. We’re able to look outside of soccer and see how we can help and not be so focused on our everyday lives.”

 

Krissy Vinson is the volunteer and communication coordinator at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati. She manages more than 700 volunteers each year. She was impressed to see the strong NKU turnout.

 

“I know it’s all college kids on a Saturday giving up their time,” Vinson said. “It shows the parents and anybody at the Buddy Walk there is support from a lot of people including NKU students. The parents really feel like there is a lot of support. It’s cool to see your fellow classmates there.”

 

One of those classmates is DeNicola, who told a story about Mavriplis and how he directed cars pulling into the event.

 

“This year, Mav was standing there with us while we’re directing traffic,” DeNicola said. “We told him, ‘Hey Mav, you’ve got to keep the people moving a little bit.’ He started just repeating, ‘No stopping, no pictures, no laughing, let’s go.’ I was crying laughing.”

 

DeNicola said the experience of helping with the Buddy Walk is one that can help the NKU baseball team during the season as well.

 

“It’s one thing for us to be a team on the baseball field or on the bus or at the hotel,” DeNicola said. “But it’s another atmosphere for us to come together and try to help something that’s greater than ourselves or greater than the goals we’re trying to accomplish like winning on the field. It’s big for us to go and be able to do something for other people.”

 

Colletta agreed that the experience would strengthen the bond between teammates.

 

“We get up Saturday morning really early, and we’re going to do something really special,” Colletta said. “It’s something we don’t get to do often, so it brings the bond together. We’re not going to win all the time, but we can always control what we give back. The baseball players try to make it a point to give back and leave a mark in the community.”

 

The Buddy Walk isn’t the only event in which the baseball team will give back to the community. The university announced Friday a toy drive camp 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 17 at NKU.

 

NKU will partner with Xavier University’s baseball team and Cameron Satterwhite of the Reds Urban Youth Academy. The camp is open to kids ages 5-14. Instead of a registration fee, campers are asked to bring a toy donation for the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center.

 

“I’m excited to work with both Xavier and the Urban Youth Academy to do something that is good not only for college baseball, but good for children,” Head NKU baseball Coach Todd Asalon said in a press release. “We’ve had a long relationship with the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center and this camp gives us the opportunity to get the community involved while also building a relationship with the Urban Youth Academy.”

 

The toy camp is another opportunity, like the Buddy Walk, for NKU student-athletes to help the community.

 

Vinson said that the Buddy Walk is the DSAGC’s largest fundraising event. This year’s event raised about $445,000, and Vinson said all of the money stays local to benefit local families. The money raised from the event represents over half of the organization’s operating budget.

 

She said that education continues to improve inclusion between those who have Down syndrome and those who do not.

 

“When we go in and do our talks in schools, we always say people with Down syndrome are a lot more alike their classmates than they are different,” Vinson said. “We have people with Down syndrome in the college setting. We are really making sure we’re including them so they can live and learn just like we do.”

 

Those who wish to volunteer or donate to the DSAGC can visit their website at dsagc.com.

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Baseball team’s ‘rock star’ makes Buddy Walk personal