A Different Sort of Challenge

A bobbled snap on third and one? That blitzing linebacker? Forget about it.

On Tuesday (Nov. 13), West Virginia University Heisman hopefuls Steve Slaton and Pat White will line up against an opponent even tougher than the ones they normally face on the gridiron - public speaking in all its sweaty-palmed, dry-throat glory.

It's all part of their assignment in a unique speech class that's just as much about direction as it is diction.

They'll join 10 other fellow student-athletes to deliver motivational speeches before their coaches and others from 1-2 p.m. in the Jerry West Lounge of the WVU Coliseum.

The exercise is the traditional cap to Dr. Carolyn Atkins' Speaking to Communities course in the College of Human Resources and Education. It's also known as SASO, or Student Athletics Speak Out.

Atkins, a speech and audiology professor, is an award-winning educator. She's a past West Virginia Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

She used her talents and creativity to conceive the course in 1990. She geared her class to athletes, she said, because they're among the most visible members of the University population. Plus, they're the ones who talk to the press in the locker room.

Then, as now, each student is charged with developing and delivering a five-minute speech. Craft was the original focus - the elimination, once and for all, of those dreaded "uhs," "ums" and "you knows" that permeate everyday speech, especially in postgame interviews - but it evolved into an avenue that offered revealing glimpses into students' lives.

"Some of our kids come from rough circumstances," Atkins said. "They grow up in poverty in rural towns and the inner city. Some watch their single parents work multiple jobs to provide for them, and some grow up in solid, middle-class homes where they see their moms and dads making sacrifices and doing everything they can for them."

Because Atkins wanted her students to "own" the event rather than simply do an assignment, she encouraged them to reflect on their backgrounds and experiences that delivered them to Division I athletics.

"We got them talking about the importance of avoiding peer pressure and taking their education just as seriously as their athletic ability," she said. "We got them talking about being responsible and compassionate human beings."

Seventeen years later, they're still talking, and this past August, a six-DVD set of student talks from past semesters was distributed to every public middle school in the Mountain State free of the charge with accompanying lesson plans to use in character education curriculum.

On Tuesday, Slaton will discuss "The Voice Within." White will talk about "Team Meerkat."

Other student-athletes and their topics:

  • Quinton Andrews (football), "Tick Tock, Clock"

  • Will Thomas (basketball), "Look and You Shall Find"

  • Kent Richardson (football), "Until …"

  • Corey Barill (basketball), "The Ten-Year Rule"

  • Anthony Leonard (football), "The Driver"

  • Cameron Payne (basketball), "R-E-S-P-E-C-T"

  • Ed Collington (football), "Success is My Only Option"

  • John Flowers (basketball), "Is it Worth it?"

  • Jake Miller (football), "Honoring #77"

  • Andrew Wright (soccer), "Rising When You Fall"

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