RIO GRANDE VALLEY – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s student-athletes went above and beyond in community service efforts during the 2021-2022 school year with the purpose of showing their appreciation for the support of the Vaquero family shows them.
As an athletic department, UTRGV totaled 2,443 hours of community service throughout the fall and spring semesters. The Vaqueros ranked eighth in NCAA Division I in community service in Helper Helper’s 2021-22 NCAA Community Engagement Report. Eight UTRGV teams ranked in the top 10 of their respective sports among fellow DI members.
“To be a national leader amongst all Division I departments speaks volumes about our student-athletes and their passion for the Rio Grande Valley and helping others. I could not be more proud,” UTRGV Vice President and Director of Athletics Chasse Conque said.
The track & field / cross country teams made an extremely positive impact, combining for 490 hours of community service. The women ranked No. 1 nationally with their 286 hours of service, and the men’s team racked up 204 hours to finish second nationally.
“The main reason I chose to attend UTRGV was because of the community,” junior track & field athlete Elizabeth Ortiz said. “Having support from your community can drive a whole different type of motivation for your sport. Giving back shows how much we appreciate the love and support the community gives UTRGV.”
The TF / XC Vaqueros worked with the Special Olympics for several events, sharing in the joy of every child they aided in competition. They also did food drives, clean-up events and worked in the community garden. Ortiz’s favorite service opportunity was talking to elementary students about the importance of college and participating in athletics.
Sophomore Marco Guajardo, a PSJA High alum, said that even though he’s proud UTRGV ranked at the top in the nation for service, recognition was never the intention.
“We never really pay attention to how much we have done because it’s not about who is at the top. It gives us joy knowing what we are doing is helping others,” Guajardo said. “We love to give back to the community for how much they support us. We go out as a team to support, help and accomplish what is needed for people and the environment.”
The Vaqueros women’s golfers finished fourth among women’s golf programs with 142 hours, while the men’s team was fifth with 128 hours. Sophomore Samantha Garza said the most impactful service event the women’s team did was hosting a camp at River Bend Country Club in Brownsville.
“We want the community to know that we appreciate what they do for us, and we do that by giving back,” Garza said. “We care deeply for the community in the Valley. The student-athletes at UTRGV are very kind-hearted people and we want to make a mark on the Valley and show kids that you can do anything you put your mind to.”
The Vaqueros baseball team tallied the most service hours of all UTRGV programs with 422. They finished seventh among DI baseball teams. They visited elementary schools, did cleanups and hosted a highly attended kids clinic.
Freshman shortstop and Edinburg Vela alum Isaac Lopez enjoys getting to connect with his community when the team goes out to volunteer. He also appreciates that it gives fans the opportunity to get to know the student-athletes personally, reenforcing the family feel at UTRGV.
“The community is part of our family,” Lopez said. This year especially, I’ve seen a real connection between everyone that wears UTRGV orange, whether it’s when we are fist-bumping little kids at the elementary or signing autographs at the baseball field. It’s awesome to see the smiles from people. appreciate the community’s support endlessly and this is our way of saying thank you. ”
Women’s tennis accumulated 332 hours of service, ranking second in the nation. The Vaqueros held four free junior tennis clinics in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, reaching hundreds of local children. They volunteered with the RGV Food Bank, the Children’s Hospital, the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg and the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands.
Recent graduate Alicia Thal was credited for leading the charge when it came to service. She kept an eye on the Helper Helper app to find community service opportunities, and the women’s tennis program worked with the Student Services staff to get things planned.
Like Lopez, Thal said putting a smile on someone’s face made it all worth it. She especially enjoyed service activities involving kids, like teaching them tennis or entertaining them in Halloween costumes.
“What I really like about community service is that you can immediately feel that you are making a difference,” Thal said. “Being ranked among the best in the nation for community service shows that we are closely connected to our community. Everyone is very grateful for the opportunities we are given at UTRGV and this is a great way to show our appreciation.”
UTRGV’s men’s soccer team tallied 157 hours of service to finish fourth among DI men’s soccer teams. Women’s basketball finished fifth in their standings with 228 hours. Women’s soccer and men’s basketball also hit the 100-hour threshold, totaling 177 and 100 hours, respectively, of community service.
Additionally, the UTRGV athletic department participated in a food drive with the Western Athletic Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and collected 5,417 items for a local food bank.
“The demand on a student-athlete’s time is very high and to see our young people #RISEup across all sports to give back is commendable,” Conque said. “I am also extremely grateful and proud of our coaches and staff who place a premium on what it means to be of service to others.”