Helping student-athletes win off the field - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Helping student-athletes win off the field

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By Jenn Jarvis

Cedar Falls (KWWL) -- Student athletes in Iowa have had their share of run-ins with the law this year.

Most notably, two former Hawkeye football players are awaiting trial on charges they sexually assaulted a student in her dorm room last year. UNI has suspended 18 athletes in just the last two months for various incidents including drinking, drugs and even posession of stolen property. And the quarterback at Wartburg College was cleared of disorderly conduct charges for yelling slurs at a gay student.

Now, a program hopes to help student-athletes overcome those challenges off the field.

With the celebrity surrounding student athletes, what they do matters on and off the field.

"Character matters in academics, it matters in music, it matters in drama. But, in sports it's so visual," said Olympic gold medalist John Naber.

More than 400 student athletes from across the state attended a character counts workshop aimed at making good decisions.

"Everybody makes mistakes, it's just some people make bigger one than others," said Amara Thein, an athlete at Sumer-Fredericksburg High School. "Learn from 'em and try to make the right choice next time."

In it's fourth year, this summit is the first of its kind according to spokesperson and Olympic gold medalist John Naber.

"Character Counts in Iowa is creating events and building a program, a curriculum that Character Counts nationwide will try to emulate. So this is a really great testing ground," said Naber.

UNI played host to the event, while its coaches and athletes served as speakers and role models to the younger students.

"We hear about the mistakes people make, we don't always hear about the things that they do that are good, the volunteerism, the connection to the community," said Jan Hanish of UNI. "And this gives high school students a chance to see that and hear it first hand and why that's important."

The goal is to see student athletes as leaders and not celebrities.

"You are visible and what you do does get noticed and so I think helping students realize that a little more up front might help them think about those decisions when they're confronted with them."

A message some are already taking to heart.

"I'm always trying to make the right choice and the fact that other people are looking up to me impacts it," said Thein.

While this event was aimed at athletes, character counts actually works with all students to help promote good choices. Many schools will be hosting events as part of character counts week October 19th through the 25th.

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