By Carly Grimaudo
Special to GoHolyCross.com
When picturing the word athletics, images come to mind that include the spectacle of players diving for loose balls, scoring glorious goals and celebrating triumphant victories. This perception of the word incorporates the physical strife of the athlete on the field in effort to accomplish the key task of winning, but the word athletics has crucial dimensions off the field as well, especially at Holy Cross. Directly from Holy Cross' website is the statement, "As a member of the Patriot League, the academic performance and personal development of each student are central goals." No student-athlete better represents this ideology of on and off the field growth than Jillian Caffrey (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.), senior field hockey captain, team contact to the Vice President of Programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Central Mass., Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative to the Patriot League, Leadership 360 member of the Holy Cross Leadership Academy and newest staff member of the Working For Worcester organization. With her intense involvement through athletics away from the field hockey pitch, Caffrey is helping to expand the definition of the word to go beyond physical capabilities, and merge into the realm of community service.
Caffrey first picked up a field hockey stick in seventh grade, the year she could finally become a part of the legacy of Lakeland field hockey. Varsity head coach and good friend Sharon Sarsen, who is renowned in the world of field hockey, noticed the twelve year old standout early and sought to develop her game to mold her into a key player for when she reached the varsity level. Still in middle school in just the eighth grade, Caffrey played on Lakeland's junior varsity team and participated in USA Field Hockey's Futures program for the first time. Her love for the game and potential to be a huge influence on any team she played for was undeniable. Now 10 years later, as Caffrey's field hockey career draws to a close, she still aims to stay involved in athletics in one way or another.
As the team contact to the Vice President of Programs of BBBS of Central Mass., a board member of SAAC, a Leadership 360 member of the Leadership Academy, a part of Working For Worcester's site development team and a four-year member of the Holy Cross field hockey team, Caffrey clearly has a lot on her plate. Balancing being a student-athlete with her outside involvements is quite the challenge, but one she greatly enjoys. She said, "I came to the school to be a student-athlete and I had the desire to get involved in ways beyond field hockey. Holy Cross athletics has a whole off-field component to it that offers a lot of opportunities to be active in the community and because athletics are such a tight knit group here it really creates the pride of a big school in a small school environment."
When Caffrey isn't on the field hockey turf or in the library, she can usually be found working for one of her four commitments, like BBBS. As the team contact to the Vice President of Programs, Caffrey organizes and schedules the team's meeting times and days to go to the Boys and Girls Club as well as events with the Littles outside the BBBS sites. Last spring, Caffrey coordinated with Interview/Match Support Specialist Junior Belisea, to plan a fun-filled evening where members of the team went to a Worcester Sharks game with their Littles. Caffrey's work makes possible everything the field hockey team does for the BBBS program of Central Mass. and for the Littles who are a part of it. Spending time with her Little, Genesis is Caffrey's favorite part of her involvement with BBBS because of the influence she has in making a difference in her life. She said, "Though it's just an hour a week it's something special to the Littles especially because of their family and school situations. They don't always have stable role models in their lives so having an athlete from Holy Cross fill that space can be really inspiring to them."
In connection with BBBS, Caffrey recently joined Working for Worcester's site development team in efforts to revamp Plumley Village's Boys and Girls Club, where she visits her Little once a week. Still early in planning and laying out the blueprints for upgrading the site, Caffrey works with founder, Jeffrey Reppucci, to achieve the goal of updating the center to better accommodate the children and to create a welcoming and inviting space for them to play and learn.
Her other duty of SAAC Board member and representative to the Patriot League is also an extension of her athletic involvement at Holy Cross. Since sophomore year Caffrey has been a part of SAAC as the field hockey team's representative. Throughout the past few years she has gotten more and more involved in the committee and is a huge part of its smooth functioning today. Caffrey aids in the organization of various SAAC events and fundraisers such as the annual Benching For Breast Cancer event and the Date Auction. This year, Caffrey coordinated with HEAL to put together a Thanksgiving basket drive and a flag football game to raise funds for the baskets of food that will be donated to families in the surrounding Worcester community.
As Holy Cross' SAAC representative to the Patriot League, Caffrey must join a conference call with the league and SAAC representatives from other Patriot League schools to discuss Holy Cross' involvement in comparison with that of other schools and to also exchange ideas and methods of boosting school morale through fundraisers. A huge portion of Caffrey's job entails event planning to raise money and awareness while bringing together the athletes to create a communal atmosphere. She's definitely learned a lot since joining sophomore year. "Before joining SAAC, I didn't realize how much of a role Holy Cross has in the local, state, regional and even national community. It's so important to get involved with other schools and teams to show how driven student-athletes are and to help out good causes," Caffrey said.
In Caffrey's fourth role as a Leadership 360 member of the Holy Cross Leadership Academy she works to improve her leadership skills after evaluating them from the perspective of herself, her coaches and her team. This multidimensional evaluation is a key feature of the program that enables players to assess how they are viewed as a leader and what their strengths and areas to improve upon are. Through the highest level of the program she also learns how to deal with leadership situations that could arise both on and off the field such as figuring out how to manage multiple personalities. At their meetings, the small elite group of Leadership 360 members work with a theme of the day, hearing presentations of how that specific topic, like "communication," may have helped another team breed success and then performing activities that incorporate the use of the word.
Caffrey admits that her participation in the Holy Cross Leadership Academy has revealed some of the areas she needed to improve on in the past to help her be a successful captain of the field hockey team this past season. "Since my sophomore year when I was a Emerging Leader of the program, I think I have continuously developed my leadership skills and abilities. More specifically, I used to get frustrated easily, but the Leadership Academy has helped me learn to asses certain situations and how to deal with multiple personalities so I've definitely grown in that sense," she said. She also acknowledges the usefulness of the program beyond field hockey and college, noting that her participation helped her be more assertive during her internship with AIG this past summer so she could voice her ideas and gain respect. "Leading a team is very similar to leading a group in a company because all the same character qualities apply. Working for the goal of winning a game is very similar to working towards finishing a project or meeting a deadline," she said.
As Caffrey's field hockey career has recently drawn to a close, she still remains an active member of the Holy Cross athletic community through her various roles that extend out of her participation on an athletic team. Caffrey proves how "athletics" at Holy Cross stretch far past the field, the court, the track, the water or the rink and enter into the surrounding community. Just as mentioned in the goal of Holy Cross athletics, Caffrey has grown in a variety of ways and has developed qualities that she'll carry with her following her time on the hill. She said, "My time as an athlete and my involvement through athletics has helped me realize what it is I like to do. It's great to know I can stay involved while balancing other commitments, something I'd definitely like to do after I graduate."
Athletes at Holy Cross, like Caffrey, take on a whole new level of the word athletics and prove that a dictionary can give a definition but it cannot define meaning.