Cadres of green-minded students and the growing popularity of sustainability as an academic discipline are just two reasons why there is a growing intersection of Green & Sports on campuses across the country. But while athletics and sustainability departments have driven the green-sports bus, student-athletes have taken a back seat to this point.
At least, that is, until Oregon State University’s Samantha (“Sam”) Lewis, a cross-country/track runner, and Jesikah Cavanaugh, a swimmer, decided they, along with three other student-athletes wanted to accelerate the greening of OSU sports. GreenSportsBlog talked recently with Sam and Jesikah to get their takes on how they came to take on leading roles in the birth of the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team (BAST), what it has accomplished so far and where they think it will go from here.
If you wanted to draw up two characters to be green-sports student athlete pioneers, you would have conjured Sam Lewis and Jesikah Cavanaugh. They helped create the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team or BAST at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Both are life-long environmentalists.
Sam, a runner who grew up in Boulder, CO, told GreenSportsBlog that “sustainability was embedded in my life from an early age. We composted, recycled, rode bikes and snowshoed.” Oregon State was a natural choice due to her “love of the outdoors and of running in the rain.” I get her first love but running in the rain? Not so much.
Jesikah’s lifelong appreciation of the environment was nurtured in Anchorage, AK, where, she reports, “everything is clean.” A swimmer by the age of four, Jess says she was inspired by her older, faster sister Meghan. Recruited by Division III schools in Colorado and Pittsburgh, PA, Jesikah applied to OSU almost as an afterthought: “My dad went to Oregon State and I didn’t want to go there. But I was interested in environmental engineering and I liked that their program was tied to chemical engineering rather than civil, as was the case at most schools. I ultimately want to work on water remediation—cleaning and restoration—so that link with chemical engineering was a key reason I ended up in Corvallis.”
Both overcame serious obstacles in their sports.
Sam, who ran the 6K in cross-country, “suffered lots of injuries,” including a stress fracture in her back during her sophomore year. “It was so frustrating. I was recruited to be a Division I runner at a Pac-12 school and I couldn’t even walk my dog,” shared Sam, “It took a couple of years to be able to compete again, but the work it took to come back was so worth it—it was the best feeling ever.” And the women’s cross-country and track team has faced its own challenges. “The sport was dropped at Oregon State in 1988, rebooted in 2004, so we have been playing catch up against some of the best teams in the country,” explained Sam. But, reflecting her grit, the cross-country squad was able to finish a respectable 12th in the powerful, 35-team West region last year, an improvement of seven places from 2015.
Jes was not offered a swimming scholarship. No problem. She walked on to the Oregon State swim team as a freshman, swimming the 100- and 200-meter butterfly. Her consistent performances (“I never missed a meet!”) earned her a scholarship by her junior year.
With passion for the environment and grit, all that was needed for Sam and Jes to enter the green-sports fray was a cause.
The cause turned out to be recycling bins.
You see, Sam was the women’s cross country/track team’s representative on something called the OSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which exists to make the student-athlete experience the best in can possibly be. Per Sam, “It’s not like there was talk of sustainability or climate change at SAAC. I simply asked about getting recycling bins in our locker room. Runners drink tons of chocolate milk so there were empty bottles all over the place and no bins in which to put them. I couldn’t believe that so I had to say something. THAT got discussion going — folks from other sports spoke up about recycling and other environmental issues.”
Associate Athletic Director Kimya Massey saw there was a group of sustainability-minded student-athletes in SAAC, introduced Sam to Jesikah, and suggested they form a green-themed subgroup. He believed a student run group would be unique, gain immediate credibility and could garner broad student and fan interest.
And so in the spring of 2016, the Beaver Athlete Sustainability Team or BAST was born with Sam, Jesikah and 6-8 other student-athletes forming the rest of the initial team. Jesikah said the initial support provided by the Athletic Department was crucial: “They were great from the beginning, allowing us the freedom to create our own initiatives and the opportunity to create change.”
Also per Jesikah, the spring 2016 semester saw the nascent BAST group act in a deliberate, strategic and determined fashion, to “define our three organizing pillars.”
Those pillars are as powerful as they are simple.
- Encourage and implement sustainable ideas within the athletic department
- Educate our fellow student-athletes about sustainability and environmental issues
- Work to engage with the rest of campus and the broader Corvallis community
With the pillars in place, Sam, Jesikah and the team knew they had to pivot from planning into action and events.
They staffed an Earth Day booth to let the campus know BAST existed and to learn the community’s view of athletics’ waste and its impacts on the environment. But the group’s big launch took place last fall at Reser Stadium, the home of Oregon State football.
“Tons of ‘stuff’ is given away for free at football games as promotional items,” offered Sam. “Things like pom-poms. Most people use them once; they get thrown out and go right to the landfill. We worked with the marketing team at the athletic department — we brought them in early on and they’ve been super supportive — to run a tabling effort at the Cal (Berkeley) game at which fans would return their pom-poms.
Of the 750 pom-poms that were given out, about 500 were collected by BAST members. They were used again at one of Jes’ swim meets this spring.” At the Arizona game, BAST was able to collect about half of the LED light sticks that were given out. Fan engagement was the main goal at one OSU men’s basketball game and one women’s contest as BAST members manned a recycling-education table on the main concourse of Gill Coliseum.
But it may have been OSU baseball where BAST made its biggest first year impact. Per Sam, “The athletic department provided several clear recycling bins to Goss Stadium and BAST staffed the games to maximize the number of fans who recycled. The clear bins made it easy for fans to see what and how much was going in. This helped increase the amount recycled at the ‘clear bin’ games by a significant amount.”
BAST was honored for its efforts when the Green Sports Alliance recognized the group as its Innovator of the Year at its June summit in Sacramento.
Sam and Jesikah were a bit lonely at the summit, as well as at the first Pac-12 Sustainability Conference, as they were the only student-athletes to attend. “Athletic directors, facilities managers and sustainability departments are all very into it,” noted Sam. “We showed that student-athletes can drive action and interest in sustainability. Hopefully, more groups like BAST will take off at other schools.”
BAST will have to grow without Sam’s and Jesikah’s day-to-day leadership as both graduated in May; Sam with an Exercise and Sports Science (aka Kinesiology) degree and Jesikah as an Environmental Engineering major. But both plan to keep tabs on BAST and also to figure out how to further amplify the voice student-athletes have at the intersection of Green & Sports.
Sam landed at the University of Idaho to work as a graduate assistant with the track team there — she hopes to help student-athletes at the Moscow, ID school start their own version of BAST. Jesikah, who will be in Portland for at least the next six months, working at an internship with Clean Water Services, is bullish on BAST’s future: “The group is in great hands with Marie Guelich (women’s basketball), Sam McKinnon (women’s cross country and track) and Mimi Grosselius women’s rowing) taking the reins.”
The new leadership team is expected to make climate change a bigger focus of BAST’s agenda by, per Jesikah, “measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of OSU athletics, showing a BAST video on the scoreboard at Reser Stadium, and, on a micro-level, bringing composting to the athletic training tables