Seton Hall U. student partners with East Orange, creates sports leadership camp for disadvantaged youth

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SOUTH ORANGE / EAST ORANGE, NJ — Madeline Field can barely remember her first swim meet, an intrasquad competition during her first week of kindergarten at the local YMCA in suburban Chicago. 

“I know I was disqualified in everything I swam except for one event,” she said, laughing, “but beyond that, I don’t recall any specifics.”

Thankfully for Field, who is a student in the Buccino Leadership Institute and a member of Seton Hall University’s swim and dive team, there would be many more meets to come. After swimming through elementary, middle and high school, she made the decision to commit to Seton Hall’s women’s swim and dive team with a set plan: to receive her degree in diplomacy and economics, earn her four-year certificate in the Buccino Leadership Institute and experience all that Big East Athletics had to offer. 

Less than two years into her college career, Field finds herself leading an interdisciplinary team of her peers in the institute’s signature leadership development experience. Field is the creator of Pirates Play, a free sports leadership camp for elementary school students in disadvantaged local areas. The camp, she explained, is special in that it is completely “led by Seton Hall athletics and leadership students.”

The inspiration for this ambitious project came from a combination of Field’s experience as a swimmer, outreach she had done with local elementary schools while she was in high school, and time spent as a camper at Camp Kesem Northwestern, a week-long summer camp staffed entirely by college students for children affected by a parent’s cancer. 

She cited her experience at Camp Kesem as the most pivotal, recollecting that she “looked up to my counselors, many of whom were the same age as I am now. I thought they were the coolest, kindest people I had ever met.” Those vivid memories of the support of her camp counselors are proof that, in Field’s eyes, college students can really change lives. 

“As Seton Hall students, we have much more of an impact than we could possibly imagine. It’s time to harness that,” she said. When it came to presenting the idea in front of her peers, however, Field was wary. 

In their sophomore year, students in the institute are given the opportunity to lead their own interdisciplinary teams in the spring semester. Even though Executive Director Bryan Price encouraged students to put themselves out there, Field feared presenting her idea in front of an audience of more than 70 peers. 

“Public speaking isn’t exactly my strong suit, but with the encouragement I received from many of my friends in the institute, and my cohort director Dean Elizabeth Halpin, I decided to make it happen,” she said. 

Her fellow Buccino students voted her idea in the top seven, and at the beginning of the semester she soon got to draft her peers in a live draft. Those picks, she explains, formed the fantastic team that has worked together to put her idea into reality. 

The team faced several daunting challenges early on in their process. The most significant challenges were the university’s restrictions on allowing children onto campus. This required the team to get creative. After consulting with faculty, they reached out to more than a dozen off-campus organizations to find a home for their project. They eventually found an opportunity with the East Orange Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs, which agreed to offer Pirates Play to roughly 40 children in third through fifth grades this fall. 

While Field was relieved to find a partner, the team has run into budget constraints. 

“There are so many costs to running a camp like this that we didn’t fully consider in the beginning,” she said, listing mandatory background checks, transportation for the team to get to the off-campus location, jerseys and healthy snacks for participants as some of the costs. While the team will continue to fundraise on campus and promote their cause on Instagram, they are also looking for sports equipment and funding help.

Almost 16 years after her first swim meet, Field knows well the positive impact that sports can have on young people. 

Photos Courtesy of SHU