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Amherst College > News & Events > Amherst Magazine > Archives > Fall 2002 > Sports
Sports.
Mike Proman in football uniform.
“It's cool,” Proman says. “But you don't do this for the recognition.”

Meaningful contributions

Spend time with senior Mike Proman, and two things quickly become apparent.

First, he loves being an athlete, and treasures the effect sport has had on his life.

Although the Minneapolis-born placekicker was never a headliner for the football team, he has taken the Jeffs through pivotal moments during his collegiate football career. Last year for example, his 60-yard kickoff in the waning minutes of the Tufts game floated to the Jumbo five-yard line, forcing Tufts to line up at its own 20 after a hard-fought 15-yard return. You could argue that Proman—a thesis-writing double major in Chinese, and law, jurisprudence and social thought—sealed the 14-10 win for Amherst in giving the celebrated 2001 defense ample breathing room for the last two minutes of the game.

But second, and perhaps more importantly, Proman's influence on the team, and on the Amherst community as a whole, extends far beyond his athletic ability. In September, Proman was one of 11 players—the only one from the NESCAC and the first in Amherst history—from NCAA Divisions I-AA, II, III and the NAIA named to the 11th Annual American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team. The award, honoring college football players for their active roles in community service, seemed to surprise Proman. “It's cool,” he said. “But you don't do this for the recognition.” Proman is the founder of the Amherst chapter of Change for Change, a philanthropic organization that gives college students a way to donate to charity. Aptly named, Amherst's Change for Change chapter encourages students to collect their loose change for seasonal pickup by the college's varsity team members, and donates the total to a local charity voted on by the student body.

Last year, Change for Change drummed up $5,000 for four local charities, and Proman plans to improve on that goal this year. Senior women's ice hockey co-captain Heidi Alexander, Change for Change's
liaison to the athletics department and a childhood friend of Proman's, explained the impressively simple logistics: “For the first collection we use fall athletes; the second, winter athletes; the third, spring athletes; and the fourth, club sport athletes,” she said. “And this year, we'd like to have some of the campus music groups participate. Last year we had a great turnout at each collection and the athletes really seemed to enjoy participating, knowing that they were going to make a difference. Without the help of the athletes, this program wouldn't be possible.”

Community service at Amherst is nothing new. Students tend to be very aware of the world around them, and the lineage of students putting in long volunteer hours to better their communities is easy to trace. But one sector of the college population has been traditionally absent from that equation. “Athletes are under a lot of time constraints,” observed Proman. “Amherst is such an active place, and a huge percentage of the student body is made up of athletes. Because there are so many active people here, it's tough to find volunteers. And college students don't generally have the money to be able to write a check to a charity—and that's so depersonalized.

“So,” he continued, “how do you make a meaningful contribution given those constraints?” Proman found the answer he was looking for during his sophomore year in the work being done by his longtime friend Dana Hork. Then a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, Hork had devised and implemented Change for Change on her own campus during her sophomore year, with promising results. The organization expanded to Amherst in the fall of 2001, Proman's junior year. Together, the two chapters have raised more than $40,000 for 10 local groups. “Since Amherst is such a small school, we don't collect nearly as much money as Penn does,” conceded Heidi Alexander. “But even so, the amount of money that we donate is a substantial sum for charities in this area and they appreciate it.” Senior executive vice-president Nicole Sandoz recalled the enthusiasm of the athletes for the program and their eagerness to help. “Every time we prepared for a new collection, I was always surprised by the number of students who came out to support the program,” she said. “Athletes are usually the busiest students on campus with academics, games, practices and all of their other extracurricular activities, but they were willing to come out and help us collect the money.”

Proman continues to focus his last months in college on improving community service at Amherst, most significantly within the eager-to-help but time-constrained athletic community. “My involvement with Change for Change won't stop when I leave,” said Proman. “I'll always be involved. But I want to make sure that there's a solid infrastructure in place at Amherst before I graduate.” He has also proved instrumental in planning other ways to promote and encourage community service within the college's athletic community. “Mike has an amazing ability to bridge communities and get things done,” said Tom Lepak, assistant director of Community Outreach. “Within days of approaching Mike about a better link between Athletics and Outreach, he had a panel of student-athlete leaders organized and ready to discuss how we can move ahead in getting athletes involved with community work. We're eager to explore how to improve the experience of Amherst athletes while making a substantive difference in the community.” Hork, the Penn student who founded Change for Change, echoed Lepak. She described Proman as “a phenomenal leader. He's extremely involved, and he wants to give back to the community. It's obvious that he's been a leader at Amherst.”

Throughout the evolution and fruition of Change for Change at Amherst, Proman has continued to lend his efforts to several other community service initiatives, both on and off campus. He is heavily involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Hampshire County—he was matched up with a little brother two years ago and reports that the experience has been “great. It's more fun than I could even tell you about.” Proman smiled as he described his little brother, proud of both his charge and the mutual experience. “I got him two years ago, when he was 14 years old,” he recounted. “There are problems that he's dealing with, but he's been great. He used to be really shy, but he's opened up a lot. He's a lot of fun. And now he's 16—I see him more as a friend than I do as a little sib.”

Off campus, Proman endured the 2001 Boston Marathon to support the Dana Farber Cancer Research Fund. He successfully finished the race and is planning to run again this year, raising at least $2,000 for cancer research. And during his time at home in Minnesota, Proman is known to volunteer at Loaves and Fishes, a Minneapolis soup kitchen. “It's important to have that other dimension in your conscience,” Proman explained. “Once you get off the Amherst campus, it's a different world.”

—Rebecca Binder '02

Photo: Frank Ward

 
 

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