Leader on the (Wooden) Floor
By Amro El-Adle '13 & Elaine Teng '12, Editors-in-Chief
Universally acknowledged as the greatest men’s basketball coach in collegiate history, John Wooden made sure his championship UCLA teams of the 60s and 70s championed his simple credo: “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.” In his memory, Athletes for a Better World (ABW) has named Sarah Leyman ’11 one of five finalists for the seventh annual Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup.

Open to athletes from all of the NCAA’s intercollegiate divisions, the award, according to ABW, recognizes athletes whose character represents the highest and best in sports, within a framework of making the greatest difference in the lives of others.

Few athletes around the country can lay claim to the sense of civic duty with which the famed Wizard of Westwood conducted himself, and even fewer have had the skill to lift their teams to the caliber of athletic success coach Wooden was so familiar with. Leyman, however, seems to have mastered that magic.

In the four years since her arrival on campus, the women’s basketball team has compiled an incredulous 96-8 record (a .923 winning percentage). She co-captained the team last season, and, along with Jaci Daigneault ’11 and head coach G.P. Gromacki, has seen the team travel to two consecutive Final Fours — rewriting the Amherst record books in the process.

In addition to starting last season 31-0, the team regularly pummeled opponents, scoring a program-record 75.4 points per contest. Leyman, the team’s starting center, has proved integral to the Jeffs’ formula for success, and she seems to have found the perfect niche in LeFrak. Statistically, at least, she is an anomaly: in the 103 games in which she has played, Leyman has collected more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds.

Leyman has extended that awareness far beyond the confines of the gym, assuming leadership on a variety of campus fronts. She is in her third year as president of Amherst’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), where she has focused on increasing athletes’ involvement with the Pioneer Valley community.

Under her oversight, SAAC has quickly become a hub for athletes’ community involvement, as she has helped coordinate projects with Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life and Easter Seals, as well as several 5k runs for other organizations. “One of our big events every winter is a community day,” she said. “It takes a different name every year: one year it was Sportsmanship Day, last year it was Kids Day. We charged admissions and gave the proceeds to the Easter Seals commission. We have kids come in and fall and spring athletes run clinics with them about their sports.”

One of Leyman’s key goals as president of SAAC has been to internalize community involvement within Amherst’s athletic sphere, which was one of the points that Molly Mead, director of the Center for Community Engagement, emphasized in the recommendation letter she wrote to ABW about Leyman. “One of the impressive things Sarah did as a community organizer was use her position as president of the SAAC to get every team and every player on every team to commit to some kind of community engagement activity,” Mead explained. “The result? One-hundred percent participation of the teams and players last year and a likely repeat this year.”

The same foresight that helps her collect rebounds on the hardwood also seems to be in play in Leyman’s academic life. Cognizant of the time constraints inherent in an athletic commitment, the biology major (with a 3.8 GPA, no less) spent the summer conducting research in Chair of Biology Professor Ethan Clotfelter’s lab for her thesis.

Clotfelter focused his praise on Leyman’s willingness to consistently take charge of a situation, no matter the context: “She is a very natural leader,” he said. “It helps when you’re tall and you speak loud, but she has the right combination. She’s not overbearing, but she definitely has a confidence about her and people are happy to follow her because she’s clearly competent and knows what she’s talking about.”

Leyman, who hopes to become a veterinarian after “working with a domestic dog vaccination clinic in Rwanda” for a year after graduating, will be joined by the four other finalists in the famed East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta for the presentation ceremony on Jan. 25th. They include Agnes Scott’s Kimberley Reeves, Alabama’s Greg McElroy, Oklahoma’s Quinton Carter and Denison’s Daniel Crawford.

Issue 11, Submitted 2010-12-08 15:47:27