SMSU ATHLETICS: SMSU earns NCAA Award of Excellence honor

INDIANAPOLIS – The Southwest Minnesota State University Athletics Department on Thursday was one of 20 institutions and one conference to be named finalists for the 2019 Division II Award of Excellence. The award recognizes events and activities that exemplify the type of campus and community engagement that the division emphasizes.

SMSU was named the 2018-19 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference winner for its “HyVee KidsFit” program held this past September. SMSU hosted more than 900 2nd to 5th graders to promote health to young children in the Marshall community. Mustang student-athletes welcomed and helped lead and engage with the students during the program. After exercising and learning some important nutritional tips, the elementary students were provided a healthy snack and equipped with tools to challenge them and their family to get and stay active.

“We are honored to receive the NCAA Division II Award of Excellence for HyVee KidsFit as the top civic engagement event of the year in the NSIC,” said Chris Hmielewski, SMSU Director of Athletics. “Kids Fit is a program that has connected our student-athletes, coaches and staff members with elementary and middle school students. We are very proud of this program, and it reflects the strong relationship SMSU Athletics has built with HyVee and the Marshall Public Schools collaborating to educate our youth on the importance of nutrition and exercise in their daily lives.”

Division II honors its members each year for conducting events that exemplify any of the six Division II attributes: learning, balance, resourcefulness, sportsmanship, passion and service. A committee of athletics administrators determined this year’s finalists, and the national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will select the winner, which will be announced at the Division II business session at the 2019 NCAA Convention on Jan. 26 in Orlando, Fla.

Each finalist will receive $500. The winner will receive $1,500 and a football game or basketball doubleheader that will be featured in the 2019-20 regular-season media agreement. The first runner-up will receive $1,250, and the second runner-up will receive $1,000. All prize money is intended for future community engagement events.

“This year’s award recognizing HyVee KidsFit is a direct result of the hard work, vision and commitment to civic engagement by the SMSU Department of Athletics,” Hmielewski said. “The success of this program would not have been possible without the support of many hard working employees, student-athletes, coaches, teachers, administrators and staff members at each of the three participating organizations. Our sincere appreciation goes out to the elementary and middle schools in Marshall, who allowed our student-athletes to participate in the learning process and make a difference in the lives of our Marshall Public School students. This award is to be shared by SMSU, HyVee and Marshall Public Schools. HyVee KidsFit is just one example of many collaborative efforts that show how we are working together as a community to develop regionally and nationally recognized programs.”

This is the seventh time SMSU has been named the NSIC winner and a finalist for the Division II Award of Excellence. The department was selected three times for the annual “Ag Bowl” (2007-08, 2008-09, 2012-13), twice for the annual “Smokefest” (2010-11, 2011-12) and once for the “Mustang Mail” program in 2014-15.

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