MSUM student-athletes earn national honor

Pictured: Keller family – Kayla Keller (far left), Gary Keller (middle) and Joni Keller (far right). The cutout is of Joe Keller.

Just when I think I couldn’t be prouder of MSUM’s students and all they accomplish, they give me another reason to boast. The most recent case in point: MSUM has been named the 2023 recipient of the NCAA Division II Award of Excellence after being selected from a list of national finalists representing 22 institutions.

Designed to honor and celebrate student-athletes’ leadership in their communities, the Award of Excellence is the highest non-athletic NCAA-sponsored award an institution can achieve. The 2023 award recognized MSUM’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and its efforts to raise money for Make-A-Wish.

MSUM SAAC Make-a-Wish
Pictured: MSUM SAAC group

Even more special is the way they did it: by honoring fellow student Joe Keller, who passed away in the summer of 2021. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of five, Joe was an MSUM student, member of the MSUM GO! TEAM and Dragon athletics superfan who was himself a Make-A-Wish recipient and had helped the MSUM SAAC with past Make-A-Wish fundraising efforts.

Working with Joe’s family, who donated 500 “Joe’s Heroes” t-shirts, Dragon student-athletes raised $4,385 for the Fargo Make-A-Wish Foundation by publicizing the fundraising event on social media and leveraging home basketball games, MSUM’s annual Dragon Frost celebration, and Senior Night for men’s and women’s basketball to drive attendance. More than 1000 fans attended the basketball games, where the teams and coaches wore “Joe’s Heroes” shirts during warm ups.

I’m certain that MSUM student-athletes will earn many accolades in their sports this year. I’ll be cheering them on, of course. But I’m proudest of their accomplishments outside of their sports and I’m thrilled the NCAA has recognized their extraordinary leadership.

MSUM's SAAC will host their annual Make-a-Wish night on February 18 at MSUM's basketball games against the University of Mary. I hope to see you there.

Dr. Anne Blackhurst served as Minnesota State University Moorhead’s 11th president from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2023.

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