ORLANDO, Fla.- Separated by the entire country, it would seem that being Division I Universities is the only thing that Monmouth University and The University of Southern California have in common.

That all changed at the 19th Annual APPLE Conference in late January, when athletes from the two schools were selected to present a student-athlete designed educational program in front of representatives from over 33 institutions. In attendance for the meeting were APPLE Teams from Baylor, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Cal Berkley, University of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and USC among others.

The APPLE Conference, which is held twice a year, was created 19 years ago at the University of Virginia to assist schools in promoting student-athlete health and wellness by empowering teams of student-athletes and administrators to create institution-specific action plans.  It is funded by a grant from the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.

Representing the Hawks were senior field hockey goalie Megan Smith (Easton, Pa./Easton Area), sophomore defensive lineman Jeremy Baltimore (Orange, N.J./Orange), sophomore lacrosse member Olivia Salata (Broomall, Pa./Archbishop Carroll) and junior soccer goalie Bryan Meredith (Scotch Plains, N.J./Scotch Plains-Fanwood).  Joining the student-athletes were Associate Athletic Directors Doug Padron (Sports Medicine) and Michelle Melia (SWA/Student Development). 

Baltimore, Salata and Smith were chosen to present Monmouth's newly designed "Monmouth University Recruitment Essentials", a program the team created from scratch.

"We were honored to be invited," said Salata, who also serves as Vice President for MU's Peer Leader Program.  "It was a great learning experience for us, we enjoyed getting to know and work with other teams at Monmouth."

Mary Wilfert, the NCAA's Associate Director of Health and Safety, oversees the funding and acts as a liaison between the APPLE conference and the NCAA.    

"Monmouth University presents a wonderful example of how an NCAA institution can use the NCAA-funded APPLE Conference to systematically address alcohol and other drug education within athletics using a 'team' approach," said Wilfert.  "Doug Padron and his prevention team provided a perfect example of how to assess, develop and disseminate a great educational piece, "Monmouth University Recruitment Essentials".  These hosting guidelines not only benefit Monmouth student-athletes, but were effectively shared with many other NCAA student-athletes and staff, with great information on how to take it back home." 

The APPLE conference is broken up into seven "slices" or categories, including Recruitment, Expectations and Attitudes, Policies, Education Programs, Drug Testing, Sanctioning and Referral and Counseling.  The members of each attending University were charged with coming up with an initiative that would improve their athletic program in one of the slices.  The MU contingent got together and chose Recruiting category.

"We chose to work on the recruiting slice," said Salata.  "Once we started doing it, we came to the realization that it was a big time commitment, not only from the four of us, but from all of the Monmouth athletes.  However, we quickly realized how important it [recruiting] was to the entire Monmouth athletics community, not only just to our individual programs.  It was a chance to start a tradition, to leave our mark on Monmouth Athletics."

The MU group designed the program to set guidelines for student-athletes who were acting as hosts while high school recruits were on their visits.  The group handed out anonymous surveys to their fellow student-athletes, with the goal of trying to improve the entire recruiting process by incorporating the ideas of the Monmouth athlete and coaches.

The whole process took over four months and the result was the creation of an entire education program designed to open dialog between coaches and athletes in order to reinforce the importance of hosting recruits and the impact it has on recruiting and the future of their programs. The team also produced a comprehensive pamphlet that every student-athlete as a host to recruits can use to provide a safe, informative and effective recruiting visit for prospective students.

"This conference is a very important part of our student leadership education model," said MU Athletic Director Dr. Marylin McNeil.  "The conference gives us the ability to present our projects for a national audience, but also to learn from others about their best prospects.  When our student-athletes decide upon a project, and develop ownership we always have complete buy-in.  Student-athletes have such enthusiasm; when coupled with a terrific work ethic, success is ensured."

The APPLE conference also assessed each of the attending school's athletic department's seven "slices" or categories.  Grades were handed out from 0-100 for each slice, for a total combined possible score of 700.  Monmouth University totaled 623 points, with an average grade of 89 in each of the seven categories.  The number dwarfed the average of the other Division I schools that attended both sessions, which scored an average of 358 points (average grade of 51 per slice).      

This year marked the fifth straight year that Monmouth has attended the APPLE Conference, with a group of seven student-athletes presenting the athletic department's Code of Conduct at the 2006 conference in Indianapolis.

"I feel like the experience was a chance to have a voice, to represent Monmouth University in a positive light," said Baltimore.  "I think we showed them that we do great things at MU, despite being a small school in New Jersey that not many people have heard of."

photo R-L: Michelle Melia; Colleen Rackett; Jeremy Baltimore; Megan Smith; Olivia Salata; Bryan Meredith; Doug Padron