A group of Illinois students joined the Green Team this past summer, volunteering with Major League Baseball and the Natural Resources Defense Council to promote environmental sustainability during MLB’s annual All-Star Week, held July 11-15 in Minneapolis.
The five-day trip to the Minnesota Twins’ home base – Target Field – was the capstone experience for students taking a new online course titled “Sport and Sustainability,” which met during the summer term.
The course provided 26 Illinois undergraduates an in-depth look at the importance of environmental stewardship historically and in the sports industry currently, as well as opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and develop their skills at one of professional sports’ crown-jewel events.
While in Minneapolis, the students promoted recycling and other sustainable initiatives at several events, including the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby and the annual All-Star Concert featuring the band Imagine Dragons.
“The Green Team has played a large role in MLB events since 2008, and sustainability is one of the most important topics in our field today,” said Michael Raycraft, the faculty member in the department of recreation, sport and tourism (RST) who developed and taught the course. “Our students had the opportunity to engage with leaders from the highest levels of professional sports and come away with a really strong personal definition of sustainability and its impact on social issues, politics and the industry.”
Lena Brown, a senior in RST and one of Raycraft’s students, said that prior to taking the course she wasn’t aware that sustainability was such a significant issue within the sports industry.
“I didn’t have much knowledge about sustainability before the course,” said Brown, who is from the Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills. “But I learned that if everybody in the world did one thing, simple things like conserve water or re-use things, we could change the world and leave it better for those to come.”
Early in the course, students learned about the Mayans and how unsustainable farming practices led to the decline of an advanced civilization.
“Many of these ancient issues are relevant today – agricultural, water, climate issues,” Raycraft said. “In terms of the present, students learned that sustainable behaviors and economic strength are congruent.”
At the end of the course, students were asked to make recommendations to Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas about green practices and technologies that might be incorporated into the renovations underway at State Farm Center on campus.
While the trip offered many highlights for the student participants, the most rewarding part for Brown was the opportunities it provided for bonding with her classmates.
Although they had sat side-by-side in many classes during the previous three-and-a-half years, Brown said she hadn’t really gotten to know some of them until they shared dorm rooms on the University of Minnesota campus, worked together at the events and socialized during their down time.
“The experience was like no other,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I learned so much and met so many different people from the league. Everyone should take at least one course like that – that takes you abroad or into the field. It was a great experience.”