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Students from Skyline Middle School pose with JMU coaches at the JMU Soccer Complex.Courtesy: Brent Holsinger
Skyline Middle School RAOS Program Visits JMU
Courtesy:JMUSports.com Release:05/24/2012
HARRISONBURG, Va., May 24, 2012 -- Imagine the excitement a middle-school student might feel at the prospect of getting to experience "a day in the life" of a JMU student athlete.

Multiply that excitement level by a hundred, and you might get an idea of how thrilled a group of Skyline Middle School students were to have the opportunity to visit JMU earlier this month.

The students, who participate in the school's after-school program RAOS (the program's name is the word "soar" spelled backwards), were already well acquainted with members of the Dukes' men's soccer team.  JMU players have participated in the program at the school on a weekly basis during the spring semester the past two years, as team members share their soccer expertise with the students.

(Click here for a related article on the soccer team working with the RAOS program.)

Now, for the second year, the RAOS group came to campus to get a glimpse of the life of a collegiate athlete.

"One of our main goals as a school as well as the RAOS after-school program is to make sure students are not only successful in middle school but to get them to prepare for future opportunities, including college," said Brent Holsinger, Out of School Time Program Director at Skyline.

"Taking the visit to JMU to learn about and really see what it's like to go to college, and what it's like to be a student athlete -- where you go to study hall, where you do strength and conditioning -- all those things that are part of the college experience, and the students get really excited about that.

"Anytime we can partner our students with student athletes, there is an immediate connection, particularly because many of our students play soccer.  They are able to build positive relationships with the student athletes.   They begin to think about college as not only where you go to class but can do other things, like play soccer, and that can be an opportunity for them."

JMU's involvement with RAOS began with the JMU Athletics Department's diversity committee, said JMU Associate Athletics Director Kevin White.

"We wanted to do something to affect young people, and this after-school program fit well with that goal," White said. 

"When you bring them to campus, they start talking about going to college," said White, who noted that many students in the program might not be considering college in their future before getting the exposure the JMU visits provide.

"Many of these students have never been on campus, and the program gives them a sense of hope that they too can get to college and experience what they got a glimpse of on the visit.

"They were ecstatic about just stepping on the JMU bus to come to campus."

After arriving on campus the students first received purple JMU t-shirts and bracelets and then began their tour.

JMU academic advisor Scott Arbogast led the visit to the Plecker Athletic Performance Center's Student Athlete Services area, where individual and group study rooms and computer work areas are located, along with advisors' offices.

Academic advisor and former JMU football player Terence Apted showed the students the APC's spacious strength and conditioning area, filled with all manner of strength training equipment, and Assistant Athletic Trainer Lisa Friesen led the group's visit to the sports medicine area of the APC.

Next came a chance for the students to experience being on the football turf of the 25,000-seat Bridgeforth Stadium, followed by a trip to the Godwin Hall equipment room, where the group got to try on JMU athletic jerseys.  The jersey fitting "made their day," White said.

Next up was a visit to Head Men's Soccer Coach Tom Martin's office, where the students got to see a Sporting Kansas City jersey worn by former JMU player CJ Sapong, the 2011 Major League Soccer Player of the Year.

Martin and JMU associate head coach Tom Foley and assistant coach Sean Martin then organized small-sided games for the students at the JMU Soccer Complex.

"They appreciated things that we take for granted," said White. "At the field they touched the grass, because they had never played on a field with such nice grass."

The visit ended with the students replenishing with a catered lunch in the Duke Club Hospitality Room at the JMU Convocation Center.

"Our players thoroughly enjoy our interaction with the students in the after-school program," said Foley.  "It's a valuable experience, giving back to the community, and our players get to interact with kids whose parents have come to the United States from all over the world."

Another rewarding part of the soccer team's partnership with the RAOS program is that the visit to JMU "shows the students that they can go to college in the future if they do well academically," said Foley.

But one of the most gratifying parts of the experience for the JMU coaches and athletes?

When we come to the school "they come running out to us," says Foley.  "And the smiles we see on their faces are priceless."

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