By Kyle Akins, Lake Erie Sports Information and Marketing Graduate Assistant
The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) is nationally renowned at the NCAA Division II for its blend of strong athletics and academics. The conference boasts 246 athletic teams and nearly 5,000 student-athletes. Only one of those students gets the honor of representing the GLIAC at the NCAA level and for the next three years that student-athlete will be Lake Erie College sophomore wrestler Jared Merritt (Cranesville, Pa./Northwestern).
Merritt was nominated to be the GLIAC representative on the National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) board. SAAC is a student-athlete run organization on campuses across the country with the mission of "enhancing the total student-athlete experience by promoting opportunity, protecting student-athlete welfare and fostering a positive student-athlete image."
Merritt's new responsibilities will include attending and participating in the three national SAAC conferences each year and running the two annual GLIAC SAAC conferences. At the national SAAC conferences, he will discuss and vote on proposed NCAA legislation and issues and make recommendations on best practices for coaches and institutions which address the concerns of the student-athletes. Along the way he will meet student-athletes, athletic directors and other key personal from institutions throughout the country as well key figures with the NCAA, including president Mark Emmert, and other special guests.
"It's a great honor to have been chosen to this important position," said Merritt. "It's a great opportunity to be representing the GLIAC at a national level. The people I meet there are going to be great contacts and I can learn a lot from those people and how they became successful through athletics and college."
"It's a great chance for professional development for Jared," said Lisa Liotta, Lake Erie College's SAAC Co-Advisor, Assistant Athletic Director for Sport Operations & Student Development and Senior Woman Administrator. "In addition to representing the GLIAC at a national level, he'll be able to learn what it's like in the professional world – be it wearing a suit, getting experience on proper greetings and meetings, or just general proper etiquette techniques."
Merritt got involved with Lake Erie SAAC in the Fall of his freshman year due to its mission and community projects, which includes raising funds for charities such as the Make a Wish and Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundations, and community-involvement projects such as playing bingo with the elderly at local nursing homes and helping to run events for the Special Olympics. However, Merritt's initial recruitment to SAAC was much simpler than that.
"My freshman year they had the annual Fall ice cream social and I love ice cream so I went so I went," Merritt fondly recalled. "So I got to know a bit more about it and love the whole aspect of tying together athletics and community -not just the Lake Erie community but the city of Painesville. There were a whole bunch of community service projects which I was excited about."
SAAC was far from the only group which Merritt has invested his time with during his days on the Painesville campus. In addition to being a member of the Storm wrestling squad, the sophomore is also a residence assistant, orientation leader and a member of student government.
"Since the day he stepped on campus Jared has embraced what it means to be a Lake Erie student- athlete," said Head Wrestling Coach Kevin Hoogenboom. "Jared is a leader on and off the mat and is recognized by his peers for his dedication and workmanlike attitude."
More than any other, there is one activity from which visitors to Lake Erie would recognize the Cranesville, Pa. native – singing the national anthem at various Storm sporting events including football and basketball games.
"I sort of got conned into it; Coach (Hoogenboom) had me do it one time because he knew I did it in high school," Merritt recalled. "I got a lot of compliments, people came up to me and said 'you should keep doing that, keep doing that.' Eventually (Lake Erie College President Michael T. Victor) asked me to do it for a football game and I couldn't say no to the president so I've been doing it ever since."
Merritt has embraced his musical roots as he is currently working with a group to start a Lake Erie glee club this Spring. Being involved with so many activities and clubs keeps Merritt constantly on the go. He knows that this is the perfect time to do just that and is what made his application for Chair of GLIAC SAAC standout.
"I love being involved and think the college experience is a lot more than just athletics or just academics," said the political science major. "To have a good college experience you need to be well-rounded. You get to meet so many people and connections you can have and the friendships you can make are priceless."
"Pretty much everybody who is in national SAAC is one of those student leaders on campus – presidents of almost every club they're in, hands in everything going on," said Liotta. "They're great kids - maybe not necessarily the all-star athlete but a team player that's always a go to person when you need something."
That description is great portrayal of what Merritt has brought to the Storm's wrestling program during his – and its – first two seasons. As a freshman in Lake Erie's inaugural season of wrestling in 2010-11, Merritt was a full-time starter at the 184 lb weight class, winning eight matches. This season, Merritt's role has been reduced to part-time action at two weight classes but the sophomore is as committed to the program as ever.
"I believe I'm wrestling better than last year but the way the lineup sets up (sophomore) Zev Green (Marysville, Ohio/Marysville) is a great wrestler and is doing great things for the team," said Merritt. "So being a sophomore I'm trying to be a role model for the freshman. We all came in last year with no experience or set leadership so we sort of had to find our own way and not that we've done that we can bring that experience to the younger guys on the team."
Being a wrestler is going to make Merritt stand out when he attends his first national SAAC meeting this July. He is the only wrestler on the Division II national board and is believed to be the only wrestler represented among all NCAA divisions.
"Wrestlers are usually thought of as just a bunch of meatheads," jokes Merritt with a chuckle. "It's a real honor representing the sport of wrestling and I think it's good for the sport of wrestling to have one of its own to represent it on the national SAAC."
This season is wrestling's first as an official sport in the GLIAC and is just Lake Erie's second as a member of the conference. It is a major honor for a junior institution of the conference to be recognized for its highest student-athlete position.
"Before even our first year in the GLIAC, one of our members [track and field runner Zach Adams] was the vice-chair of the GLIAC SAAC," said Liotta. "Now having the national representative we're continuing to put our name out there as an institution and showing we're here to be an integral part of the GLIAC."
"[Representing Lake Erie] is a great honor," explained Merritt, who intends to attend law school after his time at Lake Erie. "I love the school and we are doing so many great things here. Just getting into the GLIAC we can be overlooked by bigger schools but we really are showing that even though we have small numbers, we are doing big things."
This story runs in the spring 2012 issue of Lake Erie College Magazine.