During his four-year career at Cornell, men’s hockey player Sam Paolini has endeared himself to Red fans with his game-breaking goals and gritty play. However, the senior forward’s presence has been felt not only on the ice but also in the City of Ithaca, where he has volunteered an enormous amount of time and effort to helping those less fortunate.
In honor of his work, the Hockey Humanitarian Foundation Award selected Paolini as one of the five finalists for this year’s award last week. The award is presented to an NCAA hockey player who has demonstrated a commitment to excelling in the classroom and has made significant contributions to his or her community.
“I’m very honored. It’s a surprise,” Paolini said. “I knew I was being nominated, but it’s a surprise knowing that I’m one of the final five.”
From the moment he stepped onto the Cornell campus, Paolini has engaged himself in community activities. Over the past several years, he has served as a volunteer referee for the Ithaca Youth Hockey Association and he has been a guest speaker at local schools. He and his teammates have also raised money for the Ithaca downtown food bank, Loaves and Fishes. However, his two greatest contributions may be the programs which he initiated — Power Play for Prevention and Special Population Skate.
The Power Play for Prevention program, which Paolini helped set up, will raise funds for the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance throughout the 2002-03 season. For every goal that the Red scores this season with the man-advantage, the Tompkins Trust Company will donate $100 to the cause.
“With the Breast Cancer Alliance, I wanted younger women and women in general to be more aware of breast cancer in Ithaca,” Paolini said.
For Paolini, though, the Special Population Skate, which gives handicapped children the opportunity to skate with members of the Red hockey team, is his favorite activity.
“Probably the Special Population Skate is the most special to me because it happens every weekend. It’s something where I can directly affect it and directly affect people,” he said. “It started from nothing and slowly built its way up to something. It was the first one I did here too, so I hold that close to me.”
After all his hard work, what Paolini finds most gratifying is the response he receives from those he has touched in the community.
“Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces on Sundays always makes me happy. And to see just random people come up me after games, or at school, on the street, and commend me or the work, and tell me how important the work I do for the community is, how they’ve been directly affected by the work I’ve done, if they have a friend or relative who’s been affected by breast cancer. Just the thanks — it helps me know that what I’m doing is worthwhile,” he said.
Paolini’s work and dedication has not been lost on his coach, who views the senior as an example to everyone on the Cornell campus.
“He’s a role model not only for guys on our team, but he’s a role model for other athletes on campus, he’s a role model for parents who live in town who don’t do anything in Ithaca,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said. “The nice part is that Sam has initiated everything that he’s done. He’s initiated the projects that he’s got going right now. It should be a part of every athlete to give back to the community. Sam’s very self-motivated, and he deserves the nomination into the top five and he deserves the award. The people that have won have been the people who have benefited from his involvement.”
While Paolini is receiving attention for his contributions, he is quick to credit his parents, Sam and Diane, for instilling the values in him.
“My mom and dad have always taught me that we’re lucky. There are some people who don’t have the fortunes that we do, and to be thankful for everything that we have. We have a responsibility to help people who don’t have as much as we do. It’s just something that they’ve always instilled in me since I was little,” Paolini said. “It’s going back to the Golden Rule, ‘Treat people the way you want to be treated.'”
The other four finalists — John Flint (Saint Michael’s College), Chandra Gunn (Northeastern), Bryan Isola (Neumann College), Deanna McDevitt (Yale) — along with Paolini, however, will have to wait until April 11 for the winner to be announced at the NCAA Frozen Four Festivities in Buffalo, N.Y.
Archived article by Alex Ip