By John Krenger
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The Kansas diving squad is the smallest team in the Big 12 with only four participating student-athletes. Yet among this small group is one of the conference's most outstanding leaders. Hannah McMacken is the current chair of the Big 12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
SAAC’s main purpose is to provide a student-athlete’s perspective and advice on issues that impact their welfare within member institutions, the Conference and the NCAA.
McMacken describes it as a student council for student-athletes.
“It is a way to not only be involved with other sports teams and campuses, but also the community,” she said. “We start projects from athletes’ perspectives and we try to focus in on their (athletes') issues.”
While McMacken’s leadership presence is being felt across the Big 12, it is strongest on the Kansas swimming and diving team.
“She is a natural born leader,” said KU swimming and diving head coach Clark Campbell. “When she talks, people listen. She’s had amazing growth within our program and has blossomed into a very good Division I diver and team leader.”
McMacken admits to “breathing down” her teammates necks about participating in the Kansas SAAC and being active in the community. But McMacken’s dogged leadership has helped bring a sense of pride to the team that has led to winning the Challenging Athletes' Minds for Personal Success (CHAMPS) competition at KU for the past three years.
McMacken has grown, not only into a leader but also into a formidable diving competitor. Already this season, she has scored career-bests with a 282.98 in the 1-meter and a 286.80 in the 3-meter.
Over the years she has been an active member of Kansas’ SAAC, which resulted in being named the Big 12 SAAC chairwoman for 2008-09. Every year each member institution names two representatives to participate on the conference SAAC, one from a men’s sport and one from a women’s sport, for a total of 24 representatives.
As this year’s chair, McMacken is focused on strengthening the Big 12’s relationship with Special Olympics and is making it her number one goal.
“Our charity of choice is the Special Olympics. Kansas and other Big 12 institutions are trying to strengthen that partnership. Some of the schools have really great interactions with Special Olympians,” she said. “Iowa State recently hosted the Special Olympics Nationals and we are all trying to take steps to improve that relationship. With the few moments we’ve had with Special Olympics so far, it has been such a blessing for everyone.”
One way to improve the relationship with Special Olympics is to strengthen the individual SAACs at each member institution, and at the Big 12 level. In order to do that, McMacken feels each member institution should open their SAAC meetings events to all of its student-athletes rather than having it open only to several representatives from each sport.
“Anybody can be a leader,” she said. “At our (KU) first meeting this year, we had 137 student-athletes. I just really like that we open it to everyone and we give everyone a chance to be involved. At KU, something that I hope I leave a mark with is that anybody can do it.”
McMacken also wants to improve the Big 12 SAAC through similar methods.
“I went to the meeting (last year) and it was strictly business,” she recalled. “This year everyone seemed to form relationships. I think that friendship was really important to establish and that was done this year. Now, we all have contact with one another and we don’t mind going to each other to ask how we can do things better.”
As a result of this new conference-wide friendship, McMacken believes that the Big 12 SAAC will be more able to tackle the toughest issues facing student-athletes today. She maintains that student-athlete welfare is still the number one priority.
“There are over 400,000 student-athletes across the country and it’s hard to keep track of everyone. I think it’s easy to be lost in the mix,” she said.
McMacken's aspirations in diving, in leadership, her advocacy on behalf of student-athletes plus her push to improve the Big 12's partnership with Special Olympics assure that the senior from Lake Tapps, Wash., she'll leave her mark in several areas.
For more on the Big 12 SAAC, click here.