FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - Courtesy of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC)
It was in Anaheim last January when the idea for the relationship first came about.
At the 2020 NCAA Convention, Great Northeast Athletic Conference Commissioner Joe Walsh and former Division-II All-American track & field student-athlete Ivy Watts first got to know each other during the event's trade show.
However, the spring shutdown soon followed, as the 2020 Convention became one of the final "normal" industry-wide memories before masks, hand sanitizer, and sport season cancellations took a firm and sudden grasp of our daily lives.
Now, more than nine months later, we all continue to do our best to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, a significant seed was planted with that trade show conversation, as Watts – who has shared her personal story with more than 10,000 student-athletes the past two years – and the GNAC announced a formal partnership back in June.
A Mental Health Empowerment Speaker, Watts promotes mental wellness and reduces stigma around mental illness by sharing her story through public speaking and her writing. She empowers others to speak their truths, know that they are not alone, learn the beauty of self-love, and find strength to keep fighting for their tomorrows.
The GNAC partnership has provided mental health modules specific to COVID-19 for the conference's 3,000+ student-athletes, as the pandemic has only amplified mental health issues that student-athletes may deal with as they cope with the loss of their sport.
Since September, Watts has presented virtually to all 13 GNAC member institutions, and has delivered messaging to the GNAC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) as well.
The next step in her GNAC programming will be to offer a no-cost virtual seminar on Monday, November 23 at 7:00 PM for parents of GNAC student-athletes. In order to register for the online event, please see the below link. Registration is required in order to attend on the 23rd.
"The mental health of parents plays a key role in our student-athletes' mental health," said Watts. "Thank you to the GNAC for creating this space!"
GNAC Parents Mental Health Discussion With Ivy Watts (Nov. 23, 7PM): REGISTER HERE!
A student-athlete at the University of New Haven, Watts set numerous program records for the Chargers on the track. A Waltham, Mass. native and Psychology major, Watts also posted a 3.98 GPA in the classroom en route to receiving Northeast-10 Conference Co-Woman of the Year honors in 2015. The same year, she was also an NCAA Woman of the Year Top-30 finalist.
"In a short time, Ivy has already helped impact the lives of student-athletes on every campus across the GNAC," said Commissioner Walsh. "Her guidance has been needed during these difficult times and it's been a pleasure working with her on a weekly basis."
GNAC Assistant Commissioner Michael Ghika, now in his seventh year with the league, previously worked for the NE10 league office from 2011-14. In fact, he personally named Watts the NE10 Women's Track Athlete of the Week on a few occasions back during her UNH tenure.
"She was such a talented and well-rounded student-athlete both on the track and in the classroom," said Ghika. "You'd never think that behind the scenes she was truly struggling and that every day for her was a challenge. Mental health is a stigma we need to continue to break as a society."
"We look forward now to Ivy sharing her story with parents and guardians of GNAC student-athletes," Ghika added. "As coaches and administrators have also taken part in her seminars, we feel it's important that those who have raised such fine young adults are not a forgotten constituent during COVID-19."
Watts is quickly becoming a mental health fixture in the collegiate athletics landscape, working with numerous conference and colleges at all NCAA levels, in addition to high school athletic departments. For those interested in further resources, be sure to connect with Ivy using the social media links below, or visit her website and blog. If you are interested in her programming, you can also get a free demo by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-240-9486.
The Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) is an NCAA Division III association made up of 13 member institutions and over 3,000 student-athletes across the New England region. Founded in 1995, the GNAC annually sponsors and administers 22 championships, while balancing academic integrity, athletic opportunity and community involvement in an effort to enhance the student-athlete experience.