Wooden Cup Profile: Illinois State's Amber Rogers

Dec. 22, 2004

This is one in a series of profiles on finalists for the John Wooden Cup presented by Athletes for a Better World. The inaugural award will be presented to two distinguished athletes - one collegiate and one professional - that best display character, teamwork and citizenship as determined by the ABW John Wooden Cup Committee. Twelve athletes in both the collegiate and professional categories reached the semifinal round and the trophy will be presented in Los Angeles on Jan. 10. ABW was founded in 1998 on the principles of hard work, fair play, commitment to team, sportsmanship and community service.

Mallory Carra

Special to CollegeSports.com


A month-long summer trip to the Dominican Republic was an opportunity Illinois State volleyball player Amber Rogers couldn't turn down.


But it wasn't the average summer vacation. From June to July 2004, Rogers helped build houses and educate Haitian refugees with the International Student Volunteers.


"I just knew it was something I wanted to do," Rogers said. "I think I learned more there in one month than I have in my entire life. I learned so much from the people who lived there. They don't take anything for granted."


Rogers, a senior majoring in social science education, built homes for the "poorest of the poor" while also lifting the spirits of the people, singing songs, teaching English and sports, including volleyball, she said.


"Most of the people don't really have jobs and not many of the young kids go to school because in order to go to school you have to be able to afford a uniform and books, so there were a lot of kids who didn't have things to do," she said.


Rogers' journey has also lifted her to become one of 12 collegiate semifinalists for the inaugural John Wooden Cup, presented by Athletes for a Better World.


"I was really surprised and I was really honored," Rogers said. "I wish the people who were with me [in the Dominican Republic] could have the award with me. I'm lucky to be at a school as strong as Illinois State to get this kind of recognition."


Illinois State head volleyball coach Sharon Dingman said Rogers has applied the lessons she learned in the summer to her volleyball game.


"In addition to making the world a better place, Amber has been essentially making our team a better team," Dingman said. "After she came back, she decided not to take anything for granted and she still lives that. She hasn't taken any practice for granted and we've been a better team since she practices so hard. Every department should have an Amber Rogers."


The trip was Rogers' first experience outside of the United States. When the Michigan native arrived in the country, there was some culture shock.


"There's a huge disparity of wealth," she said. "Their poor is equivalent to our homeless. But I was touched by how friendly everyone was. Everyone and anyone would say hello to you as you walked down the street. I also realized how fortunate we are to have what we have here. I don't complain about going to college or writing papers anymore, because some people don't even have that opportunity."


Rogers even found a friend, a 14-year old girl named Felina. They only had one problem: Rogers didn't know Creole, Felina didn't know English.


"Every day I would look forward to talking to her," she said. "We would find each other to talk as much as we could. After awhile, we ran out of vocabulary, but we still found a way to talk about a lot of things. Breaking through the language barrier and how it affects our lives takes things up to a whole other level."


Rogers had heard about the International Student Volunteers' summer plans and decided to join their cause, knowing that the summer would be her only opportunity to study abroad because of her commitment to the volleyball team.


She also realized it would be the best opportunity for herself personally. An aspiring history teacher, Rogers embarked on the trip to enhance her knowledge of the world.


"So much has gone on in the world, but a lot of people turn their back to it and there's a sense of apathy among them," she said. "I think we could understand today if we learn about the past. We think our world is it and don't realize there is so much going on outside the bubble we live in."


Rogers used her savings to fund the $3,000 trip, along with her earnings from coaching high school volleyball camps at home Michigan, coaching the Illinois Juniors volleyball club and tutoring student-athletes at the Illinois State Athletics Academic Study Center.


"Every penny was well worth it and the experience was worth the money," she said. "I don't even think about the money anymore. If I had more money, I think I'd do this more often."


She also participates in Adopt-a-Family and the State Farm Just Read programs. After graduating from Illinois State in May, Rogers hopes to teach history at a local high school and perhaps coach high school volleyball on the side.


"I really like the relationship you can have with people in their life at a unique time of their life, especially adolescent girls," Rogers said. "When I look back, all the role models in my life have been my coaches. You can learn a lot with younger kids too."



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