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Notre Dame College and its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has been honored as a finalist for the NCAA Division II Award of Excellence for a Make-A-Wish fundraiser.

The College’s student-athlete-led Make-A-Wish Walk was conducted in November 2020 with proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and to Sean Kukoleck, a Notre Dame student-athlete who is battling cancer. Notre Dame was selected by a committee of athletics administrators to represent the Mountain East Conference (MEC) in the 2021 Award of Excellence competition.

During the College’s Make-A-Wish event, about 100 participants wore face masks and maintained safe distance during the one-mile walk around the campus. Hot chocolate and hot dogs were served at the finish. The Notre Dame SAAC created and hosted the campaign.

“I’ve never been more proud to be a Falcon than on that day,” said Delaney Gasaway, a Falcons swimmer and president of SAAC. “Putting the walk together was so special to me in ways I could have never imagined. There is a fellow Falcon out there fighting for his life, and it was my goal to do everything I could to help him.”

“Getting there and seeing all these student-athletes show up and support Sean just made my heart melt. Now, finding out that we are being recognized, I almost can’t keep my tears back,” Gasaway added.

Kukoleck is a sophomore and men’s golfer at Notre Dame whose hometown is Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He has been diagnosed last fall with high grade glioma which is an aggressive form of brain cancer. While at Notre Dame, Kukoleck was selected as a MEC 2019 Fall Conference Academic Honoree, named to the Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll for student-athletes with GPAs between 3.25 and 3.69.

“We are a small D2 school but that doesn’t stop us from coming together as one big family,” Gasaway said.

The Award of Excellence recognizes programs that exemplify the NCAA Division II philosophy, identity, community engagement and student-athlete leadership initiatives among its institutions. This year, for the first time since 2015, one finalist was named from every conference at the division level.

“I am so happy that the NCAA and MEC have once again recognized the great work our Falcon student-athletes are doing outside of the classroom and the playing field,” Director of Athletics Scott Swain said. “This NCAA Award of Excellence means a great deal because it celebrates so much of what the mission of Notre Dame College is as a whole.”

The Award of Excellence winner is selected by the national NCAA Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and will be announced at the division’s business session January 15, as part of the virtual 2021 NCAA national convention.

“I am so incredibly proud to be a part of the Falcon community today when finding out we are a finalist for the Division II Award of Excellence,” said Kelsey Stopp, head softball coach and senior woman administrator at the College, who also advises SAAC. “When we put together the walk for Sean and Make-A-Wish, we didn’t realize what a success it would be, but the SAAC board worked incredibly hard to make it happen. And I am so happy to see they are being recognized at the D2 level.”

“Being able to give back to a Falcon of our own and help him fight has been the absolute best part for us,” Stopp added. “It’s a huge blessing for me to oversee SAAC and all the creative ideas these students come up.”

This is not the first time the College has been a finalist for the Award of Excellence. The athletic department finished runner-up in 2013 for the service project, 40 Days of Lent, 40 Days of Service.

“Our Falcon student-athletes are awesome on so many levels, and I am so very proud of them,” Swain said.

January 2021
the Notre Dame Athletic Department contributed to this article


About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master’s degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information, contact