Bonner Scholar Athletes Contribute To Oberlin, Both On And Off The Field


Photos courtesy of OC Athletics

College fourth-years Nae McClain and Maya English and College second-year Zac Ntia.

 When imagining the typical college experience, volunteering for night shifts in churches to help care for individuals in need is not the first thing that comes to mind for most. But for College fourth-year Nae McClain, this was part of a normal day during her first two years as a Bonner Scholar at Oberlin. She balanced not only her academic and athletic responsibilities, but also dedicated 140 hours per semester to community service. Working in the church until 6:30 a.m., she would return to her room and sleep until 8 a.m., attend classes, and then head to athletic practice later that afternoon.

The Bonner Scholars program is a four-year community service scholarship program that was created to annually provide 15 first-year students with the opportunity to “develop as leaders and change agents in the local community,” according to the Oberlin Bonner Scholars website. The program aims not only to provide selected students with leadership and volunteering opportunities, but also to nurture a support network for students to utilize throughout their Oberlin experience. Students complete 140 hours of community service per semester, and are required to spend two summers participating in at least 280 hours of service. 

Like McClain, College fourth-year Maya English is a thrower on the seven-time NCAC Champion Women’s Track and Field Team; both have balanced commitment to their sport and community service throughout their time at Oberlin. When not in class or at practice, English mentors students from Oberlin High School and is part of the Bonner Leadership Team. Being an athlete has allowed her to connect with her mentees, who also play sports. 

“Having that element of our relationship lets us talk about how we balance going to school, being an athlete, extracurricular activities, and still having a social life,” English said. 

College second-year Zac Ntia shared similar sentiments about his service within the Oberlin community. As a member of the Oberlin football team and thrower for the Oberlin track and field team, he enjoys that children at the Oberlin Early Childhood Center see him as a role model. 

“They tend to look up to me,” Ntia said. “They’re like, oh my gosh, a football player. They made me feel really welcome and they really appreciated the work that I’m able to do. … It’s a great way to help the younger kids that will eventually grow up and become part of the community. It’s something that I’m really passionate about and I’m glad that I get to be a part of it here at Oberlin.” 

Bonner Scholars cite time management as one of the most difficult parts of being an athlete and Bonner Scholar. 

“Bonner is already an 8- to 10-hour-a-week commitment on top of the other jobs that you have, and practice,” McClain said. Nevertheless, all three athletes have worked and communicated with coaches, peers, and professors to ensure that they do not fall behind in any of their responsibilities. 

“It gets really stressful at some points when you’re working at your service site and also trying to manage school and sports,” English said. “But it gives you a good perspective of how the real world is, where you have to learn how to balance the things that you’re really passionate about.” 

Another aspect of Bonner that keeps these athletes motivated is the community that the Bonner program works to foster. The phrase “Bonner Love” and “Bonner Family” are often used to describe the family-like dynamic that exists among scholars. 

“Both while at service around the community and at school with other Bonners, the friendships and relationships that I have formed through the Bonner organization are unmatched,” McClain said. “I have literally found my best friends, and people that I could not imagine living without, both while at Oberlin or in my life after Oberlin.” 

Ntia expressed similar thoughts in explaining the ways that his athletic and Bonner communities intersect.

“I consider my teammates and Bonner like family because we’re all so close, and it’s great to have a group of people you can lean on,” he said. 

Within the Bonner Scholars program, there is an emphasis on reflection, both for volunteering and interpersonal goals. This mentality is especially helpful for athletes, where learning from previous competitions is crucial to improving performance and goal setting. This year, McClain is working towards her goal of winning another NCAC Conference title for her team. 

“To me, my team is part of my community that I have here at Oberlin,” she said. “Those are the people that I have to work with and support. … In Bonner, I feel like we are also always trying to figure out how we can best help others and be there for others, and I also always ask myself this question when it comes to my team.”