Shepaug Grad Sam Steinmetz Making the World a Better Place...A story by John Torsiello.
For two years, Sam Steinmetz dominated Berkshire League foes playing center for the Shepaug High School girls basketball team.The 6-foot, 2-inch Washington resident, now a senior at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, earned All-State honors her junior and senior seasons at Shepaug, where she recorded more than 1,000 points and rebounds each during her career. But she languished on the bench her first three years at St. Michael’s, a Division II school playing in the Northeast-10 Conference before she became an integral part of Saint Mike’s rotation this year.
Through the Purple Knights’ first 10 games f he season, Steinmetz averaged 2.6 points, four rebounds and one block a game. She had seven rebounds, four points and a block against the University of Charleston, six rebounds, two points and two blocks against Queens College, and seven rebounds in 14 minutes of action against Dominican College.
“I’ve obviously been working for this since day one and it’s really rewarding having it pay off in a tangible way.”
While it’s a nice storyline that Steinmetz is finally able to be a big part of her college team, the larger, more important story is her work during the off-season, as well as her outstanding academics.
She was a National Honor Society member and four-year academic athlete at Shepaug and has blossomed in the classroom in college, being named to the NE-10’s Commissioner’s Honor Roll each year. And, for the last four years, she has volunteered with Simply Smiles in Oaxaca, Mexico. Simply Smiles is a non-profit organization based out of Connecticut that works to improve the lives of impoverished children.
“I volunteered for a week with the organization the day after I graduated high school with my Spanish class in 2008. We lived in an orphanage and hung out with the children there, and also worked in the city dump building a home for a family who worked in the dump to make a living. The next summer I returned to volunteer for a week where we stayed in the orphanage and worked in the dump again.”
In 2010, she interned for Simply Smiles and lived in Oaxaca for seven weeks, working on a new project in the southern jungle region of Oaxaca on a small ranch called Santa Maria Tepexipana, where there are thousands of Zapotec Indians who were “literally starving to death.”
Steinmetz said the natives she works in Mexico with are ignored by the national government and completely disenfranchised by international trade treaties like NAFTA that connected Mexico's economy to the world.
Starting in 2009, Simply Smiles began holding food distributions in Santa Maria Tepexipana, giving out a month's supply of beans, rice, salt, sugar, and cooking oil to every person who came through. At the last food distribution over 2,800 people came, most walking hours on bare feet to receive their supply of food.
Simply Smiles also began bringing volunteer groups down to the jungle in the summer of 2010 to do local construction projects, like re-building a small school in the area, holding community meals, and once a month doing the food distributions.
She interned again with Simply Smiles last summer, spending two months in Oaxaca, helping lead groups and develop long-term relationships in Oaxaca City and Santa Maria Tepexipana.
Even though she sacrificed playing on a summer league team and having access to a real gym, Steinmetz kept in shape last summer by doing sprints down the road or going for a run and doing push-ups and body weight squats every day. She also constructed a basketball hoop at the organization’s center of operations.“All the volunteers, and especially our Mexican friends we work with, thought I was crazy,” she said of her personal playground and workout regimen.
Steinmetz “absolutely loves” working with Simply Smiles.“I love being with all our friends, and helping lead groups has taught me so much about myself and what I am capable of. Next year I am working with Simply Smiles for an 18 month Peace Corps-type service, which I am really excited about.”
The history major/ global studies and Spanish minor has built her education at SMC around her experiences in Mexico.
“Through my global classes I have been able to research about the underlying political, social, and economic issues in Mexico. I am doing my history senior seminar next semester on comparing how the colonizers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Mexico treated and perceived the natives and if that played into how the native populations were treated by the governments later on. I plan to do something about the current issues in Mexico and the U.S. for my global senior seminar as well.”
Steinmetz said working with Simply Smiles in Mexico has given her a new perspective on basketball, school and “everything else.”
She added, “I know that I am insanely lucky to be able to go to a great college with a scholarship to play a game that I love. As hard as basketball can be I know how good I have it. My work with Simply Smiles has inspired me to keep working my absolute hardest in basketball and have fun with it while it lasts.”
Steinmetz also partnered with other Saint Michael’s students to contribute to the It Gets Better Project, completing a video they scripted and produced as part of a cause responding to the suicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) youths who had been bullied.
The video is sponsored by the Saint Michael's Department of Athletics and Common Ground, a college club dedicated to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) community. More than 30,000 videos from around the country have been submitted by individuals ranging from celebrities to professional athletic teams. According to the It Gets Better Project, the cause was created to show young lesbian, gay, bisexual transgendered people the levels of happiness, potential and positivity their lives will reach once they get through their teen years.
The cause reminds teenagers in that community that they are not alone, and that their situations will improve.
Faculty Athletics Representative Dave Landers challenged the institution's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) with creating a video, and men's ice hockey senior Brady Earle, who attended The Gunnery in Washington, Ct., Steinmetz and junior Carissa Tinker performed a great amount of leg work prior to production.
Men's tennis team senior Brian Healey and classmate Rachel Stone, members of the Student Association, joined senior Samantha Hooper to film and edit the piece.
"Brady and Samantha Steinmetz began promoting the idea and presenting to various administrative branches of Saint Mike's and in the athletics spectrum," said Healey.
"Rachel and I stepped in because of our school roles and enlisted the help of Carissa and senior Mike McKinney from Common Ground to help us get things started.
Carissa, Samantha Steinmetz and Brady created our script, and we went from there."Said Steinmetz, "I had heard about It Gets Better and seen some sports videos, and thought it's an extremely important campaign and Saint Michael's student-athletes should get involved. I wanted to not only send a message but have the athletes buy into that message. We're not just saying it, we're doing it."
The Saint Michael's video can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfiHc5PUDs8.
So, it is satisfying to see such a fine young woman get her chance to shine on the basketball court as well as in the classroom and as an activist and volunteer.
Said head coach Jennifer Niebling, “Sam is a terrific young lady, a tremendous teammate, exceptional student, and a very good person. She always puts the team first and gives her best effort each day. This season, she has played her role very well (defend and rebound, and setting up her teammates with screens and passing). She will do anything to contribute to the team’s success. She’s really a top-flight individual.”
During her first three years at Saint Michael’s, located in Colchester, Vt., Steinmetz, who played AAU basketball for the Connecticut Fillies and Connecticut Starters, saw action in a total of 22 games.
She had some high moments during those seasons, such as a four-point, seven-rebound effort against Holy Family as a freshman, playing a career-high 18 minutes against Franklin Pierce as a sophomore, and grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots against Southern Connecticut State University as a junior.
But she played in only seven games last year, which makes this year’s playing time all the more sweet.
“Playing for Saint Mikes and not getting a lot of time was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Steinmetz said. “I love the game so much it has been hard to rescale my dreams but I’ve never regretted my decision to come here. I have loved my teammates every year, they are some of my best friends, I love being part of the team, and I love the school. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”
She said attending Saint Michael’s was an easy choice.“Saint Mikes was the first school that offered me a scholarship for basketball and that was what I really wanted. After I talked to Coach Niebling, I really hoped that I would like the school and I did. I loved SMC from day one.”
Naturally, there was an adjustment going from the Berkshire League to college basketball.
“Going from high school to college for post players is always hard. It’s a completely different game, so it was a pretty big adjustment freshman year. On top of learning a bunch of plays, you have to get used to new ways of playing defense, boxing out, getting through screens, and the speed of the game. And it always just hard work to stay as strong and fast as you need to be for this league.”
She added, “Our team is doing really well. We are 2-3 in the league so far, which isn’t great, but we almost beat the two best teams in the league and gave Bentley, the best Division II team in the country, a really good game (a 9-point loss). We are having a lot of fun this year and we are a really close team. We don’t have one all-star but a lot of girls who can be the high scorer at any game, so we really have to work together to get the win.”
Steinmetz sees her role on the team as getting as many rebounds as possible, playing solid defense, and getting teammates open.“Scoring isn’t necessarily my job, which I’m completely fine with. I love making good passes to my teammates to get the best shot we can. I’m a senior captain and am fully aware that the seniors set the tone for the season. More than anything I want to be there for my teammates on and off the court. I know how necessary good teammates are to having a good season, so supporting my teammates is the most important role I have.”
That and making the world a better place.