ATLANTA -- Yale senior forward Aleca Hughes, whose efforts to help save lives have been inspired by her teammate Mandi Schwartz '10 (1988-2011), was named the winner of the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup Wednesday night in a ceremony held in the Egyptian Ballroom at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. This is the fifth award this month for Hughes, Yale's captain, and all five have recognized her leadership and work off the ice.
Named after legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden, the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup is presented annually to two distinguished athletes -- one collegiate and one professional -- who have made the greatest difference in the lives of others. The recipients are athletes of excellence both on and off the field, role models both as performers and persons. Pat Summitt, the former University of Tennessee women's basketball coach, was honored as the professional recipient Wednesday night. Previous professional recipients include Mia Hamm, Andrea Jaeger, John Lynch, Peyton Manning, Dikembe Mutombo, Cal Ripken Jr. and John Smoltz. Hughes is the first Ivy Leaguer to win the collegiate award, whose past recipients include Tim Tebow.
The Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup was founded by Athletes for a Better World, a non-profit organization committed to changing the culture of American sports. Wooden, who won 10 national championships as men's basketball coach at UCLA, is universally regarded as one of the finest human beings in the world of sports. When Coach Wooden learned about Athletes for a Better World, he gave permission for his name to be associated with the annual award and spoke at the inaugural event in Los Angeles in 2005. Recipients of the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup are chosen by a committee that includes more than 100 distinguished individuals involved in athletics across the country.
This past March Hughes was named one of five national finalists for the award, along with Josh Nadzam (University of Kentucky, track and field), Roddy Jones (Georgia Tech, football), Tommy Chase (Notre Dame, baseball) and Cody Reichard (Miami-Ohio, ice hockey). The five finalists were all invited to the ceremony Wednesday night. Hughes was joined by Yale assistant coach Jessica Koizumi.
Hughes' story has been intertwined with that of her fallen teammate. Mandi passed away Apr. 3, 2011, after battling cancer for more than two years. She inspired Hughes to start a number of initiatives, including the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and the annual "White Out for Mandi" fundraiser game at Ingalls Rink each fall. The first two "White Outs" have raised more than $50,000.
Hughes has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the value of marrow donation -- and umbilical cord blood donation -- for patients with life-threatening illnesses. She has been one of the driving forces behind the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive at Yale, which is led each April by the women's ice hockey, football and field hockey teams. The first such drive was held in 2009, shortly after Mandi was initially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The four drives at Yale have added more than 3,000 potential marrow donors to the Be The Match Registry and located at least six genetic matches who donated to patients with life-threatening illnesses. The 2012 drive took place last week at Commons on the Yale campus in New Haven.
This past fall Hughes started the Mandi Schwartz Foundation to keep Mandi's legacy of helping others alive. In addition to the White Out, the women's ice hockey team raised money for the foundation by participating -- along with the Yale men's ice hockey team -- in the season-long "Goals for Good" campaign. Through that campaign, ECAC Hockey teams competed against each other to see who could raise the most money for charity.
Hughes is also her team's representative for Yale Athletics' Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program. She has been involved in many team events such as Youth Days and Skate with the Players, and also has volunteered as a coach with Yale Youth Hockey.
Hughes and the Bulldogs also continue to spend time with their adopted teammate Giana, a local 10-year-old girl who had surgery for a brain tumor at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Those community service efforts helped Yale, as a team, earn the New Haven Register's "Dave Solomon Memorial Sports Persons of the Year Award" for 2011.
The 31st person to captain the Yale women's ice hockey team in its 35-year varsity history, Hughes led the team in assists (11) and points (15) this past season. She was among Yale's top four scorers every season of her career, and led the team in goals (a career-high 10) in 2010-11.
Hughes did not miss a game in her career, finishing with 30 goals and 31 assists for 61 points in 116 games. She is in Yale's career top 20 for goals (20th), assists (t-19th) and points (20th). She has twice earned Yale's Mandi Schwartz Award for courage, grit and determination. This past weekend she received two more of Yale's awards at the annual team banquet -- the Bingham Award for leadership and the Brodhead Award as the team's top scholar-athlete.
Hughes has excelled in the classroom and will receive her fourth ECAC Hockey All-Academic honor this year. She is an American studies major and intends to go to business school to learn more about non-profit management after a few years of gaining work experience.
Hughes is a graduate of Hotchkiss School. She was team captain and All-New England at Hotchkiss and also played for the Connecticut Stars, earning two bronze medals and one silver at Nationals.
The Wooden Citizenship Cup caps a memorable April for Hughes. Earlier this month she traveled to Tampa, Fla., where she was named the winner of the 2012 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award. The award, which is open to every male and female NCAA hockey player in Division I and Division III, was presented to her in a ceremony at Channelside Bay Plaza on Friday Apr. 6 as part of the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four.
In addition to winning the Hockey Humanitarian Award, Hughes also earned ECAC Hockey and Hockey East's Sarah Devens Award for leadership. She was presented with that award on Apr. 10 in a ceremony at the New England Hockey Writers' Banquet in Saugus, Mass.
Hughes and the Mandi Schwartz Foundation were also one of three finalists in the "Community Organization" category for the National Consortium for Academics and Sports' Giant Steps Award.
Wooden Citizenship Cup Winners:
2012: Aleca Hughes, Ice Hockey, Yale
2011: Quinton Carter, Football, Oklahoma
2010: Zak Boggs, Soccer, South Florida
2009: Tim Tebow, Football, Florida
2008: Will Bruce, Ice Hockey, Williams
2007: Anna Key, Soccer, University of California
2006: Jacqueline DuBois, Track & Field, Oklahoma
2005: William Betz, Swimming, Brigham Young
2012: Pat Summitt, Basketball
2011: Dikembe Mutombo, Basketball
2010: Mia Hamm, Soccer
2009: Cal Ripken, Jr., Baseball
2008: Andrew Jaeger, Tennis
2007: John Lynch, Football
2006: John Smoltz, Baseball
2005: Peyton Manning, Football