What do William Bruce ’08 and Peyton Manning have in common? No, Bruce will not be appearing on every other television commercial in the near future. Rather, he and Manning are now both recipients of the Wooden Cup, a national award given annually to one professional and one collegiate athlete who have made a significant difference in the lives of others.
The fourth Wooden Cup ceremony, held in Atlanta on Jan. 24, honored both Bruce, a four-year men’s hockey letterman, and professional tennis star Andrea Jaeger. Manning, John Smoltz and John Lynch are the other professional athletes who have received the award.
The award was named in honor of NCAA basketball coaching icon, John Wooden. According to the official Web site, the Wooden Cup recognizes athletes “that best display character, teamwork and citizenship.”
Only in existence for four years, the Wooden Cup is already considered a highly prestigious athletic honor. And the cache of the award has brought plenty of extra recognition for Bruce.
But unlike Manning, Bruce shies from the attention. “I’m sort of embarrassed by it,” he said. “I don’t really like all the attention.”
Bruce is uneasy about a perceived incongruity between what the award honors and the award itself. “I feel there’s an inconsistency between the selfless aspect of service and the self-centered nature of receiving an award,” he said. “The point of performing service is not to get this kind of recognition.”
The winner out of a pool of five collegiate finalists, Bruce insisted that nothing distinguished him from the others. “They could have put all the names in a hat and selected a recipient that way just as fairly,” he said.
But even if his striking humility keeps Bruce from basking in newfound celebrity, he nevertheless sees a silver lining in the increased recognition.
“I guess to a certain extent the attention is good because it may motivate others,” he said. “I hope the message that athletics can be a vehicle of positive change within communities resonates with college students.”
Bruce referenced several recent professional sports scandals that have scarred the reputation of athletics. But he noted that the message behind the Wooden Cup is “trying to turn this negative image on its head and show athletes in a position to make a real difference.”
That message has certainly resonated with Bruce. As co-president of Lehman Council, he has organized and facilitated numerous service programs. Currently Bruce is working on a program to provide local disadvantaged youth with college athlete mentors. He hopes that the influence of a student-athlete role model will inspire youth who have otherwise struggled in school. According to Bruce, 10 to 12 Williams students have already volunteered for the program.
Bruce is also working on a program to help local low-income residents complete their income tax forms. Three of Bruce’s teammates have already passed the certification exam and are now eligible to fill out the forms.
These new programs are just the tip of the iceberg in Bruce’s long career in community service. Aside from the countless hours he’s poured into his service projects at Williams, Bruce was active in high school and during the three years he spent playing junior hockey before coming to Williams.
Somewhere between the competitive level of high school and college hockey, junior hockey provided Bruce with the opportunity to hone his skills before playing at Williams. Coming from the warmer climes of Nashville, Tenn. where hockey programs are weaker, Bruce doubted that he would be able to make the transition to the sport at a college level.
His two years spent playing in Lansing, Mich. and one year in Toronto, Canada allowed Bruce to sharpen his athletic skills as well as to engage in local service opportunities. In Lansing he was active as a volunteer coach for youth hockey players.
But it was not until coming to Williams that Bruce truly found his place as a community servant. “At Williams you have so many more service opportunities,” he said. “It introduced a new world of service possibilities.”
Williams has introduced him to more than just service opportunities, however. In addition to his role on Lehman Council, Bruce is the student chair of the Honor and Discipline Committee and a member of the Gargoyle Society.
Wearing many hats while double-majoring in economics and history and maintaining a GPA that has put him on the Dean’s List every semester, Bruce has little time to twiddle his thumbs. “I don’t tend to sleep much and I drink a lot of coffee,” he said. “But I think being time pressured might make me more efficient.”
“There’s more time in the day than people think there is,” Bruce added. “But obviously you can’t spend the day watching television.”
Next year Bruce will be going to Oxford to study comparative social policy on a two-year fellowship from the College.