For the past four years, Penn Mutual has recognized collegiate student athletes in the rugby community who share what the company describes as its values: respect, integrity and the creation of a shared sense of belonging while providing a better future for others. This year, Iona College junior Matthew Crowe, of Malverne, is among the 21 finalists for the Penn Mutual Life of Significance Award.
“I hope that I’m fortunate enough to win, but if you ask me, I’d probably vote for Mark Dombroski, from St. Joseph’s,” Crowe said, referring to a 19-year-old freshman who died this spring during a rugby tour in Bermuda. Dombroski volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that helps families find affordable housing. “I know that would mean so much to his family.”
Crowe, 21, who plays center, wing and flanker for Iona College, was nominated for his role as campus minister, and coordinating the school’s monthly Midnight Run in New York City. His involvement in helping others, he said, began after his sophomore year. He had gone through a “rough patch” in his life, and he wasn’t the best version of himself.
“I was just thinking about what could really help me get out of that rut, and I was thinking that doing stuff for the less fortunate always put me at ease,” Crowe said.
He noted that helping others gave him a better sense of self-worth, and that taking part in charitable activities helped him grow. “I’ve learned a lot of stuff in the last few years that I wouldn’t have been able to learn or experience otherwise,” he said. “I had an idea of what I was getting myself into, but I didn’t think it would have the impact that it’s had on me, but I’m glad it has.”
Part of the reason he was chosen as campus minister, Crowe said, is that the school viewed him as someone who could act as a liaison between groups, such as student-athletes, and programs on campus. Crowe helped grow programs, such as Iona College’s Life Talk, which focuses on conversations about students’ relationship with God. The program’s attendance has surged since he became student leader last year. He said that only two or three people took part regularly, but last year, the program had a few hundred students come to some discussions.
“I imagine that we’ll continue to build up as such in the coming years,” he said. “A lot of these people are kids that aren’t necessarily the most faithful, or don’t necessarily go to church every Sunday, but those are the ones that get the most out of it.”
Last year, Crowe, with the help of Iona’s associate director, Jeanne McDermott, persuaded former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera to speak at several of the Life Talk forums. Crowe thought that Rivera’s strong belief in God would be a great fit for the program, and reached out to Rivera’s church, Refugio de Esperanza, or Refuge of Hope, which is about a half-mile from the school.
“Obviously, when the average person hears [Rivera’s] name, they’re going to think of the future Hall of Fame baseball player,” Crowe said. “Now he wants to be viewed as much more than that.”
Bruce McLane, the rugby club’s head coach at Iona, said that the school’s motto is “Fight the good fight,” which means do the right thing, even when it hurts.
“Matt embodies that through his leadership role, and allows other people to embody that,” McLane said. “Through the campus ministry and through his work, he’s given our players and students the kind of platform they need to be able to do things.”
The Penn Mutual award is named after the novel “Living a Life of Significance,” by financial professional Joe Jordan. McLane, who is friends with Jordan, said that Crowe understands the values that the award honors.
The winner of the award will be announced at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships on June 2, which will be telecast on ESPN. The winner will receive $5,000 to donate to charity and $1,000 worth of Rhino Rugby gear.