Ellie Ezekiel, Franklin & Marshall
For college athletes, putting on the uniform is a great honor. It represents years of preparation for the chance to play a beloved sport. But when your hard work changes the industry that produces those uniforms, it is a different level of achievement entirely.
Ellie Ezekiel has accomplished a lot during her time at Franklin & Marshall College. Her achievements as a student and member of the volleyball team would be enough to fill any student-athlete with pride. But through her exploits at the forefront of an environmental movement within athletics, she has leaves a legacy that goes beyond the impressions she's made on members of her teammates and the F&M community.
She calls the project "greening athletics," a movement that sprang out of her time working on campus as an intern at the Center for the Sustainable Environment.
"My main campaign and project was to bring 100 percent recycled uniforms to our school," said Ezekiel, an Animal Behavior major and Chadds Ford, Pa. native. "My boss had seen a school that had promotional recycled uniforms, and we decided that we should attempt to have them for official, year-round jerseys."
It turns out that Ezekiel played on the first team, collegiate or otherwise, to use recycled jerseys on a full-time basis, as this past season the Diplomat volleyball team wore pregame warmups as well as blue jerseys for away contests that were made completely out of recycled water bottles.
And now the idea is spreading. Ezekiel said that she is working with five other teams on campus to wear sustainable jerseys in the future, and that the innovation has gained traction in parts of New England and even reached the west coast.
For her efforts, she was recognized as a 2016 Campus Sustainability Champion by the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium (PERC).
"It is my proudest non-athletic achievement," noted Ezekiel. "It was an honor to attend the PERC conference and talk about all that I have done with 'greening' athletics, and being able to spread awareness about my project was a definite bonus."
The potential scale for her idea is massive, as she is truly leading a spreading environmental movement that is both impactful and replicable for others.
However, it is not the only project that Ezekiel is currently tackling, as she is in the midst of working on her honors thesis. She is studying North American river otters in four zoos around the Lancaster area to understand more about the evolution of cooperation, or how organisms learn to cooperate in groups. And all of this is in addition to past research that includes studying avian malaria at the Smithsonian's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, measuring territoriality in wild damselfish, and preliminary studies on captive red panda welfare.
"I used to play as a kid by wandering around the woods with a backpack and a notebook, writing nonsense 'observations'," Ezekiel recalled. "I have always been fascinated by nature, and now I am involved in learning how to preserve and protect it."
Head coach Mary Kate Boland, who just finished her 14th season in charge of the Diplomats, says that Ezekiel's drive for excellence is at the core of all that she has accomplished.
"Ellie is motivated by things she really cares about," said Boland. "She knows what she wants and focuses on what she needs to do to perform at her best."
That attitude has served Ezekiel as well on the court as it has off of it. At the end of her four seasons playing as an outside hitter for F&M, she ranks fourth in program history in kills, owns the sixth-highest kills per set average in program history, and has made an impact in almost every other statistical category. This season, she surpassed the 1,000 kills and the 1,000 digs milestones, making her one of just two players in program history to reach 1,000 kills, 1,000 digs, 100 aces, and 100 blocks.
For her accomplishments, she was widely and rightfully recognized. She leaves the program as one of just five players named All-Centennial Conference (CC) in four consecutive seasons (Honorable Mention in 2013, Second Team in 2014, and First Team in 2015 and 2016), and is one of just four Diplomats to garner All-America honors after receiving Honorable Mention status from the AVCA in 2014.
"Ellie is one of the most impactful players we've had at F&M," Boland stated. "But her stats, while impressive, also don't do justice to what she's done for the program as a leader. Ellie's real legacy for this program is that merely being good at something isn't enough."
It was Ezekiel's unwillingness to give less than her best that caused her to not run for team captain entering her senior season.
"I knew that the captain needed to be someone who was readily available for her teammates, and I knew that I was going to be spending a majority of my time holed up in a library," Ezekiel explained. "I never worried that my voice or influence would go unheard, and I knew that I had teammates that were just as strong, or even stronger, candidates for captain than myself."
Her commitment to her academics has worked out well for Ezekiel, as she was twice named to the Honor's List and twice named to the Dean's List during her time at F&M. In 2015 and 2016, she was tabbed for to the CC Academic Honor Roll, awarded to athletes that have a cumulative GPA of 3.40 or higher.
The formula also worked out positively for the Diplomats, who finished the 2016 season with a record of 19-9, 7-3 CC and with the program's ninth-consecutive playoff appearance.
"Ellie knew she could still lead without a title, by setting the right example on and off the court and by being a positive source of energy in practices and games," Boland said. "I haven't coached a player who has valued every practice rep and contact on the ball as much as Ellie has."
"She values effort and hard work and sees them as essential pieces of getting better, and she translates that attitude into her coursework and into her role on the Campus Sustainability Committee."
It's an attitude that Boland is sure will linger for others, but will also carry Ezekiel forward. If the growth of her athletic greening movement is any indication, she will rock the boat in her next location, wherever that may be.
"My current plans for after graduation are not set in stone, but I hope to go to graduate school and eventually pursue a career as a field biologist," Ezekiel said. "Right now, I am looking for research experience opportunities around the world, to both continue building my resume, but also to satisfy my urge to travel."
While the exact nature of her future remains uncertain, some aspects are more sure. Undoubtedly, she will leave an impression wherever she goes, but you can also count on her making waves outward. Because that's what she has done at F&M, and that's what a legacy is. Part of you is left behind to be remembered, but more importantly, what you did and how you did it sets an example and a precedent for others.