When you hear the word jock, the image of a letter jacket-wearing, no-brained, class skipping, self-surrounded on-field superstar may come to mind.
If you dive into the hallways of USM though, and go through the classrooms with students sporting their cross country sweats, you will find that the stereotype of jock is non-existent.
“The cross country team’s here at USM are very solid groups,” Athletics Director Al Bean said. “They’ve excelled and have been fairly consistent in the classroom for quite some time now.”
The USM men’s and women’s cross country teams have seemed to make a name for themselves not only on the course, but in the classroom as they have consistently achieved a GPA between 2.5 and 4.0 for the last nine years according to the USM Athletics Department, with the women’s team earning a team GPA of 3.0 or higher (with an average of 3.15) for eight of those nine years. The men’s team has had an average GPA of 2.89 in the last nine years. The Athletics Department declined to release GPAs for athletes in other sports.
But how are the cross country teams so diligent in the classroom and are still able to get the job done on the course? In this case, the focus on the individual spotlight reigns over the other variables that make someone a good student-athlete.
Although cross country is technically a team sport, the emphasis on the individual runner’s work is always present. Runners are competing against other runners and team’s, but they are also competing against themselves and are trying to get better in every practice and race, and that mindset transfers directly into the dedication and work ethic that goes into their school work. These people are very goal oriented.
“Training for cross country is very similar to academics in that they are individual pursuits,” women’s cross country and track and field Head Coach George Towle said. “It may be that good students gravitate towards cross country because of this, or that the two disciplines feed and nurture each other. Whatever the reason is, it’s a phenomena that isn’t exclusive to athletes at USM. You’ll find it’s true across the country.”
Being an athlete in college is always a challenge, and with a runner’s schedule, every minute of the day is precious. The teams practice several hours a day during the week, and are gone all weekend at meets and races. Doing homework on the bus is not an uncommon sight. Time management is a key skill for these athletes and their free time is set aside for their priorities, which for most of them is schoolwork.
“Being self motivated and having good time management skills is a huge part of running cross country and track because you are so busy all the time,” women’s cross country senior co-captain Carly Dion (Biddeford) said. “Sometimes I forget if I’m here for school or cross country because I always have something going on. That’s the great thing about running cross country though: You are very focused.”
“I feel that the majority of the runners on the teams I’ve been on have been extremely self-motivated,” senior Erin Garvey (Haverhill, Mass.), the team’s other captain, said. “When we are away for the weekend you’ll see people with open books on the bus all the time because there is no other time to do it and it needs to be done. There is no sit-down time.”
Of course, hard work and dedication toward both schoolwork and athletics is hard to teach, but both the men’s and women’s cross country coaches have similar philosophies towards their runner’s time management and academics. When you have a figure like that giving you advice, it’s easy to be motivated.
“Our academics is something I’m very pleased and impressed with,” USM men’s cross country and track and field Head Coach Scott Hutchinson said. “Day one when they guys get in here I tell them they have to take their academics seriously. I tell them as long you guys budget your time, plan ahead, and don’t procrastinate you can do both, and do both well. I’m sure the parents of our athletes are very pleased.”
When an athlete gets into their junior and senior years in their major, it is definitely more of a challenge to schedule classes around practices, but both coaches do a tremendous job of working around their schedules to meet their needs to get their work in.
“I tell my runners to do the best they can to schedule around practice, but when it gets harder because they have certain classes they have to take for their major, I’ll certainly work with them,” Hutchinson said.
“My job is to support the academic piece,” Towle said. “This may mean rearranging their practice schedule if necessary, but always means recognizing their work in the classroom and providing various kinds of support if they are struggling.”