Monday, May 21st, 2018

Being a student athlete: balancing athletics and academics

Posted on April 22, 2018 in Sports
By USM Free Press

Lauren Kennedy
Photo Courtesy of USM Athletics

By River Plouffe Vogel, Sports Editor

USM has a long standing tradition of athletic and academic excellence. College is no walk in the park; classes are long, course work is difficult and professors demand a lot of their students. And so many of the people that go here are much more than just students, they are full time workers, volunteers, parents and athletes.

USM has almost 500 student athletes that are enrolled in 44 of the 49 majors offered here. This diverse group of hardworking students spends hours and hours each week, competing at a collegiate level, all while excelling academically, working within the community and developing personally and professionally.

In fact the mission statement for the university is as follows:

“The USM Department of Athletics provides opportunities for student-athletes to realize their full potential through a commitment to academics, athletics, personal development, career development and service to the community.”

Being a student athlete goes beyond just competing on the field. The athletic department stresses these five critical areas and invests as much time, if not more, in the student athletes academic progress as they do athletic progress.

Robert Kuech is a faculty member in the department of education and faculty athletic representative for university, which means he serves as a liaison between students athletes, the faculty and the NCAA, National College Athletic Association. Kuech taught at a high school in New Hampshire for 20 years, and also taught softball, field hockey, basketball, and was the athletic director for three years. He has been the faculty athletic representative for 10 years now. Kuech spoke directly on the dynamics of being a student athlete.

“In a number of ways I see it as very valuable for students coming to the university. Academically they really need to concentrate on managing their time. They are also required to do study hours and have semester check-ins with their professors. Socially it’s also very beneficial, they get to make friends, make connections with like minded individuals and help the transition from highschool to college.”

Being a student athlete means also complying with the athletic department’s rules and policies as well as the NCAA’s. Students must be in a minimum of twelve credit hours, first semester student athletes must pass a minimum of nine credit hours and attain a minimum GPA of 1.7 during the first semester, after the first semester student-athletes must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0. First year students are also expected to attend study table hours for the entire first year. For residential students its four hours a week and for commuter students it’s just two. This may not seem like a lot but the student athletes have to complete these study hours in specific areas where they have to check in.

Christina Cracolici is the Assistant Director of Athletic Media Relations and has worked for the school for fourteen years. Cracolici loves her work and values the hands on experience and influence she has in being a part of so many student athletes journey through college.

“Our student athletes are great people, they are unique people, they are hard working. We are here, the athletic department is here, because of them and we love to see them achieve,” Cracolici said.

Of the 490 current student athletes, the average GPA is a 2.93. This fall there was a record number of William B. Wise scholars, with over 177 student athletes achieving a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The William B. Wise Scholarship is given to those student athletes who are enrolled in twelve credits and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher for both the spring and fall semester.

Ian Byron is one of the many student athletes who has won the award multiple times. Byron has since graduated but was on the men’s track & field team, cross country and also played soccer. Byron graduated with a degree in Exercise Science.

“Being part of the athletic’s here as USM has been amazing,” Byron said. “I’ve always been a hardworking student but balancing both school and sports is definitely a challenge and USM really supported me through it.”

USM’s nearly 500 athletes, all are participating voluntarily, and not receiving any financial incentives. If you are an athlete at a division three school you have a profound passion for your sport. It means hours of practice, traveling, competing,  having good communication with your teacher, and missing out on school breaks and social activities.

“It’s about developing the whole person and preparing them for success after they leave,” said Al Bean, the Athletic Director at USM.

“It means you come in immediately into a community. You are part of something thats working with a whole group of people and we are committed to support and serve those people. The transformation students make in their four years here is magical, from where they started and where they end up.”

Bean has been part of USM’s community for four decades. He is a big reason the department has taken such a focus on the personal and professional development of the student athletes. He initiated the universities “Full Potential” program, which focuses on the five principles listed earlier, personal development, academic achievement, athletic performance, career development and service to the community.

Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SACC) is a student led group made up of athletes representing all of the USM teams. The goals of SAAC center around improving the quality of the athletic experience for all participants, enhancing image of student-athletes to all constituencies, and implementing outreach programs that support and nurture the growth and development for children in the surrounding communities.

“Volunteerism is something we strive to have our student athletes participate in, the department tries to create those opportunities for community engagement,” noted Cracolici.

Almost all of the teams participate in some sort of fundraising, sports camps or clinics for kids. A staple of the Athletics Department and SACC’s efforts to engage in the community is the annual halloween party that is organized by SACC that brings in hundreds of local kinds.

Over the years, USM student athletes have continued their academic and athletic success. Routinely the young competitors fill the lists for Little East Conference All-Academic teams.

Dan Del Gallo was USM’s first national champion for wrestling, which he won last year when he was a senior. However Del Gallo wasn’t just an outstanding wrestler, he was also an outstanding student. Del Gallo is one of several USM athletes that are also academic All-Americans, which is difficult because you’re being judged on your athletic ability and academic ability. There are around 500 division three schools across the country all nominating athletes, so it’s no small accomplishment. Del Gallo was also a two time Elite 90 winner, which means he had the highest GPA of anyone in his sport competing for a national championship.

Along with Del Gallo, USM graduate and former softball player Mary Caron is another academic superstar. Caron was nominated for the 2017 NCAA women of the year for her performance on the field and in the classroom. Caron joins Del Gallo and only five other USM athletes to become an academic All-American, and she was the first USM softball player to do so.

Al Bean loves sports, and played at USM when he was a student. For him, it’s all about the challenges that you face as an athlete, and the connection you make along the way. Games are full of chances to succeed or fail, and Bean believes student’s learn more from failure than success at this stage in their lives. But it’s how you respond to those failures that helps young students learn, and Bean knows it’s the job of the athletic department help those young students nagivate the sucesses and the failures.

“I believe that students learn more from failing then succeeding early on. It’s part of our job to help them learn from the failure. We are really trying to teach them to be good people, to work with the community, to be respectful. So when they leave here there is an expectation that they are good citizens, someone who is willing to help others and give back back to their communities,” remarked Bean.

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