By Ryan Alves
Wake up and eat breakfast. Head to the gym, lift weights and train. Visit the trainer’s office for treatment. Go to class. Eat lunch. Head back to class. Go to practice. Eat dinner. Finish homework and study. Sleep. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
This is a typical day in the life of a Colonel student athlete.
For Eastern, having athletes who are successful on the field of play is typical. But unlike some of the more notable state universities, the Colonels also excel in the classroom.
Last spring, Eastern student athletes earned the highest average grade point average in the past decade – a 3.09. That’s the type of self-discipline and hard work Director of Athletics Mark Sandy expects from his Colonels.
“We emphasize that our coaches recruit students who are talented enough to play for us,” Sandy said. “But we also want those who have an academic background and the ability to graduate.”
But the life of a Colonel student athlete is not a comfy, stroll in the park.
“Trying to find the time to get everything done is the hardest part,” senior baseball player and pre-med student Brian Shrimpton said. “We put in a lot of hours. And getting the work done after getting out of practice late in the evening is tough.”
Other difficulties include: handling the pressure of maintaining individual success, preparing for the step from high school to college in terms of work and practice load.
Junior Kara Fant, physics major and member of the women’s golf team, posted a team-high GPA of 3.9 for the spring term. Fant said she loves playing golf and if given the opportunity to play past college, she would. But she also doesn’t underestimate the importance of getting her degree and making the most out of her education.
“My education is extremely important,” Fant said. “Golf is important too, but I’m trying to get into grad-school. I want to get my masters in engineering.”
For spring 2010, eight of the university’s 15 varsity teams averaged a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Five more teams matched their best GPA of the decade. Men’s tennis (3.48), women’s soccer (3.37), volleyball (3.37), women’s golf (3.32), men’s cross country (3.27), women’s tennis (3.27), women’s cross country (3.21) and women’s basketball (3.09) were the eight teams to earn a 3.00 GPA or higher for last spring. The ninth and tenth teams, men’s golf and men’s track, posted a 2.99 and a 2.96 GPA respectively.
Twenty-five student-athletes had a 4.0 grade-point-average for the spring 2010 semester. For the fall 2009 semester, 50 percent of the Colonel student athletes had a 3.0 GPA or higher. Eastern had 66 student athletes earn a spot on the dean’s list in the spring, the highest number of the decade.
On top of classes, homework and exams, athletes have practice, mandatory meetings, training and road trips.
“Time management is probably the most important thing as a student athlete,” senior member of the football team, Emory Attig said. “You have to really set aside certain blocks of free time to read this chapter or finish the paper. If you don’t you’ll wake up the next morning and realize you didn’t get something done. That also adds stress on you. I think if you don’t manage your time ahead of time, you wont get anything done.”
Student athletes know establishing a relationship with their teachers is important.
“It’s really important to stay in touch with your teachers ahead of time and let them know what days you’re going to miss,” Fant said. “I try and get all of my work ahead of time and turn it in before I leave for trips. And I get all my notes from classmates. All of the teachers here are good about helping you out. They are understanding.”
When players go on away games the effort of keeping up is taken with them on the bus ride. Most trips average about four to six hours each way and most of that time is set aside for finishing homework, typing papers, studying and reading. And any down time between team meetings at the hotel is not wasted as textbooks and flashcards invade the rooms, too.
“The bus ride is spent very much doing homework,” said senior volleyball player Abby O’Connor, an environmental studies major. “You usually have to take a laptop with you to the hotel and use the down time to do assignments and finish whatever.”
“I sometimes get motion sickness but I try my best to do homework on the bus,” senior soccer player Stephanie Lynch said. “There is that chunk of time that you have to focus on getting your work done.”
Another helpful tool that most student athletes utilize is the Bratzke Student-Athlete Academic Success Center.
Student athletes can use the Bratzke Center for studying, requesting and meeting with student tutors, checking their e-mail, or advising. Tutoring is free for all student athletes. The Bratzke Center houses a tutoring center, a 27-station computer lab, academic advising office suites, as well as a teaching classroom and quiet study area.
“The Bratzke Center is great,” Shrimpton said. “They have tutors and a quiet room where you can study. Sometimes the library is really loud, so it’s good to have that place to go. Their staff is great, too. They can help you with all your academics and stuff other than school.”
Another facet of life that isn’t as normal for student athletes is having the social life that accompanies many college experiences. Many times the student athletes’ mornings start before seven and don’t end until late in the evening. After doing homework and studying, there isn’t much time to go to parties or hang out late into the evening.
“The balance between setting aside time for yourself is something that’s really hard,” Attig said. “And the balance between a social life and school is even finer. You have to keep your social life and your grades up. There is going to come a time wh
en you have to choose to study or hang out with friends. Something has to suffer.”
Dating is also something difficult to mix in. Finding a partner who understands the amount of time put into school and sports is hard to find.
“It’s hard to date and be a student athlete,” Fant said. ” I tried last year and my grades slipped bad. You have to choose between the two sometimes. One of them has to suffer.”
“I go on dates but usually there isn’t much time to go looking for them,” Shrimpton said. “I’m not a type of guy who will date someone high maintenance. They have to understand that I have to set aside time for school and for baseball. I have a busy schedule and they can’t chew me out because I don’t have time for them some days.”
For Sandy, there is a fine line that these student athletes have to abide by. If you miss class, you will not play.
The NCAA standard to stay eligible is a 2.0; fall below that and the Colonel coaches will dish out the discipline.
“We have a situation right now where a coach is holding a player out because he didn’t go to class,” Sandy said. “That is the type of message you want to send. Playing time is very important to student athletes. These are our rules and this is what you have to follow if you want to play on this team. If you want playing time, then you need to make sure you take care of things off the field.”
The success rate of these student athletes also
works wonders for the university as a whole, and plays a big part in recruiting.
“Our GPA is something that helps and that we use as good PR for our department and for the university,” Sandy said. “We use our high Academic Progress Rate in recruiting athletes and their parents, PR, alumni and also with faculty because it shows them we take academics very seriously.”
The APR, done by the NCAA, calculates the graduation rate and GPA of each individual sport. Eastern’s football team has the highest APR of any public university in the state and also in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Coaches understand that first and foremost these players are here to get a degree. Athletics is secondary.
“One thing Coach said to me when they were recruiting me, was that I was going to get a degree,” O’Connor said. “That made a big impression. She is big on getting good grades and going to class.