Bill Henk — Truth be told, when I received a courtesy copy of the 2009-10 Annual Report for Intercollegiate Athletics last semester, I promptly put it aside. Nothing about the document itself led to that spontaneous disregard. On the contrary, the cover smacked of great color images of athletes in action, and the length of the report looked manageable enough.
But between my regular dean duties, preparing for accreditation reviews, working with Teach For America, ongoing blogging responsibilities, and trying to be a decent husband and father, I have to be very selective about what I read. If something crosses my desk that doesn’t scream “You MUST read me,” then I put it in a physical or electronic pile of stuff that might or might not ever see the light of day.
And back in the fall that pile was huge, owing to a backlog that started when I had eye surgeries a few months before then. Sad to say, because of eye fatigue, I still can’t seem to catch up. So reading anything in those piles represents a long shot, and I certainly didn’t expect to find great blogging material setting there. Wow, was I wrong!
Rising to the Top
Thankfully, the intercollegiate athletics report just stared at me one day from the top of the pile. It happened right when I needed a break from some tedious computer work. So, I picked it up and starting browsing through it. I planned to give it a quick look and then, as a return courtesy, drop our talented athletic director, Steve Cottingham, a note commenting on its contents and quality.
In my experience, most publications like these end up being unbridled celebrations of team and individual athletic accomplishments. Obsessed sports fans like me tend to value the genre, whereas many of my academic colleagues, perhaps understandably, could NOT care less. Anyway, I figured that the report would only be appreciated by devoted MU sports fans.
True to form, the document vividly captured a wide array of impressive athletic achievements on three of its 8 pages, and these exceptional feats appealed to the jock in me. Some of our teams and competitors had great seasons last year. Yet, that’s not what blew me away.
What struck me was how notably the report highlighted Marquette student-athletes and what great work they had done. The academic dean in me was very pleasantly surprised with the emphasis on the “student-” part of this hyphenated term.
Placing Academics Prominently
In fact, after the nicely inclusive inside cover letter from Steve, the report led with a page entitled “Academic Success.” Surprisingly, scholarship received a higher billing than athletics. I’ve worked in universities a long time, and believe me, you don’t see that kind of prioritizing in athletic departments very often.
Specifically, on the page trumpeting academic excellence, readers can find the following information:
- A listing of all of the Marquette Academic All-Americans dating back to 1976, including Marc Marotta, Kristen Maskala, Amy Erickson, and Diana Detrie, all of whom were named three times each
- The names of the MU athletes who achieved 4.0 GPAs in either the spring or fall semester (7 and 8 of them, respectively)
- A graduation photo that included three athletes who earned a perfect GPA in both semesters of 2009-10 — Amanda Beggs, Olivia Johnson, and Kelly Wepking
- Some 57% of MU students-athletes on spring squads had GPAs over 3.0, and 51% of them maintained cumulative GPAs exceeding 3.0
- A brief feature on junior distance runner, Peter Bolgert, who was named to the ESPN Academic All-American team for the year
- A note about how 41 student-athletes completed their eligibility, with 27 of them being named to the Academic All-Big East teams sometime during their careers
- Another factoid indicating that 11 of these 41 competitors obtained cumulative GPAs of 3.5 or higher.
Where to Look and More to Find
For a PDF version of the intercollegiate athletics report, click here and then on ”Complete Version.” And for an online version of the report, click here. The reports display differently, so you’ll have to pick your viewing preference.
Also, be sure to check out the “Community Service” feature on page 6. There you’ll learn about efforts associated with breast cancer, the Hunger Clean-Up, fundraising for medical research, a book drive, and contributing to Al’s Run and Walk for Children’s Hospital. You can supplement that knowledge by reading about the phenomenal experience our College of Education students had with student-athletes Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, and Steve Novak in the Hartman Literacy & Learning Center.
And coincidentally, when I first writing this post a while back, I came across a brief article about academic achievement in the Big East. It indicated that 119 Marquette student-athletes had been recognized for academic excellence by the conference. The article also noted that the average GPA for Marquette athletes in the 2010 spring semester measured 3.17. That’s a remarkable achievement considering the academic rigor and high grading standards here. If you’re interested in reading this article, click here.
In short, I want to salute our Marquette student-athletes for their prowess both in their sports and in the classroom. They certainly dispel any dumb jock stereotype at our institution.
Speaking as a former student-athlete myself, I can tell you that most people have little or no understanding of how difficult it is to juggle academic and athletic success. Student-athletes are thought of as ”playing” sports when in harsh reality, their participation amounts to “working” at an extremely difficult job. It’s a role that consumes enormous amounts of time and energy, but helps them to finance a high quality education.
And please keep in mind that this circumstance also applies to the many student-athletes who are not on scholarship. They compete for the love of their games. Either way, all student-athletes must, ironically enough, keep an incredible number of balls in the air.
Back in my college days, fellow students often told me how lucky I was to be on a “free ride.” They couldn’t begin to grasp how much effort went into getting my skill levels to a point that would attract college recruiters in the first place. Nor could they know about having to spend countless hours practicing and training – not just during the season but all year round.
Add in travel time to competitions, other preparation like watching videotape, struggling to catch up after missed classes, time spent in therapy and rehabilitation,and the inevitable exhaustion and frequent illnesses, and you start to get the picture of the extraordinary burden shouldered by any serious student-athlete.
And through all of this athletic duress, the academic grind continues unabated as well. Attending and participating in class, reading, searching for information, studying, responding electronically, writing, solving, collaborating, prepping for exams, and completing all manner of course assignments constitute the relentless dual life a student-athlete leads.
So, to all of our MU student-athletes who constantly push for excellence, I say thanks for bringing honor to us through your competitive fire and the extraordinary way you approach your academic endeavors.
You do Marquette University proud.
On a related note, I want to give a well-earned, special shout-out to two of our College of Education student-athletes, Courtney Weibel and Tati McMorris, members of the Lady Golden Eagles basketball team. On Saturday both were instrumental in the double overtime win at #15-ranked Georgetown! In case you haven’t been following the team, they’re having a very fine year, and we can help them with our support.