There's an inherent perception, fair or not fair, by those outside of the athletic realm that student-athletes have more emphasis on the "athlete" and the "student" aspect goes by the wayside. Student-athletes at Youngstown State University are out to dispel that myth.
During the fall semester, a school-record 47 student-athletes had 4.0 GPAs, while 25 had 4.0 cumulative GPAs.
The women's cross country and basketball teams had the highest GPAs with 3.5 and 3.46, respectively.
"It's a matter of staying on top of them, making sure they're balancing their time in regard to the academic as well as the athletic," YSU track and field and cross country coach Brian Gorby said.
It doesn't happen by going to practice, playing games and virtually sleepwalking through classes, it's about having priorities in order.
"Budgeting your time is important because they're extremely busy with practice, classes, exams, study halls and all of that," YSU women's basketball coach John Barnes said. "They've done a great job of figuring out how to use their time the best that they can. They don't waste a lot of time during the day. Stay focused on school. As far as our staff is concerned, school comes first - study sessions, exams or anything like that has to come first. We try to budget basketball around that."
Are there conflicts with travel and classes? Absolutely. Ask YSU's Marilyn O'Bruba, Coordinator of Athletic Academic Advising.
"Initially, we'll check out the travel schedule," O'Bruba said. "We've looked at the travel schedule prior to registration, so we have a little bit of an idea what the time commitment is going to be out of the classroom for travel.
"At the beginning of the semester, I'll give each student a letter with the dates they could miss for each class. So, they are to give that to the instructor and then, hopefully, the instructor is willing to work with them. If they're not willing to work with them, which is really pretty rare, then we'll work to get them another class in their schedule. Then, it's up to the student at that point to make arrangements to get notes, make up work missed, make up a test, make arrangements to take a test prior to traveling. I just talked to a professor for baseball and softball and he's actually allowing students to make up exams. I've even offered him to let him use our area as a site to proctor exams. Occasionally, a professor will allow the student to take the exam under proctor conditions."
Dr. Chet Cooper, an associate professor of biology at YSU, is the school's NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative. He's had his fair share of athletes in his classes, but he doesn't treat them any different than traditional or non-traditional students.
"What I try to do is I try to approach the student-athlete as I would any other student. I don't hold them special. They are a group of students that have certain responsibilities. That's like other students that have responsibilities," Cooper said. "We have a lot of non-traditional students who have work responsibilities outside the university. Or, we have single moms with young children that need to be taken care of. I treat the student-athletes as I would any other student. When they have issues, academic issues, I make sure I focus on the individual, not the large group. Every individual's need is a little different.
"My experience with the student-athletes has been overwhelmingly positive. They are some of the most dedicated students I've ever seen in my life. I use the word specifically student because that's what they do. They work really hard in the classroom. Of course, there's always a few. Those are the ones everyone hears about. There's the same type of person who's not a student-athlete in the general student population. What I'm trying to drive at is student-athletes are no different than the non student-athlete. The difference is their campus job is athletics. They have certain responsibilities just like the kid that works in the bookstore or the library or wherever. They have expectations on them, so does that student-athlete. I try to deal with everybody as an individual and look at their problems. They're great and we have some really great successes."
According to Gorby, it's no surprise the women's cross country team has the best GPA on campus.
"Who else has the discipline to go out there and basically put in anywhere from an hour to an hour 20 to 30 running, come 5-10 degrees? Push your body through pain every day," Gorby said. "Just the discipline and accountability these kids have, it's like clockwork. They're very good at time management, I feel. To me, it's easier to study for a test than to run 6-mile repeats with a minute rest and push your body to that limit.
"I think these kids are prepared in the classroom, putting that same type of hard work and sacrifice there."
Take YSU senior basketball player Liz Hornberger, who is not just working toward a law degree but works at an area law firm as well. She was one of the 47 students who earned an 4.0 GPA in the fall.
"Liz is very special," Barnes said. "She's got a lot of energy. She is constant motion. In the morning, she sometimes goes to work in a law firm, then goes to class, comes to basketball. She's a great example to look toward. She doesn't waste a lot of time during her day so she can fit everything in, including doing a great job in the classroom."
Gorby said its those type of people, like Hornberger, who impress, not depress, their professors.
"Most teachers are pretty impressed with that Type A personality," Gorby said.