Athletes work to maintain high grades

Sophomore guard KeKe Gunter takes notes before a class in Flowers Hall April 14. Gunter, a member of the women’s basketball team, maintained a 4.0 GPA as a student-athlete this year.

The pressure for athletes to excel in a certain sport, along with achieving success in the classroom, can pose a challenge for some.

With the UNA Athletics motto being “Graduating Champions,” the department desires seeing their student-athletes successful not only in their field of play, but also in the classroom, said Compliance Director Todd Vardaman.

“I feel like we make a conscious effort to help (athletes) in any way they need,” Vardaman said. “Along with the coaching staff and administration, it’s great to see support from the institution as well with the programs the university has in place, such as the (academic) success center.”

Vardaman released the combined GPA’s of each team on campus and posted it on his office door for each sport to track its success. The GPA’s ranged from 2.58 to 3.44.

The women’s tennis team earned the highest GPA, followed by the women’s cross-country team, which totaled a 3.43. The football team, who has over 100 members to account for, rounded out the bottom with the 2.58 GPA.

For some teams, attending a weekly study hall is mandatory, Vardaman said.

As of this year, freshmen student-athletes on the Division II level must maintain a 1.8 GPA, sophomores a 1.9 and juniors and seniors must have a 2.0 to participate, according to the NCAA website. In 2018, the NCAA will require all student-athletes to have a 2.0 GPA, and transfers will need at least a 2.2.

Many athletes utilize their resources, which include study hall and help from more experienced teammates, said sophomore KeKe Gunter, a member of the women’s basketball team who has a 4.0 GPA.

“If any of my teammates need help, they know they can come to me,” Gunter said.

Vardaman said he notices some students do not mind receiving leadership from teammates who have “walked the walk” before.

“While talking to students, I realize they respond better to another teammate who has been through the trenches and knows what success is like on and off the field,” he said.

Gunter, who majors in criminal justice and is a member of the honors program, has had success in the classroom dating back to her pre-college days.

“In high school, I had a 4.3 (GPA),” she said. “I have an athletic scholarship here and an outside academic scholarship.”

Gunter said her advice for struggling students it to avoid procrastination.

“Don’t wait until the last minute, and figure out what way works best for you,” she said. “One thing I would tell incoming student-athletes is that high school isn’t college. Go to class, don’t take any assignment for granted, and get help in the beginning.”

When many coaches talk to recruits, they stress the importance of academics, said UNA’s head cross-country and track coach Scott Trimble.

“Being a student comes first,” Trimble said. “(The athletes) know that when we recruit them: first is education, second is cross country.”

Trimble said the student-athletes who succeed are some of the hardest workers he’s encountered, specifically in cross-country.

“Cross-country is a year long sport; it’s like having a full-time job,” Trimble said. “It’s a tribute to them and what kind of people they are.”

Trimble said he praises his four seniors, along with the other individual overachievers in the classroom, for setting the bar high with numerous academic awards.

“(The academic leaders) stress to the underclassmen the importance of going to class,” Trimble said. “I’ve really been spoiled (by my seniors), and I’ll dread the day they leave.”