Foundation is Key to Athletic and Academic Success
His words were unsettling: “I partly blame officials at the university, because it was all one big cover-up.” Those words, spoken by an old acquaintance I recently ran into, came after discussing the usual: How have you been? Where are you working? How did you do in school?Lonnie never graduated. He had attended a West Virginia university on a football scholarship. School for him, he says, was one big party, encouraged — if not sponsored — by the school’s athletic staff. Parties held to woo prospects. Parties after big games. Parties during exam week. Parties all semester long. No biggie, because if partying — or even the rigorous time commitment of practice, the stress of away games or the indelible fatigue many student-athletes incur — ever interfered with academics, it was all taken care of, Lonnie says. A few words with the coach about trouble classes, and they were no longer trouble.It wasn’t the only thing that led to Lonnie’s ultimate failure at school. But athletic officials’ willingness to lend an undue and dastardly hand on the academic side certainly contributed to Lonnie’s inability to grow up and be responsible during the years when such maturing is so crucial.“It was all taken care of for me,” he says. “So I always knew that even if I didn’t study, I wouldn’t have to pay the consequences.”On the other hand, Christiana Nwofor, James Greer and probably the hundreds of otherscholar-athletes who grace this edition’s pages, say they work hard (see sports scholars awardees, starting on pg. 39). So this issue is for them — for all the countless hours spent studying on the road to keep up their grades, the additional time spent honing their athletic skills and the discipline it takes to do both while also adjusting to the other nuances college-life brings.It’s also for the parents, the coaches, campus officials and teammates as well as the other nameless faces who helped instill in the athlete-scholars, a sense of work ethic, time-management and pride.Their support helped nurture all the elements it takes to succeed athletically and academically. After combing through the mountain of applications we received for this year’s awards, Black Issues staff discovered that many of the students had a family tradition of athletic and academic dexterity (see pg. 22). So there’s little doubt that a student-athlete’s support network has a lot to do with his or her success.Unfortunately, not every student-athlete has that kind of foundation. More egregiously, not every college athletics program fosters the kind of environment that cultivates a Nwofor, a Greer or any of the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars from years past.Not that the colleges and universities can do everything. But if more institutions of higher education focused as much attention on retaining and developing their student-athletes as they focus on recruiting them and maintaining their grades at an NCAA minimum, perhaps one day, the pages of our sports-scholars edition would overflow. It might make our job here a lot harder. But for the Lonnie’s of the world, it might also make college life a bit more digestible.
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