Balancing studies, sports requires different kind of agility
While many students may admire a game-winning tackle or buzzer-beating shot, UH student-athletes say their peers should be more impressed with the discipline it takes to succeed in the classroom.
As time consuming as their schedule may be, UH’s 350 student athletes are expected to manage their time appropriately if they don’t want to get overwhelmed by class work.
For senior Zachary McMillian, a defensive back for the football team, the schedule takes a mental and physical toll.
“It’s really tough, because you have to take a lot of responsibility upon yourself,” McMillian said. “The most I’ve ever taken was 18 hours in one semester while still playing (football). While doing that, you have to learn to discipline your body and your mind so you won’t allow it to be overwhelming.”
McMillian’s teammate, sophomore defensive back Trevon Stewart, said he wakes up around 5:30 a.m. and doesn’t get a break until noon, and studies from 2 to 3:30 p.m. before going to practice. After practice ends, Stewart still has his homework to do.
“It’s a real grind,” Stewart said. “I remember when my ankle was hurting because of a bad tackle in practice the day before. I sometimes had to grip my pencil and bite my lip in class to get my mind off the pain.”
With the adversity that student athletes go through, it’s a challenge to maintain high grades and eventually graduate.
Fortunately for them, they have help.
The Academic Center for Excellence serves as a tutoring center for the student athletes. It holds study hours for each team and is monitored by more than 20 part-time tutors who are available to assist in a variety of subjects.
Football head coach Tony Levine, a former wide receiver at the University of Minnesota who graduated with a degree in kinesiology, said he often emphasizes the importance of school to his players.
“I tell these kids at the beginning of every season that education has to come first,” Levine said. “The main thing is they have to learn to manage their time and use it wisely. It was hard for me (in school) as well, but it’s a part of life that makes you grow up and take on a lot of responsibility.”
Every year the NCAA releases the Graduation Success Rate, a system that displays the academic success of student athletes for every university in the country. The GSR is designed to show the percentage of student athletes in a given school who earn a college degree.
In the 2011-12 academic year, the GSR for UH student athletes was 65 percent.
With a 3.41 cumulative grade point average last year, the UH tennis team posted its highest GPA ever.
Junior tennis player Elena Kordolaimi, who made the Conference USA Commissioners’ honor roll, said learning to stay organized is key to keeping up with her busy schedule.
“I had to actually set reminders and note tabs on my phone and laptop to remind me what I have to do that day because every day is very busy,” Kordolaimi said.
Kordolaimi said that while she is stressed out sometimes, her teammates and tutors help her stay afloat.
Alumna Reina Gaber, a former softball player, said the hardest part of getting school work done is the travel schedule. Gaber, who graduated in spring, said her coaches helped her keep up with her school work by making her and her teammates put their phones away to do homework for about two hours.
“It gets tough because we have to constantly switch locations and that makes it harder for me to do my homework,” Gaber said. “We’ll be waiting at the airport for about 20 minutes, pick up our bags, then go on the plane, get on the bus and try to do it then.”
The balance between student and athlete will always be tough, but with help from faculty, staff, and their peers, student athletes at UH continue to walk the tightrope.