Student-athletes balance books and sports

As the March weather is getting increasingly warmer, it’s the time of year when athletes of all kinds climb out of the woodwork to bike, walk, run, hop, skip and jump around Presque Isle.

While many Gannon University students do this as a fun way to keep in shape, many others have deeper ties to athletics, as they play on some of the university’s various athletic teams.

Many people are often under the impression that balancing school work and college sports is nearly impossible, but some Gannon athletes and coaches disagree.

One Gannon athlete, junior criminal justice major Donny Mallin, who is on the Gannon football team, said he has been taking 18 credits for the past three semesters, but it’s not as difficult to balance school and athletics as some may think. “It’s not impossible,” he said.

He said that it can get a little more intense during the football season, but overall he doesn’t have much trouble balancing his schedule.

“I would say during the season, when we actually have games and we have to travel away to other schools, that’s probably the hardest time,” Mallin said. “But overall our coaches help us out and the teachers are pretty cool with it.”

One Gannon professor and coach, Matthew Darling, who teaches in Gannon’s English department and coaches the girls’ volleyball team, said that things have changed a lot for student-athletes since he was one himself.

“Being a student-athlete isn’t just balancing academics and athletics, which is what most people think,” he said. “I think the pressure has become greater on student-athletes just because of the accessibility that people have today.”

Accessibility, he said, includes students’ constant access to other people. He said that when he was a college athlete, he literally couldn’t contact his family as often as students are expected to today, with their regular access to social networks, cell phones and email.

Darling said he has particularly enjoyed working with Gannon’s volleyball team largely because of the students the team recruits.

“We recruit not just good players, but people who are, first of all, bright, and second of all ambitious,” he said. “You have people whose ambitions aren’t just to get a volleyball scholarship or just to be on the volleyball team; who have some big picture goals.”

Darling said that he can honestly say, after being at Gannon for five years, that he’s had very few players on the team who haven’t also had academic goals that they wanted to reach. “So that makes it a lot easier to achieve that balance,” he said.

In addition, Darling mentioned that teachers very rarely have a problem with student-athletes missing classes. “I think they respect the hard work that the student-athletes do,” he said, “and they allow them to miss within the limits of the rules.”

Similarly, Mallin said he hasn’t run into much trouble when he’s had to miss class for a game. “I’ve never had a problem with a teacher,” he said. “We get permission slips from the athletic director, and we have them sign it so they know ahead of time before we leave.”

Darling said that a lot of times people misinterpret the balance between athletics and academics, making it seem like a bigger dilemma than it often is.

“The standard way of thinking for the public is that people spend too much time on their sport and therefore it hurts their grades,” he said. “But I don’t necessarily think that’s the imbalance that student-athletes feel.”

He said that, oftentimes, students spend so much time studying that they don’t get enough sleep, and consequent ly are sluggish at practice the next day.

“That’s also being out of balance for a student athlete, but it’s on the academic side. I think most people would prefer it that way, but you’re talking about people who are really the high achievers,” Darling said. “They figure out a way to never have it be out of balance in one direction or the other.”

It is with a similar attitude that Mallin said he looks at scheduling conflicts for student athletes. He said he has never had a problem getting into the classes he needed to coordinate with his football schedule. “It works out every semester,” he said. “I think everybody should just get to do it at the same time.”

Darling, on the other hand, disagreed. He said he thinks student athletes should get priority scheduling over the other students.

“I got it when I was a student athlete, and it was one of those things where a lot of other students who weren’t athletes maybe had some animosity because of that,” he said. “But there are some realities that I think unless you’re a student athlete you don’t understand about the student athlete experience.”

He said that while he understands that students don’t want to take 8 a.m. classes, his sympathies lie with the student athletes.

He said that if the 8 a.m. classes are the only ones available by the time the volleyball players schedule, they then have to wake up in time to make a 5:30 a.m. practice.

If they had been able to schedule for the 9 a.m. class instead, though, Darling said the players wouldn’t have to practice quite as early.

“I’m a big supporter of priority registration for student athletes, and honestly I think it will make not only the student-athlete experience better,” he said, “but it will make the students better students and so it’s going to affect Gannon in a lot of ways.”

Darling said the plan to get athletes priority registration is currently in its experimental stages. “I do anticipate that it’ll be a great success,” he said.

Finally, Darling said that though it may not be as big of an issue as many people think, student athletes do struggle with balancing their busy schedules.

“I think I can honestly say that every student I have ever coached has at some point experienced difficulty achieving that balance,” he said.

 

KELLY MORELAND

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