Student-athlete only part of the equation

Story by Andy Hildebrand, Staff Writer

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The level of dedication it takes to be a collegiate athlete is no small undertaking. There’s conditioning, meetings and practices which all lead to game time. Add the responsibility of maintaining a full course load and good academic standing and very little free time is left.

Unlike their Division I counterparts, student athletes at  Division III universities like UW-Eau Claire are not eligible to receive tuition aid in the form of scholarships, creating another significant challenge. For some athletes, it means squeezing a job into an already packed schedule.

Senior Andrew McCabe plays forward on the Eau Claire men’s hockey team. In addition to his school work and responsibilities as a team captain, McCabe also works around 20 hours a week at Thorp
Landscaping.

“I actually enjoy it because it fills your downtime,” McCabe said. “But it can definitely make it all a little bit more challenging. You need a boss that’s flexible enough to understand that school and hockey come first.”

For McCabe, part of managing his schedule boils down to finding days when his other obligations aren’t
as pressing.

He said it’s common for student athletes to work Sundays and schedule extra hours when out of season so they can afford to work less once regular practices start.

Junior gymnast Lexi Burnikel not only works during season, but actually has two jobs. Like McCabe, Burnikel relies on a strict schedule and flexible employers.

“One of my bosses was a collegiate athlete and understands that at this point, athletics need to come first,” Burnikel said.

For Burnikel, one of the hardest parts about adding a job to her student-athlete responsibilities is
saying no.

“It’s difficult to find that balance,” Burnikel said. “You need to know when not to pick up those extra hours. Our coach always emphasizes that our priorities should go studies, family, and athletics.”

Flexibility is not just important on the employer’s end. It is just as vital coming from the coaches. On the gymnastics team, Burnikel said the team knows when they should be scheduling hours to work.

“We don’t have practice on Tuesdays so people know they can work then,” Burnikel said. “Our coaches really stress that we should work on the weekends too.”

McCabe said his coach is fairly flexible as well. Head Hockey Coach Matt Loen said that he wants his athletes to make sure to leave plenty of time for their studies, especially early in their careers.

“I think it’s already a big responsibility having sports and studies,” Loen said. “If they choose to work on top of it, that’s their choice. I want them to start off the right way though so they don’t have to end the athlete part of their student athlete experience.”

Although Loen doesn’t recommend it, he admits that it can be done.

“I think assuming they are not academically challenged, it’s possible to add a part-time job,” Loen said. “Some do that. That’s why I emphasize with freshmen to get going on their academics and do it the right way.”

Because having a job cuts into an already busy schedule, unavoidably some aspects of life must suffer. The key to staying afloat is to make sure that doesn’t mean suffering grades. For Burnikel, working two jobs means a significantly diminished social life.

“My social life is really in the gym with the rest of the girls,” Burnikel said. “Sometimes we will organize study groups or things like that, but I don’t really have much of a social life.”

Burnikel and McCabe both believe that they’re in the minority as athletes with jobs. It certainly adds difficulty to an already challenging schedule crunch. For them and those like them, it isn’t much of a question.

Chalk it up to dedication.

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