Athletes succeed both inside and outside of classroom

Gina Williams is used to balancing sports and school. She was a three-sport athlete in high school and played Blugold soccer for four years in college.

Williams said juggling athletics and academics helps her focus. She even does better in classes when soccer is in full swing.

And last spring her hard work paid off. She was named a Capital One Academic All-American — one of only 43 named in Blugold history.

“I didn’t expect anything like that,” Williams said. “There were points where I considered quitting soccer, and to get that far was an honor.”

The 2012-2013 academic year marked the 12th year Blugold athletes achieved a 3.0 GPA or better. Eau Claire’s 516 student athletes averaged a 3.124 GPA and 321 qualified for the WIAC honor roll.

Eau Claire Athletic Director Scott Kilgallon said Blugold coaches have worked hard to help their athletes perform well in the classroom.

The WIAC conference requires athletes to hold a GPA of 2.0 or better. But Kilgallon and Eau Claire coaches try not to tell that to students, he said. He wants Blugolds to aim higher.

“I don’t think that academic success and athletic success are mutually exclusive,” Kilgallon said. “I think that’s a message we send loud and clear. We like to tout the total package.”

Kilgallon said when athletes are in season, they get better grades due to better time management skills required when sports are in full swing.

“I may be old school, but if you take care of your academics, your athletics are going to go well,” Kilgallon said. “If you don’t stay on top of your academics, its going to be in the back of your mind any you aren’t going to be playing 100 percent.”

Kilgallon said although Eau Claire had a strong relationship between academics and athletics, he’s tried to keep borderline students from falling through the cracks.

“Even though we had a lot of students who are around the 3.75, 4.0 mark, we still have lots of students who are on the bubble at a 2.0,” Kilgallon said.

Coaches fill out mid-semester progress reports for their athletes, a tool to catch kids who might be struggling and help them improve. Coaches focus on first-year students more than others, mandating a report six-weeks into classes for freshmen.

McPhee Physical Education Center also has a satellite writing center to help upper-campus students get convenient access and  help with homework. It’s a drop-in room where students can get easy access tutoring.

Freshmen also benefit from team support, Kilgallon said. First-year students have a safety net in a sports team that other students might not have.

Time management skills are a huge part of success in college, Kilgallon said, and being involved in sports forces students to use time efficiently.

Assistant softball coach Robin Baker said she and other coaches do what they can to keep their athletes on track in the classroom.

“We have priorities,” Baker said.  “Faith is number one, family is number two, school is number three and softball is number four. They’re here to go to school. They chose partially because of softball, but also because of the great academic reputation UW-Eau Claire has.”

Baker said she requires some of her players to fill out weekly study tables — a two-hour study session with coaches once a week. First-year players and players who hold lower than a 3.0 cumulative or last semester GPA are required to fill out tables.

Williams said her teammates helped her focus on studying. The fourth floor of the library was a girls soccer hangout. She could go to the library anytime and study with fellow athletes.

The women’s soccer coach, Sean Yengo, would let players skip practice to go to study sessions. Some of Williams first memories of her freshman year are studying with teammates on the bus traveling to a road match.

“Growing up, I always had extra motivation in school because I wanted to participate in sports,” Williams said. “It was a lot of extra time commitment but through it I learned leadership and gained confidence.”