A Foundation for Success St. Bonaventure student-athletes pride themselves on excelling on the field and court and in the classroom

It’s game time at the Reilly Center and a loud crowd of Bonnies basketball fans fills the arena with the undeniable sounds of a St. Bonaventure game night. Watching the players in today’s stereotypical, win-at-all-costs major college athletics scene, chances are most fans aren’t thinking about how the majority of those Bonnies student-athletes will be heading off to class and study halls the following morning. But while many Bonnies athletic teams are succeeding in competition, just as many are continuing that success in the classroom.

The commitment of being a Division I athlete is one that takes dedication, focus and effective time management. In addition to hours of practice and competition each week, NCAA Division I student-athletes spend significant time on the road while in season, traveling on a near weekly basis to compete.

Junior Keely Fresh, a women’s basketball player and journalism major, uses time on the bus for schoolwork.

A typical day might begin with a 6 a.m. practice or an early morning weightlifting session, followed by classes. The afternoon might include film study in preparation for an upcoming opponent, more classes and an evening study hall or hopping on a bus for several hours en route to the next game. Even when on the road, the focus remains on academic success as study hall hours are enforced on road trips as well to make sure that when class time is missed, the students are working toward fulfilling their course requirements.

“Being involved in Division I athletics is not an easy thing from a time management standpoint; it is very demanding,” emphasizes Michael Kasperski, lecturer in accounting and faculty athletic representative.

Though finding free time during the day might seem impossible during seasons, Bonnies are finding a way to be successful on the field, court and in the classroom.

In fact, last spring marked the 24th consecutive semester that St. Bonaventure student-athletes have produced a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher across all programs — most recently a sparkling average of 3.26. As of the spring 2017 semester, 73 percent of Bonnies student-athletes had a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better while 48 percent of the university’s 273 student-athletes were honored as members of the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll with cumulative GPAs of 3.50 or better. With 134 student-athletes honored by the Atlantic 10, St. Bonaventure registered a total higher than that of the league average despite being the league’s second-smallest member by enrollment.

“We are here to develop our students. Our students work with our academic support staff in making sure they are taking the classes they need and balancing the work in the classroom with their practice and travel schedules.”

~ Athletics Director Tim Kenney

The Bonnies are also impressing on a national level. The women’s basketball program was best in the Atlantic 10 and ranked 18th last year in the nation in team GPA (3.527), the 10th time since 2002-03 that program has ranked in the nation’s top 25. Women’s swimming and diving led the A-10 and stood 15th in all of Division I with a 3.57 team GPA last year.

In addition, six Bonnies programs — women’s basketball, golf (3.559), men’s soccer (3.405), women’s soccer (3.374), women’s cross country (3.518) and women’s tennis (3.108) — were all honored by the NCAA last spring for being in the top 10 percent of their respective sports in Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores for the 2015-16 academic year.

“What the numbers really tell you is our student-athletes are going above and beyond,” Kasperski said. “The Atlantic 10 is a great academic conference. They pride themselves on being competitive in sports, but also being outstanding academically.”

The success isn’t limited to a few individuals on given teams – 12 of St. Bonaventure’s athletic teams boasted a cumulative team GPA of more than 3.20 during the 2016-17 academic year while Bonnies student-athletes had a 91 percent graduation success rate.

The rise in student-athlete GPA has correlated with a sizable increase in the number of Bonnies athletes in recent years. In the past five years, the number of student-athletes on campus has risen from just more than 230 to 275 this fall. It’s a number that will continue to swell with the addition of Division I men’s lacrosse pushing the total to more than 300 next year.

“Our coaches recruit strong students and our resources on campus are outstanding,” said Heather McDivitt, assistant athletic director for academic support and student services. “We have an administration that cares about every student and wants them to be successful. It’s never about just being eligible, it’s about being recognized as having the top GPAs in the Atlantic 10 and in the nation.”

Nearly every Bonnies program has earned academic accolades in the past year:
  • Both the men’s and women’s tennis programs earned recognition from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) as All-Academic Team selections.
  • Men’s and women’s swimming and diving were both honored by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) as Scholar All-America Teams and women’s lacrosse was cited by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) as one of the organization’s Honor Squads for the last academic year.
  • Bonnies softball (3.433) and baseball (3.293) each also rank among the top Atlantic 10 GPAs by sport with baseball posting the top semester cumulative GPA in head coach Larry Sudbrook’s three decades at the helm.
  • Men’s cross country also recently earned NCAA APR recognition.

And while the majority of fans see the athletes in action during games, they may not consider all of the time dedicated to practice and travel. In truth, the commitment each student-athlete makes goes far beyond the two-to-three-hour window of a single game.

Though time on the road for competition during seasons can result in missed class time, the Academic Support Services staff works with student-athletes to make sure they remain on task.

Sophomore women's lacrosse player Madison Lawhead completes an assignment during a study hall in the Reilly Center.
“To be a student-athlete, the biggest thing is time management,” McDivitt said.

Students are provided structured study halls eight-to-10 hours per week plus weekly meetings with members of the athletics academic support staff, including McDivitt and academic coordinator Joel Rosencrance.

Freshman basketball player Izaiah Brockington

Beyond that, the support of faculty has allowed St. Bonaventure students to excel. When on the road, students utilize Moodle, a learning platform built to create personalized learning environments utilized by many faculty members, to access notes and PowerPoints. It allows students to take in many of the experiences of the classroom even when traveling in-season.

“For a small school, we have amazing academic support,” McDivitt emphasized. “The math lab, the writing center, one-on-one tutoring, we also have faculty who are very willing to spend extra time to help review for tests and assignments. We encourage our students to use those resources and provide that foundation and structure.”

Kasperski echoed that sentiment: “Here at St. Bonaventure, because of our size, we have the structure in place not only in the athletic department, but in all of the academic support that we have for our general student population,” he said. “We have so many things in place to help our students succeed.”

That includes one of the traits that has long set St. Bonaventure apart — small class sizes that lend to connected relationships between faculty and students.

“That’s the beauty of St. Bonaventure being a small school where the professors so quickly know the students by name and they’re involved in the students’ lives,” McDivitt said. “We coach our students to create that bond with professors quickly and our professors are willing to provide that support. That’s a key reason our students are so successful.”

While the athletic accolades are outstanding during their collegiate careers, the odds are long that many Bonnies will ultimately go pro in their sport. In fact, according to NCAA data, more than 480,000 student-athletes compete collegiately, but less than 3 percent will play professionally.

That makes preparation for the ultimate entry into the workforce all the more important through classwork.

“The culture here is to maximize academic success that will lead them to lifelong success,” McDivitt said. “Our student-athletes are picking up extra majors and minors. They’re going above and beyond. They know they’re probably not going to go pro in their sport, but they are going to set themselves up for success in the careers of their choice.”

As for any St. Bonaventure student, the process is all about setting a foundation for success post-graduation.

“They’re taking the classes that will help them once they graduate,” Kenney said. “We’re helping develop skills for them to use in the workplace once they graduate. And we’re utilizing the network of alumni — members of the Bonaventure family who want to help our students succeed with internships and jobs once they graduate. We’re proud of what our student-athletes are accomplishing and we want our alumni to know that they’re representing their alma mater extremely well.”

Story by SCOTT EDDY • director of Athletics Communications

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