Pointers Athletes Excelling Off the Field
Will Rossmiller
wross460@uwsp.edu - Twitter @willrossmiller

There is a reason that the term “student-athlete” places school over athletics.

Student-athletes at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have taken this mantra to heart. 340 athletes from the Pointers made the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Scholastic Honor Role last year, and the accolades didn’t stop there.

This past season, the Pointers women’s hockey team had five players on the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association All-Academic Team. Four on the men’s team garnered the same honor.

Within the past week, the Pointers wrestling team was honored by the National Wrestling Coaches Association for finishing in the top 25 of team grade point averages.

Academic excellence for athletes at UWSP has been a trend for years and reached a peak in the 2010-2011 academic year, when the Pointers were honored with the top student-athlete GPA in the WIAC. 

How has UWSP continued this focus on academic achievement for athletes? It starts from the top of the athletic department and goes all the way down to the players.

Athletic Director Daron Montgomery understands that the first objective for the athletes that play at UWSP is to get their degrees.

“I’m a competitive person, and I want to win just as much as our coaches and student-athletes do, but as an Athletic Director, we’re not going to compromise our academic integrity in our efforts to hoist a trophy,” Montgomery said.

The importance that Montgomery has instilled on academics goes down to the coaches, who place academics as the top priority of their players.

“I think that our athletic department places a significant emphasis on the academic development and professional enhancement of our student-athletes,” said head baseball coach Pat Bloom.

“As a program we talk about the importance of having three facets of equal importance; academics, athletics and social,” said men’s hockey coach, Chris Brooks. “If any of the three take more importance than the other two, there is an issue. All three go hand-in-hand.”

Coach Brooks also explained that being on his team and not attending class, is inexcusable. “If they are caught not attending a class, they lose the privilege of playing on our team.”

Head women’s hockey coach, Ann Ninnemann, plans practices around students’ schedules and even lets athletes leave during practice sessions to go to study groups or tutoring.

“Also, we have a study tables requirement for all new freshmen entering UWSP to do two hours of study tables per week,” Ninnemann said. “In addition, anyone else on the team who has under a 3.0 cumulative GPA is required to do two hours of study tables per week.”

Coach Bloom and the baseball team go even further to ensure that student-athletes know exactly why they are attending this school.

“We meet with all of our incoming recruits and transfers the summer before they set foot on campus, helping to inform the young men and their parents about the expectations, responsibilities and resources available here at UWSP,” Bloom said.

However, none of this talk matters unless the athletes understand that they are a student first. The message from the coaches has definitely reached the players.

“It is very important to our coaches that we are great on the court, but it’s ten times more important that we are doing great in the classroom because that’s truly what we are here for,” said senior guard, Sam Barber.

The players, coaches, and athletic director are on board, but what brings them together with the rest of the faculty on campus are two employees known as the Faculty Athletics Representatives.

Dr. Nate Bowling, an associate professor of chemistry, and Dr. Annie Wetter, an associate professor in the health promotion and human development department, serve as the men’s and women’s Faculty Athletics Representatives.

“The biggest thing we do is help develop conference and university rules to assure that the academic interests of the student-athletes are protected,” Bowling said.

Both Bowling and Wetter ensure that no conflicts occur, schedule-wise, between athlete and professor. According to Bowling, this usually isn’t an issue.

“These instances are surprisingly rare—about an average of one occurrence per year for all of athletics,” Bowling said.

Wetter explained that there is a reason that UWSP has some of the best academic standards in the WIAC.

“The academic standards for acceptance to UWSP are higher than at other UW institutions in our conference, so sometimes prospective students who want to play sports at UWSP can’t get in,” Wetter said.

In the end, it is all about preparing student-athletes for life after their sport. Very few athletes from Division III eventually go on to professional sports, so preparing them for the real world is the genuine focus of everyone in the athletic department.

“Of course all of us want our teams and athletes to be successful within our sports, but we also are in unanimous agreement that the most important victories come from seeing our Pointers graduate and become successful young professionals in their chosen field,” Bloom said. “Those are proud moments that make every coach, faculty and staff member feel like a champion.”