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Forum Examines Relationship between Athletics, Academics

The challenges and benefits of being a student-athlete were discussed by a panel of faculty, administrators, alumni, and a coach during a Community Forum on Athletics and Academics held at Providence College.

About 75 people gathered in the Feinstein Academic Center for the forum, which was sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence, the Department of Art and Art History, and the Department of Athletics as part of the College’s SPORT:ART celebration, which also featured art exhibits, lectures, and a film series.

Panelists were College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80; Catherine Little Bert ’77, a College trustee and former student-athlete; John M. Sweeney, senior vice president for finance and business/CFO; Robert G. Driscoll, Jr., associate vice president for athletics and athletics director; Ed Cooley, men’s basketball head coach; Margaret P. Ruggieri, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and director of academic advising; Jonathan Gomes, associate director for academic services, and two alumni who were student-athletes, Melissa McGow ’07 and Dinos Stamoulis ’07.  

Father Shanley said participation in the BIG EAST Conference and Division I is an important part of the College’s profile because it helps to attract prospective students, builds a sense of community among alumni and students, and is a point of pride for people throughout Rhode Island.

“Our athletes learn things about life — competition, contending, striving, and discipline,” said Father Shanley. “Athletics, done right, can teach skills that are important for life.”

McGow, who played field hockey at PC, went on to law school at Roger Williams University and graduated as valedictorian. She clerked at the Rhode Island Supreme Court and now works as a corporate finance lawyer in Boston.

“In my first year of law school, which people warned was going to be the worst year of my life, I was able to thrive,” said McGow. “I went to class and paid attention — that was all I knew” from her training as a student-athlete.

When she no longer played sports, she felt a loss of “balance” in her life, she said.

As a hockey player, Stamoulis said he felt that other students viewed him “as a leader, but as a slacker in class,” so it became his goal to be the first to arrive at every class and to sit in the front row. After graduation, he played professional hockey for three years before retiring and starting a granola company with his wife.

“Without a doubt, if I hadn’t gone to class and paid attention, I’d be a lost puppy right now,” Stamoulis said. He warned other student-athletes not to count on a career in sports. “As you go up the ladder, it becomes much more competitive, and it doesn’t become something that’s fun,” he said.

Engaging athletes in academics

Ruggieri, whose twin daughters were student-athletes, said she knows firsthand the challenges of balancing academics and sports. Gomes and she spoke about the need to engage student-athletes in academic planning.

Some professors excuse student-athletes from class due to their travel schedules, but others do not, Ruggieri said.

Father Shanley said it is important for faculty and administrators to make sure that athletes can succeed academically. He described efforts the College made to enable a hockey player to study biology despite a difficult practice schedule.

Faculty suggested ways to bridge the gap between athletics and academics. For example, if a student-athlete is having trouble with a course, the professor could meet with the athlete and the coach. Athletes who are successful academically could serve as mentors to those who might be struggling. 

Driscoll said the Department of Athletics has a goal that 100 percent of its student-athletes will graduate from college.

Cooley told the audience that he considers himself a teacher in his relationship with his basketball players. After every practice and game, he urges players to be prepared for class and tells them to respect their teachers as they do their coaches. He said he also tries to instill in them the need to prepare for life beyond basketball.

“At the end of the day, the air is going to come out of the ball, and then, who are you?” asked Cooley. “I get that.”

The event organizers, Dr. Laurie L. Grupp, professor of education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, Dr. Paul Crenshaw, associate professor of art history, and Jill M. LaPointe, executive associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, said they hope the discussion can continue at forums in the future.   

— Vicki-Ann Downing

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