Student athletes balance work, play, life


Graphic by Kirsten Tyrrell

Justin St. Peter, Sports Editor

Imagine being the person that thousands of people are counting on to win the national championship for the school they attend. If the person fails, their reputation is tarnished and will forever have the stink of not coming up in the clutch, but if they win, their names will go down in history as one of the greatest championship performances ever.

Now imagine they are 18-22 years old and have their whole lives ahead of them. Now imagine they just had the hardest exam of their life earlier that day and know that no matter what, they are still going to have to wake up the next morning and go to class like any other normal college student. They might have to fit in a few hours of work to make sure they have food they are able to put on the table. Such is the life of a college athlete.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines athletes as, “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.” This means that literally anyone that plays a sport is an athlete.

College athletes are in the unique position of trying to balance preparing themselves for a career after they are done playing the sport they love with an education, a job to be able to afford food, rent, tuition and various other expenses, all while trying to find time in their life to decompress with friends, family or significant others. Athletes say it is a monumental task and something that many people who have not experienced it take for granted on a daily basis.

Each athlete, administrator, coach or professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater have their own unique situation and method to work out how to balance all of these roles and still maintain a healthy body and mind.

        Senior Lauren Pfeiffer plays on the women’s varsity volleyball team and has been named both as an Academic All-American and All-American athlete. The corporate health and communication major is no stranger to accomplishments, as she was also awarded with one of the highest academic honors in her major last year as well. Pfeiffer said that the key to her academic and on court success was preparation.

        “You have to look at your volleyball schedule and your syllabus literally the first day of practice,” Pfeiffer said. “If they [the professors] pull up D2L early, that is the best possible situation…. Being proactive and really focusing on time management is probably one of the biggest skills I have learned throughout my college career.”

        Pfeiffer said the volleyball team had games throughout the first week of class this past semester and the upperclassmen not only had to make sure they contacted all of their teachers and let them know they would be missing class, but they also had to help make sure the freshman did as well.

        The proactive time management does not just apply to the beginning of the season either as last year Pfeiffer had surgery on the first day of exams. She then suffered from the stomach flu on the second day, forcing to her reschedule the times for two exams as soon as she found out about them. She said she was thankful the professors were happy to accommodate her, but said that it was owed to her being up front about her extra commitments early on that allowed that to happen.

        Along with being an academic and on-court All-American, Pfeiffer currently serves as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on campus. In this role, she is able to learn about new NCAA legislations and goes through them with Dr. Kristina Navarro, who serves as the assistant athletic director of leadership development and strategic partnerships.

        Navarro and Pfeiffer team up to break down what Pfeiffer describes as “wordy” legislation so that all of the student-athletes on campus can understand and follow the new policies.

        The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is also in charge of collaborating community outreach opportunities for all of the players and coaches from the teams on campus. Pfeiffer explained how the committee formed the hashtag #WarhawksGiveBack to coordinate and market all of the community outreach opportunities that the athletes have.

        Besides the community outreach program, Navarro also oversees the graduate program focusing on higher education leadership and teaches a class called “Rising Warhawk.”

Navarro, a former college track and field and women’s volleyball student athlete herself, said the class is all about the identity development of a student-athlete.

“It talks about balancing your different life roles between a student and an athlete,” Navarro said. “There is quite a bit of a demand on time and about how you identify both of those roles as a college student-athlete.”

Navarro said the identity development she teaches to the student-athletes is all about applying it to real world problems.

“Student-athletes are often practicing once or twice a day, and then they are on the road traveling, and maintaining a credit load,” Navarro said. “It’s really just being able to switch between the roles and put your best foot forward in both arenas. A lot of times that can be physically and mentally draining.”

Senior men’s varsity soccer player Michael Salm knows all about handling many roles. Salm spent four years on the soccer team, missing last year due to injury, but has also been a part of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Warhawk Leadership Academy.

Salm explained that the Warhawk Leadership Academy was founded two years ago by Navarro and former athletic director Amy Edmonds to help student-athletes become more well-rounded people in academics, their sports and to help the athletes earn jobs down the line. The academy also hosts study tables for four hours on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the semester in many different topics where professors are able to help students on a one-on-one basis. Salm said that since most of the varsity sports on campus do not have games on Mondays and Tuesdays, that it generally is the perfect time to get extra class work in. School work is something Salm said he takes very seriously.

“A lot of people don’t realize that as student-athletes, we have a higher GPA than the normal, average student at Whitewater,” Salm said. “For us personally on the soccer team, we take a lot of pride in our GPA. Two seasons ago, we had the highest male GPA for a sports team on campus. Last year we were second place for that. We are trying to go back to No. 1 this year again. For the soccer team, our coach [Tony Ginn] really makes sure we keep our grades up and keep it a priority in the classroom.”

Salm, a graduate student, said he hopes to become a Division-I athletic director one day, and that he has already taken many steps to prepare himself for that. Salm was one of 300 student-athletes from around the nation to participate in the NCAA Career in Sports Forum in 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He said that he gained an extensive network of contacts for his future career and lots of tips and advice on how to advance in the athletics administration field.

Salm said he is still in a Facebook group with all 300 student-athletes from the program where they post job openings in their field or information about the job opportunities if someone is willing to relocate.

Along with the forum, Salm’s involvement as president of the Warhawk Leadership Academy and role as former president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee do not offer him much free time.

“I see a lot of benefit in investing in peers here at Whitewater and really trying to make their experience better than the student athletes that came before them,” Salm said.

“Yes, I’m busy, but there is that cliche saying where, ‘If you love what you do, you don’t feel like you are ever working.’ I honestly love what I do and the roles I have been able to take up on campus, and so it makes me very busy. I feel that sometimes, but most of the time I feel like I am hanging out with my best friends. We just happen to be getting a lot of work done at the same time.”

“The moral of the story is, do something that you’re really passionate about, and it won’t feel like you’re putting in a lot of hours [compared to what it sounds like to other people on the outside].”

For senior defensive lineman, John Flood, doing something that you love is not lost on him. Flood was a nominee for the 2016 Gagliardi Trophy which goes to the most outstanding D-III football player in the nation, with consideration given to someone who excels off the field as well.

Flood was part of two national championship winning teams during his time as a Warhawk, starting three of his four years on the defensive line and creating numerous big plays for the defense. Flood also maintains a 3.72 cumulative GPA and has been on the Dean’s List every semester at UW-Whitewater. Flood credits the coaching staff with helping him along that process.

“They [the coaching staff] make sure that you’re a good student in the classroom and fit in the community and excel in everything you do,” Flood told the Royal Purple. “That has just really been ingrained in me through Coach [Kevin] Bullis and some of the other coaches on the staff. It is important because now that my football career is over, that is what I have to fall back on.”

        Flood was also nominated for the National Football Foundation’s William V. Campbell Trophy which is awarded annually to the best football-scholar athlete in the nation. In addition to his academic and athletic accomplishments, the math and science major has been involved with two research projects.

        Last summer at the University of Arizona, Flood was able to solve a few of the problems in a flow separation model that was being used in aerospace engineering. The project was sponsored by Boeing Co., a multinational corporation that designs, creates and sells airplanes, rockets, satellites and other high-tech items.

        He is also currently working closely with professor Bob Benjamin, collecting data for a space telescope on campus that is sponsored by NASA.

        Flood said that with all of the activities he is a part of can be tough, but he would not have it any other way.

        “It wears on you and is pretty stressful, but it’s worth it at the end of the day,” Flood told the Royal Purple. “It makes you a better person and obviously you are doing it for the right reasons.”

        Flood’s head coach Kevin Bullis has nothing but praise for his player.

“John is a guy that you trust his judgment because of his intelligence and maturity,” Bullis told the Royal Purple.

Bullis has had many stops in the coaching carousel working his way up from linebackers coach at the University of Minnesota-Morris while he was earning his undergraduate degree to just completing his second year as head coach at UW-Whitewater.

        Former head coach Lance Leipold left to take a position with the D-I University of Buffalo football program and took many of his most trusted assistants with him in 2015. Bullis served as defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator, instructed courses and was an academic advisor to many students in his eight years with UW-Whitewater before earning the promotion.

        Bullis said that his instruction on the sidelines of a football field are all just not focused on football.

“What we teach on the football field is ultimately what you need off the field in the sense of pushing yourself,” Bullis told the Royal Purple.

“It’s not just a football field thing. The football field is ultimately just a lab. It’s an experiment with pushing yourself and challenging yourself in every facet of what you do as a human being. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the greater good of sport, learning to work with others, learning to challenge yourself, the willing to make yourself a better person. Those skill sets of work ethic carry over from the football field, into the classroom, into life and being a good person.”

Susan Johnson works to ensure that the student-athletes and faculty members have the best opportunities to be able to challenge themselves without putting too much strain on either of them. Johnson is the Assistant Dean of the Political Science department at UW-Whitewater and is also one of of the two faculty athletics representatives.

Each campus in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) have a male and female athletics representative that meet twice a year to discuss how athletics and academics intersect on a daily basis. Dean of the College of Business and Economics and Men’s Faculty Athletics Representative John Chenoweth was reached out to, but had not been heard back from at press time.

“Our involvement as faculty athletic reps is not more at the one-on-one level, but more at the advisory level where we are trying to provide a faculty perspective,” Johnson said. “When we get involved in a more one-on-one basis, it is more to problem solve.”

Johnson said that her and Chenoweth’s opinions get asked about how many games a week that a student-athlete is able to handle, what days of a week work best for games to be scheduled and the new NCAA policy changes each year to help determine which way UW-Whitewater votes on it.

As a professor, Johnson echoed what Pfeiffer said about how it is imperative that student-athletes contact professors as soon as they possibly can about scheduling conflicts.

“I ask that they provide me with as much information as possible in advance. The schedule is set for the season, so the student athlete should know when the semester begins, what the schedule is going to be like. I would ask that they would let me know what days they are going to be out. I know this can be a little bit tougher… but the more information you can provide me ahead of time, the better it is.”

Sometimes no matter how often students are able to perform herculean role changes throughout the day, it can just be too much for one person to handle successfully.

Sophomore Michi Schwanz is part of the UW-Whitewater dance team, while being a student and working as a pickup today associate at the Whitewater Walmart store. She has found that although the dance team is student-run and coached, its is still extremely difficult to balance all of these responsibilities.

“Homework and school stuff I usually do in other classes,” Schwanz said. “I try to go the library as much as I can because I need to focus when I am doing it. If I am at my apartment, I cannot focus. I really don’t know how I fit it in, but I do somewhat.”

Schwanz said that she just originally wanted 10-20 hours a week at Walmart to help her pay for school and essentials while maintaining her position on the dance team that she loves.

“I’m not willing to give up dance because I do want to continue that past college,” Schwanz said. “The free time I do have on the weekdays is all in the mornings which is when I am here [Walmart]. That’s probably why I am failing some of my classes because I don’t have time for homework.”

Unfortunately for Schwanz, Walmart has not been accommodating enough for her liking, regularly scheduling her over 30 hours a week. Because of this, Schwanz just quit her job at Walmart to focus on her studies and dance career.

“I would never get a job here again because I feel like they don’t understand [with hours],” Schwanz said. “Once or twice a week, I have turned in availability sheets, and they schedule me outside of my availability. I can only turn in so many sheets saying I can only work this many hours, I underlined how many hours I want per week, circled them and handed it to them in person instead of dropping it off in the box.”

Schwanz’s fellow Walmart associate, freshman Tyrus Wintlend had the opportunity to be a walk-on on the men’s varsity basketball team but was unable to follow his goals because he needed to get a job to help pay for his education. Wintlend said that following his successful high school basketball career, he definitely would have been a walk-on as part of the team if he had the money to pay for schooling.

Despite that fact, the cashier still has his sights about trying out for the team again next year but understands he would not have a large role on the team.

“As a walk-on going into my sophomore year, I don’t think I would get that much playing time, mostly because I am out of shape now, and I lost the feel for the game,” Wintlend said.

Since Wintlend cannot dedicate the time to varsity athletics, he has found a placeholder in the meantime in the form of intramural sports.

UW-Whitewater offers a wide variety of intramural sports, and Wintlend said he had a lot of fun playing in a men’s basketball league this past semester although the level of play was much different.

“Intramurals are more laid back,” Wintlend said. “In high school, it’s very intense. In intramurals, people are more grown, so there are better athletes.”

From the laid back mentality of intramural sports to high-pressure varsity athletics, there are athletes balancing a difficult workload that many would find crazy to think about. The next time someone cheers or boos an athlete for their performance on the court, field, or track, think about what they have to go through on a daily basis for the opportunity to succeed in their sport of choice.