Sebastián Abdón Ibarra
The University of La Verne had 178 student-athletes qualify for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s All-Academic team for 2020-2021. A total of 2,229 student-athletes qualified across all of SCIAC’s 21 sponsored sports. In order to qualify, student-athletes must have achieved a grade point average of 3.40 or higher and must have completed one full calendar year at their current school.
“I come from a very poor family and I have big goals for myself,” Alexander Medina, junior kinesiology major and member of the men’s cross country team, said. “When you come to college, the reality is that you are taking a lot of money that is not yours. You are borrowing money and it puts you in a situation where you have to do or die. And you cannot really afford to die, you have to just do.”
Medina said he did not have the same experiences his teammates would have had being a student-athlete in a pandemic because he was injured. However, he said that he could definitely imagine that it would have been harder for him compared to a regular school year.
“You don’t have that team aspect anymore. There’s no one to hold you accountable, there is no sense of urgency,” Medina said.
Medina added that the honor of being acknowledged on the All-Academic team meant a lot to him and brought him a sense of validation. He said that sports take a lot of hard work, dedication, and a huge sacrifice of one’s social life is required. A student-athlete is often faced with the choice of staying up late to socialize with others or go to bed early so that they can perform the best they can the next day.
“Seeing that I got recognized for my academics made the sacrifices seem worth it,” Medina said.
His motivation to succeed academically places a huge burden on his shoulders. He feels constant pressure to do well and not mess up.
“I want to be a doctor of physical therapy and I want to be able to provide for whatever future family I end up having or myself in general. There is a lot on the line for me,” Medina said.
He said that he wants to also be able to give back to his parents for all that they sacrificed for him. He wants all of the supportive figures in his life to see him thrive because it would mean a lot to them.
“I’ve had a bunch of them tell me, ‘If you want to repay me for the things I’ve done for you, just be successful. That is all I am asking for,’” Medina said.
Drew Reddick, senior business administration major and member of the baseball team, said his experience of being a student-athlete during a pandemic was hard at first. He said that it was harder simply because it was a different experience with new routines to learn, like checking Blackboard and emailing teachers because there was no in-person aspect.
However, he said the experience he gained from being on the La Verne baseball team helped him to adapt quickly.
“We do so much stuff, as far as baseball goes, on the field with details and accountability that I just took that off the field and applied it to the classroom. After a week or two I did not feel much of a difference,” Reddick said.
He said that the recognition of being on the All-Academic team meant a lot to him.
“I still feel like when a lot of people think of athletes they may not think of them as the best in the classroom. At this school especially a lot of people are trying to reverse that stereotype,” Reddick said. “It is always good to be acknowledged for what you do off the field.”
Reddick said that his motivation to do well in the classroom is a mix of both self motivation and from his coach Scott Winterburn.
“He instills the mentality of taking pride in doing things the right way whether that is in life, family, the classroom, whatever that may be,” Reddick said. “At the end of the day if you are not doing things to the best of your ability, you have to ask yourself why are you doing them at all.”
La Verne alumna Melanie Gazazian, former women’s water polo player and current graduate student at the University of Southern California, said her experience as a student-athlete during the pandemic was complicated. Water polo was one of the few sports who was able to have a season in April. She said that the difficulty did not come from school, but having to readjust back to being an athlete again and all the responsibilities that come with it, which included weekly COVID tests.
“I don’t think it was managing school, it was the added fact that we actually had to go to campus and balance all the new responsibilities,” Gazazian said.
She said that her inclusion on the All-Academic team was a proud moment.
“I did my senior thesis on college athletes and their academic performance. My entire thesis was based around what we are talking about right now and the fact that we student-athletes are breaking the dumb jock stereotype,” Gazazian said.
Through her study she found that a lot of athletes on campus do break the stereotype because of the high percentage of people that make the All-Academic team. She said that to not only be recognized for her academics, but to also be an example of her own study was extremely validating for her and her parents.
“The amount of values that come out of sports and applying that into your academics is so valuable,” Gazazian said. “People do not realize how much character that can build and how much athletics can improve your academic performance.”
Her motivation to excel in academics stemmed from her own pride.
“There would be people who would be ineligible to play, and I thought that was so embarrassing,” Gazazian said. “I told myself that will literally never be me.”
Gazazian said she transferred to La Verne from a community college so that she could continue her education at a higher level, but to also do something that she loved.
“So if I messed that up, that was on me. I was going to make my parents pay all this money for me to go to this school, and to then mess that up by not being able to play was not in the cards for me,” Gazazian said.
Aliyah Mosser, junior educational studies major and member of the women’s volleyball team, said her pandemic experience was challenging. Having to practice and work out on her own was difficult, but once she figured out her schedule it was a lot easier to balance her responsibilities for volleyball and school.
She said her place on the All-Academic team was important to her. She said student-athletes have a big presence and influence on campus, so being a good student and good teammate made her feel like she was really a part of the University.
“I’m really interested in my major of becoming a teacher and going into education. The further I go up in my classes and meet more professors, the more inspired I am to become a teacher and succeed in my academics,” Mosser said.
Jennifer Dubow, SCIAC executive director, said that it is important for the conference to recognize these student-athletes who thrive academically because one of the core principles of Division III athletics is being a student first, and so they have maintained that commitment to celebrating academic excellence.
She said one reason to explain the culture of academic excellence in all nine of the SCIAC institutions is that every school has a core principle of commitment to academics. All nine schools tie academic success into their athletic programs’ mission statement.
Winterburn, who is La Verne’s athletic director, said that what most impresses him about this accomplishment by his student-athletes is the amount of time they devote to all of their responsibilities. No matter their talent level these student-athletes balance their sport, school, and for a lot of them even a 10-20 hour a week job.
“You factor that all together, it is a pretty great accomplishment when they also find a way to achieve academically,” Winterburn said.
He credits the culture of academic excellence in the athletic department to the University’s recruiting practices.
“When you are handpicking athletes from across the country, throughout the recruiting process we prioritize someone that values their academic experience. We have a collection of athletes here on campus that value academics at a very high level,” Winterburn said.
Sebastián Abdón Ibarra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an earlier version of “ULV student-athletes recognized for academic merit” (Sept. 17) the name of former women’s water polo player Melanie Gazazian was misspelled. The Campus Times regrets the error.