Anyone spending a few minutes perusing the sports pages these days is all too familiar with the parade of negative, downright depressing stories involving athletes. Whether it’s professional or amateur, collegiate or high school, it seems that hardly a day goes by that we aren’t hearing about the latest scandal, felony or misdeed involving some well known sports figure. For someone who’s spent the majority of their life working with true student athletes, it’s disturbing. Comparatively, the athletic world we inhabit is more often than not, one that inspires.
In truth, I’ve become accustomed to watching our hockey players excel beyond the confines of the Whittemore Center; so much so that at times I’m guilty of taking it for granted. Even during the decade spent working with Coach Umile and our men’s program, we routinely had players doing great things in the classroom.
Perhaps this explains why I wasn’t shocked by the news this past week that UNH placed more players on the Hockey East All Academic Team than any school in our conference. In a league with a bevy of highly rated academic institutions, the Wildcat Hockey teams combined to place 31 players on the men’s and women’s honor rolls. Even more remarkable was the fact that of those so honored, more than half were first year players. To be recognized by the league individuals had to sport a GPA of 3.0 or better for both semesters. Experience has shown that for the majority of student athletes, freshman year is challenging to say the least. Adjusting to a new environment both in the classroom and on the ice is difficult. Expectations can weigh heavily on a first year player whether they be academic or athletic. The first time through any new cycle or routine is bound to put more stress on any of us, let alone an 18 year old adolescent.
Of course in the case of our women’s program, we were the benefactors of having upper class leaders who likewise walked the talk when it comes to academics. Kailey Chappell, Hannah Armstrong, Arielle O’Neill and Paige Goloubef were being recognized for the second or third time in their careers, a pattern they have established throughout their playing years. Then consider the example set by Katie Brock, a senior who maintained a near perfect 4.0 GPA during her four years as a Wildcat in a premed curriculum. Katie was futher honored as a Distinguished Scholar having carried a better than 3.0 GPA for every semester while at UNH. To say these athletes are inspiring, would be an understatement.
I’ve spent more than two decades working along side UNH hockey players and I can say with confidence that there is a culture within both our men’s and women’s programs that promotes and celebrates academic excellence. It also tells me that both programs continue to attract the right kind of student athletes to represent the University of New Hampshire. I’m a firm believer that while programs can have an impact, to have the kind of success we’ve experienced, you need to be recruiting players that come from strong families that have nurtured this approach to excellence in the classroom long before their sons or daughters step foot on our campus.
To all our players and their families, I am proud to be associated with such an outstanding group of young women and men. Congrats to each and everyone of you for making us proud.