Track team honored for academic achievement

BY SEAN MORGAN | JULY 29, 2009 7:15 AM

In an atmosphere in which collegiate athletes are treated as gods, covered with all the importance and scrutiny of professional stars, it’s easy to forget why these individuals are wearing their respective college’s emblems in the first pace.

Because they attend a university. To get a degree.

This often overlooked fact isn’t lost on Layne Anderson, the Iowa women’s track and field/cross-country coach, whose squad was recently named an All-Academic team by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for the fifth year in a row. Iowa posted a team grade-point average of 3.235 for its indoor and outdoor seasons.

“The emphasis starts in the recruiting process,” Anderson said. “We feel it’s important to bring in the good student, one who not only excels athletically but one with the capability to get the degree and then go to grad school or receive that job opportunity.”

Anderson said his staff breaks down recruits by looking at their grade-point average, class rank, test scores from the ACT or the SAT, and, of course, their athletics résumé.

“I want an athlete who can find that balance between their school workload and their athletics commitment,” Anderson said. “Those are the kids who can come in and succeed for us.”

Helping keep his athletes balanced is a strictly regimented academic schedule for freshman student-athletes that requires six hours a week of study group, a weekly meeting with an academic coordinator, and the option of using tutors, something that becomes a requirement if an athlete’s grades begin to slip, regardless of her year in school.

And if those grades should slip, Anderson said, he will know immediately.

“I go in and meet with the academic coordinators on a weekly basis,” he said. “Many universities don’t have the funding for these services, and that may be why we fare better academically than most.”

Hawkeye senior Hannah Roeder and sophomore McKenzie Melander were named to the All-Academic individual team. Melander, a distance runner, said the environment created by the track and field team has helped her focus on her studies.

“[Anderson] is really flexible,” she said. “If you have a test or something due, he will let you miss practice.”

She often completes course work days ahead of time to help work around her athletics commitments, she said.

“It’s all about knowing where you will be during the week,” Melander said. “I really only get about an hour a night to myself when you factor in class, practice, and homework.”

The coaches’ association selected 130 women’s Division-I track and field programs for the All-Academic team. To be eligible, a program must have a minimum team grade-point average of 3.00. For individual selection, an athlete must have earned a cumulative grade-point average of 3.25 and have met either provisional, regional, or national qualifying standards during the outdoor or indoor track and field seasons. Star thrower A.J. Curtis was selected for the All-Academic men’s individual squad.

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