July 2, 2012

Wildcats Go 2 for 2 as All-Academic Teams

WNC Athletics Teams Earn Academic Honors

Textbooks and homework aren't being cast aside when the bats and balls are brought out at Western Nevada College. WNC's two intercollegiate athletics squads have each received National Junior College Athletic Association All-Academic Team honors for 2011-12.

To qualify for the distinction, a team has to collectively attain at least a 3.0 (B) grade-point average over the course of an academic year. Coincidentally, the Wildcats’ softball and baseball programs posted identical 3.18 GPAs this year.

"I am proud of these programs and their coaches," said WNC President Carol Lucey. "We have always made it clear that academic performance from our athletes is as important to us as their performance on the field. Our coaches have taken this goal seriously, and so our teams provide good life role models for all of our students."

The Wildcats are the only Scenic West Athletic Conference baseball team to earn the academic distinction, while the softball program is among four SWAC teams honored. Snow, Southern Idaho and Salt Lake softball teams also earned the honor.

"The emphasis on academics has been the hallmark of WNC's athletics program from the outset," said John Kinkella, dean of student services and director of intercollegiate athletics. "Once again, this commitment to academic excellence has been demonstrated by both of our athletics teams.”

A 65-game schedule, including participation in regional, district and World Series tournaments, didn't derail baseball coach D.J. Whittemore's team from tending to their classwork.

"This is a great honor for our school and our program," said Whittemore, whose team was the only one in the 10-team 2012 JUCO World Series to merit the academic award. "From the president down to the AD and the counselor, this is a yearlong goal and a very difficult achievement given the time commitment of playing on one of the top teams in the country. I am proud of our team, grateful to each player and thankful to Western Nevada College faculty and staff for this great award."

Softball coach Leah Wentworth's team kept their grades in order despite spending the first five weeks of the season playing on the road. When the team was on campus, players were expected to attend 8 a.m. workouts, and classes sometimes didn't end until 9:45 p.m.

"I really have to give them a lot of credit for how hard they work on and off the field. I was a student-athlete, and I didn't have it as hard as they do," Wentworth said. "They seem to feed off the chaos and realize that they don't have a lot of time to put things off."

That classroom success, Wentworth said, starts with team mentor Kevin Burns, a WNC adjunct instructor who volunteers to assist the students. "Kevin gets them acclimated to what they need to do and gives them the study skills for how to approach classes at the college level," Wentworth said.

Players must spend a minimum of five hours in study hall per week and two hours during road trips. "They also spend a lot of free time studying when we are in transit or in the hotel," Wentworth said.

Whittemore said instilling character-building qualities in his players has put them on the right path to succeeding on the field and in the classroom. Building character, along with educating and graduating, is our goal. I think this is proof we are accomplishing both," he said. "Winning on the field is always a byproduct of doing the right thing, and we think excelling in the classroom is a core component of doing the right thing."

The NJCAA has recognized all-academic teams since 1983. The 75-year-old governing body of junior college sports has 500-plus member schools with more than 3,500 teams in 43 states.

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