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Liberty News

Club Sports program achieves record-high academic success rates

May 19, 2020 : By Ted Allen/Liberty University News Service

Student-athletes in Liberty University’s 41 distinct Club Sports teams continued the upward spiral of academic success in the 2019-20 academic year, mirroring their achievements in the athletic realm by recording record-setting spring semester and cumulative school year grade-point averages.

“I’m so proud of our student-athletes this semester … achieving the highest GPA in Club Sports history,” Club Sports Vice President and Athletic Director Kirk Handy said.

The figures — 3.36 for the spring semester and 3.34 for the year — set new standards of academic performance within Liberty’s thriving Club Sports program. With about 600 student-athletes, Liberty’s program is one of the most robust of its kind in the country. Club Sports teams travel all over the nation, with some competing at the highest level of collegiate competition that is available in their sport. The programs broaden the college experience and lead to rewarding results in improved graduation and retention rates.

Overall, for the second year in a row, 40 of 41 teams maintained a GPA of 3.0 or higher with 330 — more than half of the student-athletes — earning Dean’s List honors with GPAs of 3.5 or higher and more than a quarter (a whopping 152) recording perfect 4.0 marks this semester.

The success rates were highlighted by the women’s gymnastics team, which recorded the highest-ever semester GPA for the Club Sports program at 3.92. That raised the team’s cumulative GPA to 3.69, second only to the men’s and women’s cycling teams’ 3.70 which was boosted by a 3.80 average this semester. The synchronized skating team ranked third on the semester GPA list with a 3.70 followed by men’s and women’s triathlon (3.60) while men’s and women’s beach volleyball had the third-highest cumulative GPA (3.53).

Liberty's Division I men's hockey team, which raised its cumulative GPA from around 2.75 to 3.46 over the past four years, had eight junior and senior players named ACHA Academic All-Americans this season. 

Club Sports Director of Academic Advancement Sarah Kelly has overseen improvement in student-athletes’ academic performance each semester.

“Students have continually shown they are capable of really high academic standards, and it has been great to see them take on that challenge,” she said.

Refining student-athletes’ time-management skills is a priority of Kelly and her staff, which includes Assistant Director of Academic Advancement Donna Holland, Compliance Coordinator Emily Hughes, Graduate Assistant and Study Hall Coordinator Drew Crilly, Mentoring Supervisor Rachael Kamm, and Mentoring Graduate Assistant Isaac Dalton.

This semester stretched that staff as never before with classes moved online immediately after Spring Break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Kelly said they rose to the challenge and worked proactively to provide academic support to student-athletes who needed it.

“With the changes of classes moving online, it was definitely a concern for us, so we reached out to all of the student-athletes with resources and kept in contact with them through online options,” Kelly said, noting that they relied on Club Sports coaches to alert them to issues involving their athletes.

Even though many students were no longer physically on campus, they were connected with tutoring options still available through the College of Applied Sciences and Academic Success (CASAS) and offered assistance in navigating Blackboard and accessing resources through the Jerry Falwell Library.

Besides being taken out of their daily routines and not having the incentive of practicing or competing with their teams, Kelly said student-athletes responded with resolve to complete their semester studies with excellence, even while dealing with distractions they wouldn’t normally have had.

“A lot of them faced the challenge of being at home and having family around, which can be a distraction,” she said. “Working from home is definitely a different environment than working at school, where students have the library and study halls, as well as their classrooms. It was a different dynamic in getting things done, but everyone really did stay on track pretty well toward graduation.”

Club Sports had about 100 student-athletes graduate this year, though some who received undergraduate degrees may return after having their senior seasons cut short this spring to take advantage of a fifth year of eligibility and pursue graduate degrees.

Kelly said the four pillars of success for Liberty’s Club Sports student-athletes are academic, athletic, social, and spiritual.

“Those are the four big areas, and we emphasize through our incentive program making time for each of those to help balance life and make sure they enjoy their experience at Liberty, and are not overly stressed through their time here,” Kelly said.

Holland coordinates seminars with other Liberty departments and plans 12 events a year (six per semester) available to all student-athletes in conjunction with Club Sports study halls, covering topics such as academics, social life, stress management, time management, health and nutrition, and career planning.

Additionally, the Club Sports program created opportunities for 190 Liberty students to record 4,742.5 hours of integration and research service hours in 2019-20. Participants included Athletic TrainingExercise ScienceBusinessDigital MediaSport Management, and Public Health majors, as well as students in many more academic departments.

Liberty's NCAA student-athletes also experienced an exceptional year academically, attaining a program record 3.24 cumulative GPA. Read the full story of their success on the Athletics website.

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