As UB students slide into winter recess after a rigorous end-of-fall-semester finals week, student-athletes on the softball team are bound to hit their G.P.A. out of the park once again. During the 2014-15 academic year, the Purple Knights earned an impressive 3.771 team grade point average – the second highest team G.P.A. of any level (Division I, II, and III) – and was subsequently recognized by the National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association (NFCA) with a Top-10 Academic Team Honor.
Such recognition brings the competitive spirit home even during off-season months. As Paige Owens ’16, a criminal justice student and avid softball athlete puts it, pushing for the highest G.P.A. as a team is “kind of like a game. We are always trying to see who gets the higher score on a test or who can get a higher G.P.A. When you play a sport competitively, you always want to win, you never accept failure. For us as a team, we can’t just flip off that switch when we’re in the classroom. We’re always striving to succeed in whatever we do, on and off the field.”
Watching her team come in second in the whole nation is a source of great pride for Coach Dawn Stearns, who has witnessed the softball team’s G.P.A. rise every year. Not coincidentally, she sets them up for success by recruiting high school students with a minimum of a 3.3 G.P.A., then expects them to maintain those grades and establishes mandatory study halls so they can do so. To her delight, year after year, the team exceeds her expectations.
“They push each other, and not just a few but the entire team,” says Stearns, adding that the UB 2015 softball roster included 17 out of 19 who received 2015 NFCA All-American Scholar-Athlete honors for G.P.A’s of 3.5 or higher. “Their team spirit spills into their academics, which is why they’re here to begin with. I like to tell them softball is just a means to an end – their college degree – and they get that.”
UB’s Purple Knights trail only to Adelphi University’s Panthers, who posted a 3.785 team G.P.A. in 2014-15.
As a team, learning about the NFCA honor was a thrill. “We were extremely excited to hear we ranked second in the entire country for all divisions,” Owens shares. As senior captain this year with a personal G.P.A. of 4.0, she takes pride in leading by example in the classroom, and credits the game of softball for teaching her the respect needed to excel.
“As a college athlete, you must respect the game, and 50 percent of that responsibility is being a student. Therefore, if you respect the game you respect the foundation on which college sports are built upon. You work hard in the classroom because that’s what student-athletes do.”
For UB seniors of any major involved in extracurricular activities across campus, wrapping up fall semester and preparing for graduation in the spring can invoke that “last time up at bat” feeling anyone who’s ever held a bat in their hands knows well.
“When the last out of the seventh inning comes to an end in my final game as a Purple Knight, I want to know that I gave everything I had for the game – and for the University – that I love,” says Owens.