By Kyle Kensing
CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman men's basketball forward Mohamed Tamgara receives a little one-on-one tutoring from psychology graduate student Araceli Hernandez in one of McKale Center's academic facility labs.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Academic, life-skill programs help UA athletes balance school, sports
Lying deep in the belly of McKale Center, the CATS Center looks like just another set of offices.
But while it certainly doesn't have the grandeur of Lute and Bobbi Olson Court, the Commitment to Athletes' Total Success center is the centerpiece of arguably the most important tool an athlete will have at their disposal while at the UA.
CATS serves Wildcat athletes on the playing field, in the classroom, and prepares them for the world beyond the Arizona campus.
Richard Bartsch, the CATS associate director of athletics and academic tutoring, said CATS provides student-athletes with all-around assistance in every aspect of their collegiate lives.
The CATS program is broken down into two tandem parts, the athletic and rehab aspect and academic and life skills aspect.
"The weight room and training room deal with the physical side, the training of athletes, conditioning them to be able to compete at this level," Bartsch said.
The 22,000 square foot Bill Estes Jr. Family Strength and Conditioning Center opened in 2002 and is equipped with top-of-the-line fitness equipment and training centers.
UA athletes can be found here throughout the day, either improving their strength and agility for competition or nursing injuries. Often, they are doing both.
Academics and life skills are the second tandem program underlined by the CATS mission.
Bartsch said the top priority of CATS Academics is keeping athletes up to speed with UA and NCAA regulations. UA athletes are held to a 2.0 GPA standard, higher than the NCAA requirement of 1.8.
While they maintain universal UA standards, student athletes meet a bevy of other minimums from the NCAA.
He said the need for CATS continues to grow as NCAA requirements become more demanding every year.
"(The athletes) essentially have what we call a '40-60-80' requirement. What this means is they must have 40 percent of their graduation requirements, or 48 credits, by the end of their sophomore year," he explained. "And 24 of these 48 units must be toward their degree program, not any 48 units."
Bartsch compared the current "40-60-80" to similar rules from just a few years ago, when he said the demand was only 25 percent at the end of four semesters.
He said demands could increase again soon, and university presidents have discussed the possibility of doing so next year.
To keep pace with these demands, CATS has tutors who work with athletes both at home and on the road.
Psychology sophomore and women's basketball forward Shannon Hobson said every aspect of CATS has been tremendous in her tenure at UA.
"The facilities are great for getting work done, and the tutors are always here for us, to help us out, no matter what," she said.
Lisa Napoleon, an academic counselor to the men and women's basketball teams, said the time constraints athletes face necessitate CATS academics.
"They're not just going straight from class to study session," she said. "They have to fit their studies in with practice, class and road trips.
"Some teams are on the road every other week. That's a lot of class to miss."
Staying on top of NCAA eligibility and UA graduation requirements is a full-time job for student athletes. With priority registration this week, they have to tailor their schedules to meet both.
CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior distance runner Susan Mortensen takes a break from training to catch up on her studies in the computer lab at McKale Center yesterday afternoon.
Bartsch said academic counselors play an important role in assisting them with the scheduling process.
"Each sport has a counselor who meets with the athletes on a regular basis to make sure they're taking the courses they need to graduate," he said.
"They sit down with the athletes, go over everything they need toward their degree program, and make sure they know what classes they will need, the way any academic does," he said.
Bartsch said the counseling department also works with incoming student athletes to help them choose a major that works for them.
"We have aptitude tests and character profiles," he said. "We want to make sure our student athletes make the best choice when they choose a major."
Choice of major is particularly important for athletes, Bartsch said, because of the NCAA regulations pertaining to degree coursework.
While the majority of UA students may choose a major whenever they please, athletes must have a major by the beginning of their sophomore year.
Also available for the athletes' academic benefit is the CATS Computer Lab, located on the eastside lower level of McKale Center, home to more than 40 machines for student-athlete use.
Athletes are able to do homework without having to leave McKale, and their printing is free.
Hobson said she is working in the computer lab and with tutors each day during the school week.
When student athletes aren't doing schoolwork or practicing, CATS is working with them on the social aspects of life.
The second portion of CATS' off-court program is its Life Skills division, headed by Becky Bell.
CATS Life Skills focus on athletes' lives beyond college. Of CATS four points of emphasis, Bartsch said life skills training may be the most important.
"The Life Skills program is one that is very beneficial, it would be beneficial to any student," he said. "It goes through so many different aspects of developing skills that aren't necessarily of an academic nature."
This program is broken into three parts: Personal Development Commitment, Career Development Commitment and Community Service Commitment.
Personal programs are focused on the individual development of athletes as people. Included in the Personal Development Commitment are financial responsibility classes, Student Athletes Taking Active Responsible Roles and speaker seminars.
Career programs emphasize skills for the job market, providing athletes with resumé and interview training.
Community Service Commitment centers its program, such as the Smith Project Speakers' Bureau, on community outreach programs. UA athletes speak to public school children in Tucson about the importance of hard work and education.
Hobson said last season she and other members of the UA women's basketball team participated in Girl Power Day, an event sponsored by the Girl Scouts of America.
"It was fun, talking to the Girl Scouts about playing sports," she said.
CATS will continue to help Wildcats with their athletic, academic, and personal needs, but in the end, the student athletes themselves will shoulder the load.
"They should really be applauded for everything they do," Napoleon said.