Seven student-athletes received national academic awards amidst the department’s best academic year in recent history

Justin Scott // Managing Editor

For a long time, there was a stigma attached to student-athletes in relation to their schoolwork. Many believed students who represented their school in athletics either had it easier in regards to marking or purely registered in easy classes. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.

In recent years much attention has been given to the issue, whether it be from former student-athletes like the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, or by TV shows like Netflix’s Last Chance U. And while many student-athletes aim to achieve the grades they need to maintain eligibility, at Capilano University many of the athletes aim higher than that.

Last year, the Blues had seven of their athletes named to Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) Academic All-Canadian list, the association’s most prestigious award. In addition to that, according to Milton Willaims, Blues athletic director, last year was the school’s best showing for athlete’s academics in over a decade.

“2016 to 2017 was our highest GPA average since 2007 across all the teams,” he said. “That was a 2.6 average, which some people might say ‘anyone can get that,’ but when you’re playing a sport and you’re practicing 10 hours a week, and then your weekends you’re playing so there’s another eight to 10 hours, and then plus a job plus school, it’s really tough.” Additionally, 44 per cent of the athletes finished with a 3.0 GPA or higher.

One of the seven to receive the CCAA’s award was the women’s basketball team’s floor general, Ashley Dela Cruz Yip. The fifth year Psychology student who also has a job in addition to her schooling and basketball doesn’t always know how she balances it all.

With eight to 10 hours a week of practice time, plus six more hours a week for games, that’s just basketball. She estimates that between classes and studying, her schooling takes up another 12 to 15 hours a week, and her job an additional 16 to 20 hours, plus four hours volunteering. All in all, that’s around 50 hours a week spread across numerous activities which are all tolling in different ways.

Photograph c/o Vancouver Sports Pictures

Luckily for the athletes, Williams is a former student-athlete himself and understands the pressures put on them from that lifestyle. Due to this, he has implemented an academic support coach system to ensure that each team has someone whose sole responsibility is to stay on top of the players’ academics.

Additionally, CJ Pentland, the Blues athletics & recreation officer is always available for players who have any questions regarding their academics.

When discussing the academic aid players receive from the department, Dela Cruz Yip identified both the systems setup by Williams as well as Pentland as strong resources. “Cap provides academic advisors for athletes and we have CJ who can answer any of our questions if we have difficulty with a class or need to course plan,” she said.

Overall, it’s the department’s attitude towards academics that allows its players to see such success. While many other schools may see academics as a way for their players to access athletics, at CapU, it’s the opposite.

“We stress with our coaches in recruiting that it’s student first,” said Williams. He knows that while the rare athlete may go on to play professionally after CapU, for most it probably isn’t an option.

“I act a bit like a bit of a dad sometimes,” he admitted. “It’s like I’m talking to my own kids. I say the same things to them as I say to the athletes, ‘ask early for help, ask often, if you ask too late there’s not much we can do. Academics is what’s going to put bread on your table, unless you’re really gifted,’ and there are a few that are like that, but the majority of us aren’t.”

And when taken seriously, his advice and mentality allows athletes to thrive in- game and in-class. “It was really great,” Dela Cruz Yip said of receiving her award. “I mean, doing well in school isn’t about getting awards. But when you get one and see how your hard work has paid off? It’s a good reminder that you’re doing things right and that all those late and/or sleepless nights were worth it.”

With last season now in the past, it’s time to look toward the current school year. Williams has set an ambitious goal to have a zero-failure-rate come Christmas. “That’s really hard to achieve, but we do try to achieve that,” he said. He also likes to remind students that while things may seem overwhelming at times, sometimes it helps to look at the bigger picture. “It’s about the post-secondary experience, the experience that you have at University that lasts with you a lifetime,” he concluded.

Dela Cruz Yip plans on completing her Associate of Arts degree in Psychology at CapU this year then transferring to Simon Fraser University to continue her studies after. “I was and am still really proud of myself. I hope to get the same recognition for this season,” she said.

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