When it comes to points totals for the Lipscomb cross country and track teams what they do in the classroom is just as important as how each athlete performs in meets.
In reality, grade point averages may be the most important thing. A 2.0 is the grade point necessary to remain eligible for NCAA Division I participation, but if you want to run for coach Bill Taylor then you have to maintain a 3.0.
“It is a number that we feel that our athletes should be able to achieve,” especially at a school like Lipscomb where you are getting extra attention,” Taylor said. “The class sizes are smaller and the students have more interaction with their instructors. Lipscomb is very unique to be a Division I university with small class sizes.”
Taylor has set the bar high, based on the resources available through his program and the resources of the university. But he admits that he looks at all the circumstances surrounding an athlete’s performance in the classroom before deciding on eligibility.
“If our athletes are paying attention, we feel that in most cases they should be able to get a 3.0 or better,” Taylor said. “If they can’t we want to make sure it was because they were in very difficult courses and that they worked as hard as they could.
“If they fall below a 3.0 and there is a good reason for it we will work with that. We have some kids below a 3.0 and they are not going to be a part of our program this spring. That is largely determined on how far away from a 3.0 they are and what reports we have received from instructors.”
Stressing the importance of hard work on both the track and in the classroom is paying off for the Bison programs.
The Bison men’s team finished a program-high fourth in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and a program-high 13th in the NCAA South Regional.
The women’s team won its first ever A-Sun Championship in cross country. The team finished a program-high seventh in the NCAA South Regional.
“When we have parents ask if we emphasize athletics or academics we say `yes’,” Taylor said. “We emphasize both. But we also emphasize spiritual development, personal development, leadership development and character.
“Our feeling is that our athletes have a huge responsibility to the university, to the program and to representing Christ. Our program is about doing everything excellent, not just athletics.”
Tessa Hoefle, a sophomore English major from Winnebago, Ill., was named as the A-Sun Scholar Athlete of the Year for cross country. She is the first athlete from Lipscomb to be named as scholar athlete of the year in any sport.
She admits that balancing the grueling training schedule with the demands of the classroom can be a daily challenge.
“Being a D-1 athlete is without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hoefle said. “At the same time, since I've been here I've learned that there are a lot of sacrifices that athletes make. There's only so much time in the day.
“Unfortunately, I think that at many schools academics is something that ends up getting sacrificed. Luckily at Lipscomb there's a real academic community within the team. On any given day, we run together, eat together, and study together. For a cross country runner here, making time for schoolwork is an expectation and a way of life.”
Hoefle credits the leadership of Taylor in setting a high academic standard for his athletes. She has no problems with his philosophy on academic excellence.
“Here actions speak louder than words,” Hoefle said. “I think one reason that our team has such a strong academic community is that the coaches give us very clear expectations on day one.
“But it's not just about getting this or that GPA. All of our coaches are also really supportive when it comes to what it will take for some of us to get there. And for most of us, it's not just about making the grade.”
Hoefle was joined on the conference All-Academic tea by Ashley Lehman, a senior from Harrisonburg, Va., majoring in elementary education. Both Hoefle and Lehman were named to the All-Conference First Team for their fifth and sixth finishes respectively in the A-Sun Championship meet.
Hoefle thinks that she and her fellow athletes have always accepted hard work as a part of their day because of the sport they have chosen. And that complements the demands of the coaches.
“We have really high standards for ourselves,” Hoefle said. “I think that runners tend to be really self-motivated people. Combined with the community that we have here, I feel really blessed as a Lipscomb student and as a Lipscomb athlete.”
Isaiah Greer, a junior from Johnson City, Tenn., majoring in both math and engineering, was named to the A-Sun Conference All-Academic Team along with fellow junior Geoff Musick, a Nashville resident majoring in biochemistry. Greer echoes the sentiments of Hoefle.
“I found time management to be a very important skill to develop in order to succeed at both,” Greer said. “Along with coach, my parents do an amazing job motivating me making sure I stay on the right track with my grades.”
Greer thinks that Taylor’s premium on grades is just one component of the overall excellence he expects from the program.
“Coach Taylor's emphasis on grades is definitely a driving force for us but more importantly it really shows he cares about all of us on a deeper level than most coaches,” Greer said. “His push to grow his athletes physically, academically, and in our special case spiritually, is one of the best aspects of his program. I know this is not the luxury every college team has and I am very thankful for it.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.