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Scholar Athletes Score

Nick Symmonds

Like Olympian Nick Symmonds ’06, the track sensation who hopes to be a doctor. No slacker in the classroom, Symmond’s senior thesis focused on how mercury cations bind to the digestive enzyme chymotrypsin ... (Got that?)

“Willamette is one of the toughest places in the nation to be a student athlete because the academic load is so challenging,” track Coach Sam Lapray says. “The grade point average of Willamette student athletes is virtually indistinguishable from non-athletes and many are national scholars, but that balance is what keeps our athletes fresh.”

Sarah ZerzanSarah Zerzan ’08, who was named 2008 Woman Athlete of the Year for the NCAA Division III, says the key to her success on the track was having coaches who support academics and professors who support athletics. Her organic chemistry and cell biology classes brought a whole new level of awareness to the science of running, says Zerzan, who hopes to join Doctors Without Borders after med school.

About 97 percent of Willamette students participate in intramural sports programs during their college career, with 68 percent joining each year. As for the 20 sports and recreation organizations, some require no experience, some are fiercely competitive, and all ask for a healthy balance of mind and body.

“At Willamette, you’re a person first, a student second and an athlete third,” says recently retired basketball Coach Gordie James.

Willamette’s emphasis on good athletes who are equally strong scholars is what makes the University’s athletes special, head football Coach Mark Speckman says. “Our athletes have less of a sense of entitlement. There’s nowhere to hide in the Willamette curriculum. Their excellence has to reach to the classroom as well as the field.”

“I hope our students leave here not only with competencies in academic disciplines, but also with a commitment to fitness,” Willamette President M. Lee Pelton says. “There’s nothing more splendid than a man or woman being tested in sports and having to perform under high pressure. Athletic success requires a certain greatness of mind, body and spirit, a greatness that translates into other aspects of life, such as academic excellence.”

Meanwhile, if you come to Willamette, don’t be surprised if a coach asks how your latest English paper turned out or how you scored on your politics test. For them, it’s not just about the final win-loss tally, but also about the whole person.