Scoring Big After the Game is Over
Quick: What do a beauty queen, a president of the United States, and a professional athlete have in common?
Answer: Their lives are pressurized with dazzle, power, and public adoration, and theyre all center stage within their own courts. They also share a strength of commitment and sharp focus that approaches laser intensity. And, unhappily, another similarity among these high-profile individuals is the hard fact that their tenure is limited. One year, four years, or perhaps 3.2 years (the average team life span of the NFL athlete)...in very few arenas is the end so abrupt and absolute. After all the preparation, primping, politicking, or pumping, its all over. It can be a landing with a thud.
No one is more aware of this than Manny Hendrix BS94, director of athletic relations at the University for the last two years. Hendrix has achieved dreams the likes of which have been captured by few others, including sports luminaries Cornell Greene and Preston Pierson. He followed their lead in debuting as a basketball player (82-86 for the Runnin Utes), then, went professional, leaving the court for the field and making the transition from basketball to football. From 1986 to 1993, Hendrix played defensive back for the national champion Dallas Cowboys. And when he left, it was not easy.
He speaks candidly of his experience, including the loss of his best friends, his teammates. "It wasnt that they didnt care, but they were too busy with training," he recalls. "Whats more, he had no support system in Dallas. My sole purpose for being there was because of the team. Even watching the games on TV became a challenge. I knew too much. I saw mistakes and kept feeling like I should be there." He felt apart from everything. "Going back to being normal after being involved in something you love, and where youve been up on a pedestal for so long makes you feel like a failure," he laments.
Fortunately, Hendrix had the opportunity to take part in a different type of team. He translated his past experience into a new form of commitment to assist athletes in expanding the scope of their preparation one that incorporates a vision of the future that goes beyond athletics.
That team and program, overseen by Director of Student Athlete Welfare Mary Bowman MEd89, is a tripod of stability for the 375 athletes on the Us 21 athletic teams. Its three main legs are athletics, academics, and career preparation.
Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd74 PhD82 would be the first to confirm the dedication of student athletes. The time commitment for college athletes is staggering. Although each sport has its season of visibility, training and practice are ongoing year-round. Additionally, until the mid-January ruling of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which allowed athletes the opportunity to be employed, the policy for full scholarship students has been to forbid paid employment.
If a career in professional athletics were assured, this policy prohibiting employment for hard-working student athletes might not have been changed. But, that is not the case. For every 1,223 high school senior football players, 44 will become senior college football players. Of them, one will make an NFL roster, according to USA Today. For every 2,300 high school senior basketball players, 40 will become senior college basketball players, and one will make an NBA team. So, although the training and performance of athletes is a primary focus during college, Hill, as well as the coaches for each sport, recognize and subscribe to the importance of academics and career preparation. Says Hill, "Were the first university in the country to hire an individual (Mary Bowman) whose sole energy goes into the welfare, growth, and development of student-athletes."
The University serves to educate. And, while sports are an important component of the university, an athlete must maintain no lower than a 2.0 grade point average in order to continue as a member of a team. This is the concern of Robin James, coordinator of Academic Services. It is her charge to help athletes achieve and maintain at least this grade point average, and to make certain that all athletes are following the NCAA, Western Athletic Conference, and institutional rules governing eligibility. She also helps athletes complete their education in six years, which is consistent with the average student graduation rate at Utah.
The NCAA tabulates graduation rates for all 305 Division I institutions. According to a July 1996 survey, the University of Utah graduates 62 percent of its athletes. This is a substantial improvement over the previous year, and it is the highest rate among all Utah colleges and universities. But, even with this improvement, the University of Utah ranks below the national average in graduation rates. And, although some of this may be attributed to other factors, including the number of student-athletes who take time off for religious missions, there is a challenge to improve the situation.
With her staff of three, James works closely with the Center of Academic Advising, assisting in academic planning, advising, and making sure that each student is working closely with a major advisor. If necessary, the office hires tutors for the athletes. James and her staff sometimes accompany the athletes out of town to proctor exams, monitor study tables, and attain tutors, if necessary. They even provide portable computers for students to take on the road.
The third, and newest, component of the program focuses on career and personal life skills. This is where Manny Hendrixs role is pivotal. As he puts it, "the coaches bring the talent here....they tell athletes how great they are...they encourage them and build on their sports potential. Im here to inject reality." And so he does, with assistance from alumni and the development of two key programs: CHAMPS/Life Skills, an acronym for Challenging Athletes Minds for Personal Success, and the other, Partnering with U.
The curriculum alone for CHAMPS/Life Skills weighs somewhere around five pounds. As a comprehensive training manual developed by the NCAA, it assures quality and consistency in the curricula at universities nationwide. The programs purpose is to prepare student-athletes for the challenges of life beyond the playing field. Its designed to provide them with education and experiences to assist in bridging the gap from college to professional life.
Organized according to the specific needs of athletes of each level: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior, the curriculum includes such topics as study skills, goal setting, time and stress management, sports nutrition, interest inventories, fiscal responsibility, values, and, for the students closer to graduation, it includes resume writing and communication/interview skills. There are supplemental materials, such as videotapes, audio tapes and computer software as well.
Brenda Yamagata BS’84, a human resources management consultant with Yamagata and Associates, Inc., is one alumna who lends her expertise to the program. A member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, she assists student-athletes in career oriented training such as resume writing and communication skills. "The athletes have no time to work and until recently have been mandated against working. But I help them identify their personal attributes and show them how to roll them over into the professional setting," she says. Yamagata also believes that student athletes should educate prospective employers about the applicable skills gained from hours of training and competition; the commitment in time, energy, and personal striving, and, of course, their many years of working cooperatively as members of a team. She, along with other volunteers who offer time and talents, assists in building the skills which will help make a successful transition from academic to career settings.
Offered concurrently with CHAMPS is Partnering with U, a second career preparatory program under Hendrixs direction. It is intended to expose students to options and career choices. Begun in 1994, it enables alumni, many of whom are in or have connections with the Salt Lake City business community, to assist student athletes in determining career directions.
There are three levels of involvement: shadowing, mentoring, and interning. Shadowing allows students to observe workers to assess and hone their career interests. Mentoring provides the student exposure to an industrys daily operations, but on a limited basis. There is more, regular interaction and involvement between student athletes and participating companies or firms. Evaluating their changing professional interests is intended to assist students in selecting a career. Internships, some for minimal pay, some volunteer, are established once students have narrowed their focus.
All three phases of Partnering with U are directed by Hendrix, who has found a remarkable level of interest from alumni in the community. In less than a year, he has enlisted the commitment of more than 20 companies in the areas of insurance, financial services, sales, pharmaceutical, engineering, printing, marketing and construction.
For student-athletes, it extends the meaning and scope of success. "Among all the intercollegiate athletics responsibilities, there is none more important than providing tools for the total development of the student-athlete," says Bowman.
Elise Lazar is director of marketing in the Theatre Department and a contributing writer based in Salt Lake City.