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By Al King
One look at the Ashland University track and field record book reveals how times have fallen over the years. At the same time, the Eagles’ grades have soared.
While the Ashland track program has been among the nation’s best in Division II over the last 25 years, what the Eagles accomplished this past season is unprecedented. The men’s track and field team was recognized by the United States Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches of America as the national scholar team of the year for indoor and outdoor track and field. It is the second consecutive year the Ashland men have been recognized for both seasons, and the Eagles are the only men’s team to accomplish that feat.
Ashland coach Jud Logan
Meanwhile, the Ashland women’s team was honored as the 2010 indoor track and field scholar team of the year.
The scholar team of the year award is presented to the team that has the highest finish at the Division II national meet and has a least a 3.0 grade-point average. The Ashland men had a team GPA of 3.04 last year. The Eagles finished sixth in the outdoor championships and seventh indoors. Between indoor and outdoor track and field in 2009-10, the Eagles boasted five individual national champions.
The Ashland women had a 3.34 GPA and tied for second in the country indoors, the highest finish in school history.
“It might not happen again,” said Ashland head coach Jud Logan of the men’s double-double. “What’s the hardest part – getting a team GPA of 3.0 or finishing in the top 10? There’s some luck involved.”
The Eagles have consistently been near the top in Division II track and field since Logan became the head coach in 2005-06. Before that, he spent 13 years as an assistant. Throughout, the program has attracted student-athletes who excel athletically and academically. But to have an entire team reach be honored for two consecutive seasons is a first.
“We start with the recruiting process,” said Logan. “We try to get students who can fit in academically before we figure out if they fit athletically. We have that luxury, we can look at the academics first.
“When they get here, we tell them they’ll be treated as an adult until they give us a reason to do it differently,” Logan said. “We don’t have the staff to have study hall. You make do with what you have. It’s a little different approach. It’s a chance for the kids to show us their level of maturity. Ashland appeals to the kid who makes it easy for us as coaches.”
Logan went to college at Kent State at a time when study tables were in vogue.
“We didn’t have tutors, we had baby sitters,” Logan said. “If they were in a bad mood, we were in a bad mood. Sometimes I thought, ‘We’re all in here just messing around.’ Other times I was upset because I was in study table and other people got to do what they wanted. I felt sorry for myself.”
Current Ashland senior Abby Kacsandi agrees. Kacsandi, who won a national crown in the high jump indoors in 2010, is a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Commissioner’s Award winner for exceptional athletic and academic performance. She experienced study tables when she was in Division I (Kacsandi transferred to Ashland from Ohio University), and she doesn’t miss those days.
Instead of study tables, the Eagles rely on peer pressure.
“As a track team, we don’t accept mediocrity in your effort in everything, not just track,” said sprinter Steph Tinney. “Our coaches don’t accept mediocrity in practice, in meets or in the classroom.”
The Eagles have 120 student-athletes on the men’s and women’s rosters – a lot for a school of 6,100 – but word travels fast between coaches and the faculty if there is an academic problem.
“We do have a big team, but it’s broken down into groups – the throwers, the jumpers, the sprinters,” said Kacsandi. “I’m with the jumpers, but I also see the throwers. We have such a small field house, we’re all together. That’s a big reason we’re successful in track and in the classroom.”
For example, when the Eagles practice indoors, runners will be doing laps on the track while throwers are working inside on the infield.
“They (throwers) have to know the runners,” Kacsandi said. “You have to know the name of who you’re yelling at when a weight bounces onto the track.”
At Ashland, everyone is a sprinter in one regard. It takes speed of both feet and mind to make the most of every day.
“What I tell our kids, what I’m most proud of, you’re learning a life lesson,” said Logan. “Our GPA is higher than the general student population. You’re working out two hours a day and going to meets every weekend. Our kids learn time management. It’s all about priorities.”
By the time Ashland student-athletes graduate, most have experienced success in various fields and know how to perform under pressure.
“Being an All-American athlete looks nice on paper, but being an Academic All-American looks better,” said thrower Mike Jeffery. “That’s especially true in the job market. That shows you know how to work, how to work hard athletically and academically.”
Al King is the assistant athletics director for media relations at Ashland University.