Oct. 5, 2011
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - William Chandler wasn't 24 hours removed from realizing a dream -- earning a full football scholarship with the Huskies -- before he got another surprise last week.
The former walk-on wide receiver and UW's new placekick holder this season joined fellow Huskies student athletes inside Alaska Airlines Arena. They gathered for the athletic department's annual welcome-back barbeque that commemorates the start of each academic year.
Chandler was unexpectedly called out of the stands and down onto the arena floor with 21 other Huskies, including some that are among the best in the nation in their sport: All-American and 2008 national champion cross-country runner Christine Babcock; 2011 national champion rower Jeff Gibbs and champion coxswain teammate Sam Ojserkis; first-team all-conference soccer scorer Brent Richards; first-team all-conference soccer midfielder Kate Deines, a member of the 2011 U.S. U-23 national team.
All have a grade-point average of at least 3.75 over a minimum of45 graded credits at UW.
All thought they were going to get a pat on the back in front of their peers for their class work. They stood politely, though uncomfortably, with hundreds of fellow Huskies staring down at them.
"These people standing here have two things in common," announced John Morris, UW's senior associate athletic director. "They each have GPAs of 3.75 or higher.
"And they are now proud new owners of iPad2s."
Morris and Kim Durand, UW's associate athletic director for student development, then began handing out almost two dozen white cases containing Apple's one-third-inch thin, 1.33-pound, $499 electronic tablet/coolest thing for a college kid.
"Greatest two days of my life," Chandler said of getting the scholarship and then the iPad on consecutive afternoons.
The most common reactions Morris and Durand got as they handed out the most awesome recognition these student athletes have ever received for their school work: "Are you serious? Are you for real?"
"You could see them rolling their eyes as they came down, like `Great, I'm going to be dragged down in front of 500 other student athletes just to get some applause," Morris told me.
"I had no idea what was going on," Babcock said over the phone Monday night, hours after she had secured a case for her new iPad -- because "I want it to last a LONG time."
"I thought it was a joke," Babcock said. "My teammates said to me, `Are they going to take this back?'"
Deines, who is on track to graduate this winter with a communications degree and may go to law school after she pursues a career in professional soccer, also thought it was a joke.
"Then he and Kim starting pulling out iPads from a big cardboard box. I couldn't believe it," Deines said.
"Just complete and utter shock."
Richards, who Huskies soccer coach Jamie Clark thought in July could become All-American this fall, figured he was being called down to get embarrassed for his academic success.
"I thought maybe we'd get a piece of paper or something," said Richards, who already has six goals and an assist for 13 points for Washington (5-2-2) heading into its game Friday against UCLA.
"This iPad is really cool. Yesterday I started doing my school work on it. It's made me want to do my homework. So that's nice," he joked.
Richards' teammate, senior defender Jamie Finch, is still shaking his head over getting his gizmo.
"I'm just amazed by all it must have taken to get us these," Finch said. "I was standing next to Alex (Klein, the third men's soccer player to receive an iPad last week) on the arena floor and we just looked at each other. We were just shocked.
"It's awesome. I never expected anything like this from an athletic department."
We all know when college athletes win conference championships, reach NCAA tournaments, become All-Americans. Those rewards for athletic skills are easy to see.
But after talking to a handful of those who got these iPads last week and learning how the idea came about, I'm here to tell you that these Huskies appreciate this award as much or more than any other they've ever received.
Not just for what they got - the cool gadget on which you can write term papers, review class notes, read novels and newspapers or just play video games -- but for what it says about where they go to school.
And for what the tablet represents. The amount of work they've done beyond practices and road trips and training tables and weight lifting. The studying they've done through long nights at home, and on floors of airport terminals and in the hallways of hotels while on road trips.
"I think it's cool just to see our achievements in the classroom are appreciated as much as they are on the track," Babcock said.
The senior from Irvine, Calif., a two-time All-America runner, is back for the Huskies' current cross-country season after she persevered through missing almost a year with an Achilles injury. She is about to graduate with a degree in early childhood and family studies and wants to become an occupational therapist for disadvantaged children. She's been working with autistic children since she was in seventh grade volunteering at clinics with her mother in Southern California.
I think she deserves at least an iPad. Don't you?
"It's so cool that not all of your hard work goes under the radar," Babcock said. "And it's also great to show other student athletes that academics are valued here. They see that athletics are not the only thing that matters here in this department at U-Dub."
Has she ever had a device like an iPad?
"No way," she said, chuckling. "My phone only texts and calls."
MORE THAN `ONE SHINING MOMENT'
By Monday, 24 Huskies had new iPad2s. I was in the gymnastics room on the south end of Hec Edmundson Pavilion just before practice when Morris and Durand entered. They presented Ruby Engreitz with hers, to match the one teammate Megan Whitney received.
Engreitz's face turned red as her teammates cheered.
"This is awesome!" said Engreitz, a senior from Kirkland, Wash., who was second-team All-Pac-10 last season on bars.
She is about to earn a psychology degree but had an epiphany this summer and is headed for extra schooling to become a nurse.
"I feel that we're here first and foremost for school," she said, just steps away from those bars and beams on which she has spent a huge chunk of her two decades on Earth - including four hours a day in season while at UW. "I put a lot of time into my gymnastics, but I put a lot of time into my school work, too."
So where does the UW athletic department get $12,000 to give away, in the form of two dozen iPad2s?
"I just feel super lucky to be a part of an athletic department that recognizes both athletic and academic success."
"I was actually curious where the money came from," Finch said.
He and the 23 other Huskies can thank CBS and Turner Broadcasting - specifically, its mammoth contract with the NCAA to televise the men's basketball tournament for 14 years.
The mega deal signed last April is worth almost $11 billion. It's been derided from Maine to Maui as an example of greed and excess in big-time college sports, of the exploitation of student athletes that are not seeing a dime from the deal while they compete in the tournament.
Well, here's an example of that TV deal not being so bad, after all.
"We used the Student Assistance Fund the NCAA provides. The money comes through conference-generated funds from CBS' contract for the NCAA basketball tournament, in the form of an annual distribution," Morris explained.
In August 2010, four months after CBS/Turner's landmark deal for one of the most popular sporting events in America, the NCAA sent $53,9460,000 to Division I conference offices to be used for the Student Assistance Fund.
I see it as the most worthwhile thing CBS has produced since it first began airing 60 Minutes.
Here's how the NCAA defines its fund: "The Student Assistance Fund is intended to provide direct benefits to student-athletes or their families as determined by conference offices. As a guiding principle, the fund shall be used to assist student-athletes in meeting financial needs that arise in conjunction with participation in intercollegiate athletics, enrollment in an academic curriculum or that recognize academic achievement."
UW uses its discretionary Student Assistance Fund through the Pac-12 Conference to give student athletes sashes to wear over their gowns on graduation day, to recognize they did a little more than just go to class while getting their degrees. Huskies athletics also uses the fund to pay MCAT and GRE testing fees for graduating student athletes that are seeking post-graduate education; to pay for any uninsured medical expenses student athletes might incur, such as for dental work; to pay for no-notice travel for student athletes from outside the Seattle area who need to get home for family or personal emergencies.
And tomorrow's student athletes will benefit even more from this fund. The NCAA says the student assistance fund will increase in value at 13 percent annually, subject to approval by the Division I board of directors.
Heck, maybe future Huskies will be getting iPad8s.
Morris says the UW athletic department intends to expand this recognition of academic achievement. Because those with lower GPAs may put forth an outstanding effort to improve in the classroom but may not necessarily ever reach at 3.75 before they graduate, Huskies athletics is going to begin recognizing those who have the highest GPA increases over a given term.
Also, the department is creating an Athletic Directors' Honor Roll that will recognize student athletes who achieve 3.25, 3.5 and 3.75 GPAs beginning this fall quarter - regardless of how many graded credits they've accumulated at UW. Department officials are still finalizing what gifts those achieving student athletes will get for meeting those benchmarks.
And after each term, the athletic department will check to see if any student athletes who have the 3.75 GPA may have recently passed the 45 graded-credits threshold and thus qualify for an iPad, too.
"It's also great to show other student athletes that academics are valued here. They see that athletics are not the only thing that matters here in this department at U-Dub."
"Oh, yeah, this is not a one-time deal," Morris said.
Deines was glowing through Wednesday's rain while talking about how special UW athletics is to her.
"I just feel super lucky to be a part of an athletic department that recognizes both athletic and academic success. I don't think you can say that goes for all colleges across the country," she told me over the phone while walking from class in the drizzle.
Babcock was one of a handful of student athletes who wrote letters and emails to UW athletic director Scott Woodward thanking him for the iPads, and for recognizing Huskies work far beyond the fields and courts and tracks.
The notes, like these quotes, were impressively sincere and powerful.
So is this: Freshmen Huskies are looking at their upperclassmen teammates with iPad envy - and with added motivation toward excelling academically at UW.
"Some of the younger guys on the team are coming up to me saying, `Wow, that's awesome!'" Richards said of his iPad and what it represents. "One freshman said to me, just (Monday), `Wow, that's really cool. It makes me want to work hard in school and get one.'"
Now that's something that will never appear in a Huskies box score.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.