Livingstone athletes victorious in the classroom

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
SALISBURY — In nationally televised speeches, President Barack Obama, a diehard sports fan, has insisted the U.S. do a better job educating its young men and women. In fact, the president has issued a challenge for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
Chances are good Obama would be excited about what’s going on at Livingstone College.
While the Blue Bears want to win on the hardwood, gridiron and in other sports, the college is winning where it should — in the classroom. So much so that just the men’s cross country team was recognized as having the highest GPA in the CIAA, and the men’s basketball team was recognized for the same accomplishment in early March.
“I think it speaks volumes for Livingstone College that two of our teams had the highest grade point average in the CIAA,” said Dr. Leroy Simmons, vice president of academic affairs. “It shows that our students, coaches and faculty get it. They realize they’re students first.”
Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. was so proud of the cross country team that he invited members on stage during assembly to be honored. He also gave them some Blue Bear Dollars, play money akin to Monopoly money that can be spent in the student bookstore.
Jenkins also did the same thing for members of the men’s basketball team a few weeks ago. The team finished in second place in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament after defeating St. Paul’s College, Virginia Union University and Fayetteville State University before losing in the finals to Shaw University, 72-69.
It’s not unusual for colleges and universities to announce when their student athletes do well. In fact, Penn State University sent out a news release when more than 400 of its athletes earned a 3.0 GPA or higher during the spring 2009 semester.
In a time when U.S. high school kids keep dropping out of school at alarming rates, and fewer than 30 percent of Americans have a college degree, it’s good to know that academics – not athletics – is what colleges and universities are focusing on.
“Academics are very important to me,” said Tim Handy, 22, a junior accounting major from Salisbury. “I know the harder I study the more successful I will be in life, which will allow me to set a good example for my two younger brothers ages 19 and 12.”
Handy is a member of Livingstone College’s cross country team. So are Derrick Tinsley, 22, a senior business administration major from Oxon Hill, Md., and Ezra Mutai, 22, a junior biology major from Nairobi, Kenya.
“Academics are everything to me,” said Mutai, who plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to obtain a doctorate in pharmacy when he leaves Livingstone. “That’s why I’m here. I’m getting to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually through my education.”
Added Tinsley: “I’ve realized since I got in college that track’s not going to last forever so I’m gaining as much knowledge as possible and maintaining a high GPA to help me achieve my goals.”
Justin Davis, track and field coach, said the coaches check on the student athletes’ grades bi-monthly and the athletes are required to attend study hall thrice a week.
Tony Holliday, assistant men’s basketball coach, said academics are always stressed to the players.
“It’s easy when you’re 19 or 20 and away from home for the first time to get caught up in the sport you’re playing and let academics take a backseat,” Holliday said. “But here at Livingstone College we don’t allow that. During tryouts we emphasize to the players that if they’re not willing to put academics first and understand that they’re student-athletes not athlete-students, they won’t fit in with our program.
“We’re competitive and want to win just like anybody else,” Holliday continued. “And we’re extremely proud of our team for being the runner-up at the CIAA, but Coach Stinson and I are more proud of them for having the highest GPA and putting academics first.”
Omar Ford-Bey, 20, a junior accounting major from Chester, Pa., said his parents taught him to always put school first.
“When I was younger if I didn’t have the grades I couldn’t play,” said Ford-Bey, a basketball player. “Here at Livingstone our coaches definitely put us in a good position with respect to time management to get done what we need to do off the court as well as on the court.”
Tyler Johnson, 19, a sophomore biology major from Raleigh, agrees with his teammate Ford-Bey. Johnson, a presidential scholar, hopes to attend medical school someday.
“I’m on an academic scholarship, and so if I don’t maintain excellent grades and take care of that I won’t be able to play basketball.”