Maria Tyson offers advice about courses to U of M
freshman track athlete Larry Harris.
The staff of the Center for Athletic Academic Services at
the University of Memphis is helping keep student-athletes
on track for sports and graduation.
The U of M football team is intent on practice as Becky Kolenbrander
steps onto the field.
"Hey, Ms. Becky! Guess what?" a player on the defensive
line immediately queries. "I got a 79 on that test."
"That's pretty good," she replies with a smile,
"almost a B."
The player grins, and she keeps walking. Seconds later, another
player calls out to tell her about a professor he is having
trouble understanding. Then, a third stops to ask if she can
find him a tutor for a math class.
"Do you have kids?" one asks. "Because if
you do, I feel sorry for them. You're always out here with
Kolenbrander laughs, but acknowledges the truth in the statement.
"It's a good thing I don't have kids," she says.
"If I did, they'd be neglected."
Kolenbrander is part of a special team at the University
of Memphis she works as a counselor at the Center for
Athletic Academic Services (CAAS). She and other advisers
at CAAS work closely with U of M athletes to ensure they have
every opportunity to graduate in addition to playing
With new athletic academic services director Joseph P. Luckey
and the commitment his counselors have to CAAS, the often
stereotypical "dumb-jock" image is quickly disappearing
from the U of M campus.
"We have turned the corner," says Dr. Luckey. In
his second year at the U of M, the CAAS director can readily
produce solid statistics to prove it.
The U of M basketball team last year recorded its loftiest
GPA since fall 1991. Team member Earl Barron, who completed
his athletic eligibility last spring, became the first Tiger
basketball player since 1991 to graduate in four years when
he received his degree in May.
The football team, too, achieved high marks, enjoying its
best-ever GPA, and the baseball team boasted
its highest mark since 1995. The men's track and tennis teams
also sported their best academic performance in history. Not
to be outdone, the women's golf, tennis, volleyball and soccer
teams all recorded GPAs above 3.0 during the 2002-03 year.
And individually, 109 student-athletes achieved 3.0 GPAs or
higher, with 53
recording better than 3.5.
"I think one reason we are doing so much better is that
we are coming up with a graduation plan during the athletes'
sophomore and junior years," Luckey says. "We are
looking at the whole picture not just the current semester.
Our goal is to get them graduated in four years."
Luckey also is quick to credit his four academic counselors
all of whom he personally hired for
the turnaround, as well as his assistant director and his
"Our center is all about people," says Luckey.
"If we don't have that good relationship with the students,
they won't come in.
"People who work with our staff see our concern for
the student-athletes, and the athletes appreciate the concern
that we have for academics," he says. "We've put
together a team of our own."
Kolenbrander's relationship with the members of the football
team isn't unique within the center. All CAAS counselors have
similar bonds with their student-athletes that start early
advisers immediately begin teaching freshmen student-athletes
how to balance their lives. Freshmen are required to attend
the center for a minimum of six study hours each week.
"We are basically a support system," Kolenbrander
says. "If they can ask for help, we can find that help
Senior Coot Terry, a sports marketing major who is a linebacker
for the football team, says he wouldn't be graduating in May
if it weren't for Kolenbrander.
"Before Becky, I had a lot of problems," he says.
"I was taking all the wrong classes, but she got here
and really helped me out."
Terry attributes Kolenbrander with not only getting him in
the right classes to fulfill his graduation requirements,
but with encouraging him to network with business people who
can help him find a job once he
"We're all real close to Becky," Terry says. "That's
the kind of relationship you need to get through college."
Luckey says the initial adjustment period for a student-athlete
is difficult. "The first year can be very intimidating,
like a ride on a roller coaster," he says. "You
have to juggle study hall, classes and practice."
Soccer player Veronica Ruiz notes, "The counselors make
sure we have the right classes not just to stay eligible,
but to be successful in life."
CAAS assistant director Nicole Green knows firsthand the
responsibilities of student-athletes from her time spent as
a sprinter in college.
"Our main reason for being here is for the student
not the athlete," she says. "When they leave here,
I want every one of them to look back and say, 'I have my
Fehi Tuivai, a junior volleyball player, is thankful the
advisers take that attitude. She transferred from a school
in California; as a result, some of her requirements did not
count toward her sociology major.
"My adviser, Bridget Van Landeghem, was always ready
to answer any questions I had," Tuivai says. "She
really worked with me and really seemed to care about me."
Counselor Maria Tyson says her main objective is to build
a relationship with each student that covers common everyday
issues. "Besides academics, I dispense advice on everything
from long-distance relationships to parents," she says.
The recent renovation of the old library tower now
the John S. Wilder Tower has given CAAS new space in
which to work. The entire sixth and seventh floors of the
building house CAAS and teem with life at most hours of the
Areas have been developed for small-group study, individual
study and tutoring sessions, as well as computer research
and use. Even during study hours, which are mostly outside
of regular work hours, advisers are available to answer questions,
solve problems and keep student-athletes on task.
Trece Hayslett, an adviser to the Student-Athlete Advisory
Committee, has seen firsthand the positives that the new staff
and facilities have produced. She points to a situation involving
a former women's basketball player, Tamika Rogers, as proof
that Luckey's team is headed in the right direction.
"We had a female basketball player who was close to
failing," Hayslett says. "Dr. Luckey sat down with
her and said, 'I'm not going to let you get away with this.'
Tamika was mad, but excited at the same time. She was truly
amazed that Dr. Luckey took the time to help her with school."
Rogers graduated last August.
The success of CAAS is becoming more and more evident. During
May commencement ceremonies, 23 student-athletes graduated,
with 21 more receiving degrees in August.
"We are moving in the right direction," Luckey
says. "Our job is to graduate students, and that is happening
more and more."